COLUMBIA — Donning golden sashes, thousands of women peacefully lined the sidewalk of Locust Street on June 14, 1916 in silent protest. Their motive behind this demonstration — which is referred to as The Golden Lane — was for women to gain the American right to vote.
"I saw a picture of this demonstration in the 1980s and I was absolutely stunned that I had never seen anything before about this event," Margot McMillen, author of "The Golden Lane: How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History," said. "The idea of The Golden Lane happening and never hearing about it or reading about it in Missouri history shocked me."
McMillen discussed the pivotal role that Missouri women played in the women's suffrage movement in a lecture at the State Historical Society of Missouri on Thursday. The event was in celebration of International Women's Day, Dr. Gary Kremer, director of the State Historical Society of Missouri, said at the commencement of the lecture.
At the time, there were two very distinct spheres: the male sphere and the female sphere, McMillen said. Women who chose to venture outside their defined roles within the female sphere posed a serious risk for themselves and had a great deal at stake.
"Women risked their husbands becoming angry and accusing them of neglect of the home and children. Family and neighbors might shun them," McMillen said. "Women might even be described as having uteromania — a condition in which psychiatrists said causes women to think they have a grander purpose in life."
These risks didn't stop Missouri women from gaining momentum in the suffrage movement.
McMillen said two prominent women behind The Golden Lane were Missouri natives, Emily Newell Blair and Carrie Chapman Catt. The two women were eager to gain the participation of other women in the demonstration.
"Emily Newell Blair was gifted with flair and courage," McMillen said. "She was the founder of 'The Missouri Woman,' which was a magazine that carried a variety of information and the many events that were coming up."
McMillen said "The Missouri Woman" reported on important women's issues and even featured an approved apparel look for women during The Golden Lane. It was a statewide publication for women of the time.
One of the main forms of gaining support for The Golden Lane was through posters that used military language and ideals to urge women to participate in the movement, McMillen said. The media was also heavily relied upon.
"The media was very enthusiastic and supportive of The Golden Lane," McMillen said. "I really think their support is what helped make this movement pass."
Missouri women devised the plan to stand in a silent vigil wearing golden sashes reading "Votes for Women," while men filed from The Jefferson Hotel to the St. Louis Coliseum for the Democratic National Convention, McMillen said.
"The women lined the street completely silent," McMillen said. "They were acting as if they had said everything they needed to say and the men just needed to get their act together."
The men attending the convention walked away with the powerful image of The Golden Lane, McMillen said.
She said the message to the men was to signify the capability that women had to vote properly in a election. The public demonstration was daring and shocking to many, but still maintained very modest, ladylike tones, McMillen said.
"The event took months of preparation and it truly proved that women had come a long way in the fight to vote," McMillen said. "It was a planned peaceful demonstration that worked very well."
McMillen said the women's well thought out plan worked. The issue of women gaining the right to vote was raised onto the convention's platform and within a couple of years, women gaining the right to vote was passed and they were able to vote in the upcoming elections.
"This truly allowed women to be political beings in the United States," McMillen said. "When you realize what women had to go through to get this right, you just can't take it for granted."