Why did suffragists wear medieval costumes? Mary Dockray-Miller answers this question with the help of scholarship from Holly McCammon, Annelise Madsen, Maria DiCenzo, and Kate White.
Here is a taste:
In the 1910s, U.S. suffragists emulated and expanded on the British women’s movement’s interest in medieval costume as part of their parades (or “pageants,” their preferred term). Medieval costume became a standard feature of the American suffrage parade throughout the decade, with one participant often designated specifically as Joan of Arc. These medievalist pageant performances allowed suffrage advocates to embody a quasi-military activism that was chronologically distant enough to be perceived as unthreatening to contemporary gender roles.
The most famous example of the medievalist impulse in the suffrage movement is Inez Milholland, who dressed as a medieval herald as she led the Women’s Suffrage pageant through Washington D.C. on March 3, 1913. With her crown, sweeping white cape, flowing hair, white horse, and riding gloves shaped like armored gauntlets, Milholland provided a medievalist representation of the glamour of the suffrage movement. Her reputation as the most beautiful of the American suffragists only enhanced that glamour. She rode confidently astride her herald’s horse, not in the more demure side-saddle posture.
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