by Maud Younger
WE ARE HERE TO PAY TRIBUTE to Inez Milholland Boissevain, who was our comrade. We are here in the Nation’s Capitol, the seat of our democracy, to pay tribute to one who gave up her life to realize that democracy.
We are here that the life she gave should not be given in vain, but that the knowledge of her, the understanding of her, the sacrifice of her, and the inspiration of her should bring to fulfillment the work for which she laid down her life.
Inez Milholland walked down the path of life a radiant being. She went into work with a song in her heart. She went into battle, a laugh on her lips. Obstacles inspired her, discouragement urged her on. She loved work and she loved battle. She loved life and laughter and light, and above all else, she loved liberty. With a loveliness beyond most, a kindliness, a beauty of mind and soul, she typified always the best and noblest in womanhood. She was the flaming torch that went ahead to light the way, the symbol of light and freedom.
She was ever thus in the woman’s movement, whether radiant, in white, pinning the fifth star to the suffrage flag when the women of Washington were enfranchised; whether leading the first suffrage parade down Fifth Avenue, valiantly bearing the banner, “Forward into light,” or whether in the procession in our Capital four years ago, when, mounted on a white horse, a star on her brow, her long masses of dark hair falling over her blue cape, she typified dawning womanhood.
Symbol of the woman’s struggle, it was she who carried to the west the appeal of the unenfranchised, and, carrying it, made her last appeal on earth, her last journey in life.
As she set out upon this her last journey, she seems to have had the clearer vision, the spiritual quality of one who has already set out for another world. With infinite understanding and intense faith in her mission, she was as one inspired. Her meetings were described as “revival meetings,” her audiences as “wild with enthusiasm.” Thousands acclaimed her, thousands were turned away unable to enter. In this western land she came into her own. Something in her spirit with its intense love of liberty found a kinship in the great sweep of plain and sagebrush desert, in the bare rocky mountains and flaming sunsets. She seemed to breathe in the freedom of the great spaces. Something in her nature was touched by the simplicity and directness of the people. And so on through the west she swept with her ringing message, a radiant vision, a modern crusader.
And she made her message very plain.
She stood for no man, no party. She stood only for Woman. And standing thus, she urged:
“It is women for women now and shall be until the fight is won!
“Together we shall stand shoulder to shoulder for the greatest principle the world has ever known, the right of self-government.
“Whatever the party that has ignored the claims of women, we as women must refuse to uphold it. We must refuse to uphold any party until all women are free.
“We have nothing but our spirit to rely on and the vitality of our faith, but spirit is invincible.
“It is only for a little while. Soon the fight will be over. Victory is in sight.”
Though she did not live to see that victory it is sweet to know that she lived to see her faith in woman justified. In one of her last letters she wrote:
“Not only did we reckon accurately on women’s loyalty to women but we likewise realized that our appeal touched a certain spiritual, idealistic quality in the western woman voter, a quality which is yearning to find expression in political life. . . . At the idealism of the Woman’s Party her whole nature flames into enthusiasm and her response is immediate. She gladly transforms a narrow partisan loyalty into loyalty to a principle, the establishment of which carries with it no personal advantage to its advocates, but merely the satisfaction of achieving one more step toward the emancipation of mankind. . . . We are bound to win. There never has been a fight yet where interest was pitted against principle that principle did not triumph.”
Into this struggle she poured her strength, her enthusiasm, her vitality, her life. She would come away from audiences and droop as a flower. The hours between meetings were hours of exhaustion, of suffering. She would ride in the trains gazing from windows listless, almost lifeless, until one spoke; then again the sweet smile, the sudden interest, the quick sympathy. The courage of her was marvelous.
The trip was fraught with hardship. Speaking day and night, she would take a train at two in the morning to arrive at eight. Then a train at midnight and arrive at five in the morning. Yet, she would not change the program; she would not leave out anything. Something seemed to urge her on to reach as many as she could; to carry her message as far as she could while there was yet time.
And so on, ever, through the west she went, through the west that drew her, the west that loved her, until she came to the end of the west. There where the sun goes down in glory in the vast Pacific, her life went out in glory in the shining cause of freedom.
And as she had lived loving liberty, working for liberty, fighting for liberty, so it was that with this word on her lips she fell. “How long must women wait for liberty?” she cried and fell, as surely as any soldier upon the field of honor, as truly as any who ever gave up his life for an ideal.
As in life she had been the symbol of the woman’s cause, so in death she is the symbol of its sacrifice – the whole daily sacrifice, the pouring out of life and strength that is the toll of the prolonged women’s struggle.
Inez Milholland is one around whom legends will grow up. Generations to come will point out Mount Inez and tell of the beautiful woman who sleeps her last on its slopes.
They will tell of her in the west, tell of the vision of loveliness as she flashed through on her last burning mission, flashed through to her death, a falling star in the western heavens.
But neither legend nor vision is liberty, which was her life. Liberty cannot die. No work for liberty can be lost. It lives on in the hearts of the people, in their hopes, their aspirations, their activities. It becomes part of the life of the nation. As Inez Milholland has given to the world, she lives on forever.
We are here today to pay tribute to Inez Milholland Boissevain, who was our comrade. Let our tribute be not words which pass; nor song which dies, nor flower which fades. Let it be this:
That we finish the task she could not finish;
That with new strength we take up the struggle in which fighting beside us she fell;
That with new faith we here consecrate ourselves to the cause of Woman’s Freedom, until that cause is won;
That with new devotion we go forth, inspired by her sacrifice, to the end that that sacrifice be not in vain but that dying she shall bring to pass that which living she could not achieve, full freedom for women, full democracy for the nation. Let this be our tribute imperishable to Inez Milholland Boissevain.
Inez was buried in upstate New York near her family home, Meadowmount, in Essex County, surrounded by the Adirondack mountains.
Listen to an account of Inez’s Memorial from Doris Stevens’ suffrage classic, “Jailed for Freedom,” at https://soundcloud.com/lets-rock-the-cradle/inez-milhollands-story-from.