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ON THE SCENE: Hundreds join Women’s March in Lewis

January 26, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Possibly not since famed suffragette Inez Milholland was buried 100 years ago in the town cemetery behind the First Congregational Church of Lewis has such a large gathering of people descended on the small Adirondack hamlet as they did Saturday, Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office in Washington, D.C.

Then, as now, the reason is similar: demonstrating for equality and justice under the law.

The formal campaign for women's right to vote started in 1848 in Seneca Falls, site of the first women's rights convention. Frustrated by the lack of headway over the preceding decades, in 1913 women shifted from signing petitions to giving public demonstrations and aggressive lobbying. On March 3 of that year, more than 8,000 gathered in for the first suffragette parade in Washington, D.C. to carry their banners and message the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Many men along the parade route sought to block their efforts until a young woman, Inez Milholland, arrived on a white horse pushing them aside enabling the women's march to continue.

Article Photos

Women’s March organizer Sandra Weber, back row second from right, poses with a number of supporters at the Lewis Cemetery Saturday, Jan. 21.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Milholland soon became the voice of suffrage, the Gloria Steinem of her day. She threw herself into the effort with a passion. In 1916 Milholland gave over 50 speeches in 28 days crisscrossing the western United States. On Oct. 23, she collapsed at the podium in Blanchard Hall, Los Angeles dying a month later of exhaustion and anemia. She was just 30. Milholland's last public words were, "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?"

For many, Milholland died a martyr as her likeness and quotes from her speeches were featured on banners in the drive that lead to the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920. For most of her life, Milholland summered in Lewis on the family farm, now the site of Meadowmount School of Music, and thus it was here where she was buried and, for many, faded from memory.

For the last decade, Adirondack author, historian, and lecturer Sandra Weber has led an effort to rekindle public awareness of the vital role Milholland played 100 years ago. As a consequence, Weber's calling for a gathering at Milholland's grave in the Lewis Cemetery on the same day as the Women's March in Washington was a natural step.

"I was expecting maybe 250," said Sandra Weber. "I organized it because I couldn't go to Washington. I heat my house with wood, all the stuff of living up here. When I heard Seneca Falls was organizing a march, I immediately announced ours. We were the third planned event in New York state!"

However, just as the number of people who went to Washington tripled the 200,000 anticipated by the national organizers, the more than 400 who came to Lewis far surpassed Weber's expectation. People came from all over the region as well as from Vermont and beyond. Many in the crowd, a broad mix of men and women, young and old, wore pink pussyhats and carried homemade signs featuring Milholland quotes like "Forward into the Light!" and "Leave behind darkness and spite!"

The signs proclaimed slogans such as "Build Bridges, not Walls," "Love your mothers, brothers, sisters, and 'the other,'" "Respect all life," "Fight to preserve your rights," "Science is real, kindness is everything," "Our rights are not up for grab and neither are we," "I love all people," "Water is life, no DAPL," and "When was America 'Great?' When women couldn't vote; when women couldn't work 'male' jobs; when women paid more for healthcare; when women died from botched abortions. When? Never again."

"I wanted to honor the women in my family," said Karen Boldis of her large signed filled with images of women. "All my grandparents were born in Hungry, so my family was all immigrants who came over. Most of them are gone now. The photos are of women in my family from before I was born to my sister's daughter who was married last year."

"I came because I feel a real connection to this place," said Sheila MacIntyre from Burlington. "It's an emotional day and a very empowering day. I hope for equality, kindness, peace, love for the environment, and love for each other."

"I'm hereto protect the rights of the people who can't speak up for themselves, the people across the country who deserve a voice," said Sage Bissell Ruttan of Lake Placid.

"I'm here to make the invisible visible, to make all of our concerns visible to everybody," said Cathy Kraft from Saranac Lake, a member of Now What. "I'm supporting minorities, women, LBGT. I'm just horrified by what may come down. If we stand together, we will triumph over it."

People attending were sensitive to the financial hardships of the middle class that drove many to vote for Trump as they faced the similar challenges, but they were not willing to have environmental protections, access to affordable health care, equal pay for equal work and other social benefits trashed. People also felt that there was an urgency to connect with others.

"In some ways, this is more catastrophic than Pearl Harbor because we are divided instead of united," said former town of Keene Supervisor Tom Both. "I feel a lot of people have been sold a bill of good; they have hopes that will not be realized. I'm concerned about the future of our country."

"I'm here because all the progress that seemed to have been made over the last fifty years seems close to be eroding," said Emily Martz, a member of Now What in Saranac Lake. "If we don't do things like this we could be taking a big step backward. I'd like to ask the people who didn't vote, why? We have to engage those people and found out what needs they have, are they not being met, do they think it's impossible? Why are they so disengaged and what can we do? It's possible; some just take the rights we have for granted. We don't know until we start sitting down, talking, and listening."

"I had no idea we had such a special person buried here," said Nancy Sczesnak from Lewis. "This is the biggest gathering I've ever seen here!"

Following the gravesite activities, more than 200 gathered at the Whallonsburg Grange to discuss practical next steps for reaching out to neighbors and elected representatives, and urge people concerned about social justice to run office on the local level.

"This event is great," said Sue McGarry. "It shows solidarity, that we're not going to be complacent about all of this, and that we're not going to stand by for the next four years and do nothing."



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