At a time when women had virtually no political power and no representation in government, Inez Milholland championed their civil rights, particularly the right to vote, and made substantial contributions to winning the political liberty women enjoy today. She firmly believed that winning enfranchisement would offer women a voice and a place in government, thus strengthening the nation as a whole.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in New York and London, Inez became an advocate for the rights of women while a student. When the president of Vassar College banned her woman suffrage meeting on campus, Inez led the assembled students and guests to a meeting in the cemetery across the road.
INEZ STRETCHED THE BOUNDARIES OF THE VOTES FOR WOMEN MOVEMENT!
Between 1910 and 1916, she became a central figure involved in planning, speaking, and raising funds for the drive for Votes for Women in New York State. She chaired meetings, answered opponents’ arguments, lobbied state legislators, and led suffrage parades up Fifth Avenue. Robed as the “free woman of the future,” she became nationally known for her role as a mounted herald leading the great March 3, 1913 suffrage procession in Washington, D.C. that involved thousands of supporters and political figures. Four months later, she married Dutch businessman Eugen Boissevain.
Attracted to law school by a desire to protect women and children, Inez faced rejection by Oxford, Columbia, and Harvard because she was a woman. New York University finally accepted her. Even before earning a law degree in 1912, she advised and supported working women and shirtwaist strikers who had no direct political representation or money for lawyers. She believed that “the way to right the wrongs of civilization and to strike a blow at poverty was by means of concerted and intelligent political action and the making of sound laws.”
THE STORY OF INEZ MILHOLLAND DESERVES TO BE TOLD
One of few women attorneys in New York, Inez specialized in criminal and divorce cases but faced prejudice and other obstacles to securing paying clients. She vigorously participated in a grand jury investigation into conditions at Sing Sing Prison and once raced to win a last minute reprieve for a laborer sentenced to die. Having seen the brutal conditions in prison, she spoke out for reform, opposed capital punishment, and assisted individual inmates with filing appeals and finding jobs.
Like her father, John Milholland, the first treasurer of the interracial NAACP, Inez opposed racial discrimination, supported the rights of workers, and advocated a wide range of reforms including international peace. At the beginning of World War I, she joined Henry Ford’s “Peace Ship,” which unsuccessfully tried to steer the European warring parties into mediation.