KERA Delegation at Democratic National Convention in NAWSA Walkless Parade and to Lobby for Woman Suffrage Plank

Randolph Hollingsworth (she/her) Discussion

Even though the Kentucky Equal Rights Association had organized the largest suffrage parade ever in the state on May 6, 1916, and they had a glittering array of women lobbyists at the Democratic State Convention held in Lexington May 24th, the Democratic Party of Kentucky still refused to endorse a woman suffrage plank. The 1916 Democratic National Convention was held June 14-16 in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Kentucky delegates found themselves in the tight grip of anti-suffragist governors J.C.W. Beckham and A.O. Stanley who were attending as delegates-at-large.

According to an announcement in May in the Courier-Journal, the following suffragists had told Josephine F. Post, KERA Congressional Committee Chair, they would be attending the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis: Mrs. J.D. Chambers of Hawesville; Mrs. Robert Rains of St. Louis; Laura Clay of Lexington; Elizabeth (Mrs. H.S.) Vansant of Frankfort. According to the reports on the "Kentucky Division of the Golden Lane" in the 1916 KERA convention minutes that fall, there were 15 delegates who participated at the St. Louis convention's silent protest on June 14, 1916. The National American Woman Suffrage Association called it a "walkless parade" in which the women in the lines on the sidewalks were to remain silent. The Laura Clay Photographic Collection at the University of Kentucky includes a photograph of the Kentucky delegation - of the individuals listed above, the only person recognized today in the photograph is Laura Clay (labeled G below).

For the other people in the photograph, we have some good guesses:

In the St. Louis "walkless parade," the women from States where only men voted wore white dresses with suffrage yellow sashes or streamers and parasols. The women from the suffrage states (11 at that point) were dressed in red, white and blue costumes, carrying banners or pennants bearing the words, "I am a Voter." To keep the "Golden" line consistent, all the banners or other kinds of hand-held signs would be attached to runners held in front of the women at waist-high. Thousands of women formed a double row along Locust Street between the Jefferson Hotel and the Coliseum where the convention was held. They planned for the "walkless parade" to last until noon on the 14th and they planned a torchlight parade and program for that evening.

At noon they presented a “tableau vivant” of women on the steps of the old city Art Museum building at 19th and Locust streets. One woman was dressed as Liberty. Thirteen more represented the suffrage states including the Alaska territory - they were in white togas and gold laurel leaves "Sappho style" in their hair. Each carried a bright red shield proclaiming the name of the state and carrying a flag. The women representing the partial suffrage states (including Kentucky) were robed in gray gowns ornamented with a Greek fret design in yellow. They wore veils of white with golden filets. The non-suffrage states with their backs to the sun were in black togas with no decoration, their heads bowed and faces covered with black veils. In addition, ten women wore traditional costumes of other countries showing where women had the right to vote at that time: Norway, Denmark, Canada, Iceland, Finland, Bosnia, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and the Ile of Man. The group posed five minutes at a time with rest intervals of five minutes between sessions. In the evening, the actors also took part in the 12th street parade when every suffragist carried a lighted yellow lantern on a pole. Marguerite Martyn (1880-1948) published the image below showing the design of the tableau vivant - her article was published in the Sunday magazine of the St. Louis Post Dispatch (11 June 1916).


The activities undertaken by women suffragists at the Democratic National Convention worked - however, the men did not endorse the "Susan B. Anthony" amendment language prepared by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Instead, the Democratic Party's Presidential platform of 1916 stated: "We recommend the extension of the franchise to the women of the country by the States upon the same terms as to men."

*** Resources ***

"1916 Democratic Party Platform," The American Presidency Project, UC Santa Barbara.

McMillen, Margot Ford. The Golden Lane: How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

NAWSA Press Bureau, "United States," International Woman Suffrage, Jus Suffragii. Vol 2. Edited by Sybil Oldfield. (1 July 1916): 151-152.

"Women Prepare Platform Fight, Big Delegation to Attend Democratic Convention, W.L. Threlkeld Heads Reception Committee," Courier-Journal [Louisville KY] (16 May 1916): 3. Transcribed on H-Kentucky at

N.B. This essay contributes to the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project's digital timeline of the history of Kentucky women's suffrage activities from 1838-1920. To see this post within its larger context, visit the KWSP timeline here.