Inez Milholland Boissevain

Woman Suffrage Activist

Inez Milholland Boissevain
Inez Milholland Boissevain. Courtesy US Library of Congress

Inez Milholland Boissevain Facts

Known for: dramatic spokesperson for woman suffrage whose death was treated as martyrdom to the cause of women’s rights
Occupation: activist, lawyer, orator, war correspondent
Dates: August 6, 1886 – November 25, 1916
Also known as: Inez Milholland

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Jean Torrey
  • Father: John Elmer Milholland, reporter

Education:

  • New York, London, Berlin
  • Vassar, 1905 - 1909
  • Law School, New York University, 1909 – 1912, LL.B.

Marriage, Children:

  • Engaged briefly to Guglielmo Marconi, physicist and inventor
  • Romantically linked in 1913 to Max Eastman, writer and radical (brother of Crystal Eastman)
  • Husband: Eugen Jan Boissevain, married July 1913 in London after a shipboard romance; she proposed to him
  • No children

Inez Milholland Boissevain Biography:

Inez Milholland was raised in a family with interest in social reform, including her father’s advocacy for women’s rights and peace.

Before she left for college, she was briefly engaged to Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian marquis, inventor and physicist, who would make possible the wireless telegraph.

Milholland attended Vassar from 1905 to 1909, graduating in 1909. At college, she was active in sports. She was on the 1909 track team and was the hockey team captain. She organized 2/3 of the students at Vassar into a suffrage club.

  When Harriot Stanton Blatch was to speak at the school, and the college refused to let her speak on campus, Milholland arranged to have her speak at a cemetery instead.

After college, she attended the Law School of New York University.  During her years there, she participated in a strike of women shirtwaist makers and was arrested.

After graduating from law school with an LL.B. in 1912, she passed the bar that same year. She went to work as an attorney with the Osborn, Lamb and Garvin firm, specializing in divorce and criminal cases.  While there, she personally visited Sing Sing prison and documented the poor conditions there.

She also joined the Socialist Party, the Fabian Society in England, the Women’s Trade Union League, the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, the National Child Labor Committee and the NAACP.

In 1913, she wrote on women for McClure’s magazine. That same year she got involved with the radical Masses magazine and had a romance with editor Max Eastman.

She also got involved in the more radical wing of the American woman suffrage movement. Her dramatic appearance on a white horse, while herself wearing the white that suffrage marchers generally adopted, became an iconic image for a 1913 major suffrage march in Washington, DC., sponsored by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and planned to coincide with the presidential inauguration.   She joined the the Congressional Union as it split from the NAWSA.

That summer, on transatlantic ocean voyage, she met a Dutch importer, Eugen Jan Boissevain.

She proposed to him while they were still en route, and they were married in July of 1913 in London, England.

When World War I began, Inez Milholland Boissevain got credentials from a Canadian newspaper and reported from the war’s front lines.  In Italy, her pacifist writing got her expelled.  Part of Henry Ford’s Peace Ship, she became discouraged with the venture’s disorganization and the conflicts among the supporters.

In 1916 Boissevain worked for the National Woman’s Party on a campaign to encourage women, in states with woman suffrage already, to vote to support a federal constitutional suffrage amendment.

She traveled in the western states on this campaign, already ill with pernicious anemia, but she refused to rest.

In Los Angeles, during a speech, she collapsed. She was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital, but despite attempts to save her, she died ten weeks later.

  She was hailed as a martyr to the woman suffrage cause.

When suffragists gathered in Washington, DC, the next year for protests near the time of the second inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, they used a banner with Inez Milholland Boissevain’s last words:

“Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”

Her widower later married the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.