Old-fashioned Fourth of July parade

Alpena’s 1912 Fourth of July parade was an all-male affair. Men only “strutted and stared.” Women watched — or not.

Being there then to see the surviving soldiers of the Horace E. Parker Post of The Grand Army of The Republic — our civil war veterans — would have been an honor.

It would have been a pleasure to hear the Boy’s Band play and to hear our all-male chorus sing, “Hail Columbia.” It would have been interesting to observe the different floats manned by the men of the secret and civic societies of the day.

But there were other aspects of this procession I would not have found attractive.

All the officers and board members of the Alpena Chamber of Commerce marched in the parade, as did the mayor, 12 city aldermen, and all city officials. County and township office holders marched, as well. Without exception, these striders were men.

Observing a promenade of sundry male officials of diverse physical dimension is not my idea of a good time. I doubt it’s yours.

No matter, they ambled along, all smiles and waving. With so much attention directed their way, they probably concluded they looked pretty good — they didn’t. With so many parading disadvantages prominently displayed, they didn’t have a chance. Nor did they have a clue where lay the path to their redemption.

In 1912, women couldn’t vote. Since they couldn’t vote, they had no say in deciding how things should be. They were consigned to “their place” — not a parade — despite the obvious need for them to be there.

No group fought harder to be parade-worthy than disenfranchised women. It was a struggle for inclusion that began early. In 1860, the suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton addressed the House Judiciary Committee. A New York Times reporter was there:

“She talked forcibly earnestly of women’s sufferings, sweetly of her endurance, eloquently of her rights. She pleaded these demands with the feeling of a true woman and she carried the conviction that she was not asking more than justice demanded. She was earnest, eloquent, and plausible but she must have felt she was not convincing her audience — and she did not.”

Elizabeth’s plea was made to a congressional committee composed entirely of men, fathers to men like those who ambled along in our 1912 parade, many of whom believed a women’s right to vote was not a part of God’s plan.

Women who asserted otherwise were branded anarchists and agitators. They were the rabble-rousers of their day. Advancing reasonable arguments eloquently failed to get them in the parade.

But confrontation did.

In 1913, suffragist Alice Paul led one of the first protests ever held in front of the White House. Protestors waved banners, proclaiming, “America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote.”

The women protested in nearby Lafayette Park. They were arrested, some jailed. In 1917, Alice Paul was sentenced to prison for seven months. She began a hunger strike — they force-fed her raw eggs through a feeding tube.

These protesting women were committed, intelligent, strident — and they were right, a combination that infuriated those comfortable with conformity and the oppression that conformity entailed.

Though scorned, women would not be ignored and ultimately they prevailed. In 1919, the Senate approved the 19th Amendment. On Aug. 18, 1920, it was ratified.

Overnight, our parades got better.

The coronavirus that now infects and limits us will be licked, someday. Smart men and women of diverse talent, race, religion, and orientation are working on a cure. In time, our Fourth of July parade will return. When it does, men and women will march there together.

Maybe someday, all the children of the world — red, brown, yellow, black, and white — will come together in that light that shines in all of us, no matter our race, religion, national origin, sex, or sexual orientation.

A parade sublime — a celebration of simple decency.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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