In 1913, a lot of women were pissed at President Woodrow Wilson, so they marched on Washington. Wilson had just won the presidential election, but unlike one of his opponents, he opposed giving women the right to vote.
So women’s suffrage activists led by Alice Paul decided it was time for a protest march on Washington.
It wasn’t the biggest march in U.S. history. Nevertheless, University of Washington historian Margaret O'Mara says the women’s suffrage parade of 1913 was a big success.
It was “designed to maximize media coverage," O’Mara said, with “women costumed in classical robes and beautiful actresses, and featured celebrities, just like the women's March on Washington this year.”
There was also the controversy. Toward the end of the parade, the mostly male crowd surged toward the marchers. As as a result, some of the women were injured, and the resulting media coverage of the violence helped build popular support to give women the right to vote.
Not all women in the movement liked the idea of a march, O'Mara explained. Some worried about alienating voters with such radical, “in-your face” tactics. Others thought a more gradual approach that focused first on the states would be more effective.
And the impact of the march wasn't clear right right away. It was still seven years until the 19th Amendment passed, she said, “but it was part of a larger political movement that was very effective.”
So, based on history, when do street protests have a lasting impact – and when do they fail?
O’Mara said the most successful street protests have a clear goal. “When there's a lot of different competing interests that are trying to get their goals met, it can be muddy," she said. "How do you actually turn that into political change?”
O'Mara said there’s also a point where the hard work of politics begins: “It comes down to voting, it comes down to these political institutions that represent us, and changing them from within. But you do have to agitate from without first.”
Correction, 8:50 a.m., 1/24/2017: The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. An earlier version incorrectly identified the amendment.