The physical is political: Women's suffrage, pilgrim hikes and the public sphere

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In the first decades of the twentieth century, American women held swimming competitions, scaled mountains, piloted aeroplanes and staged large-scale parades in their quest for the right to vote. In effect, they spectacularized suffrage by positioning their bodies in the public sphere rather than confining their mission to the parlours and meeting-halls of their more conservative sisters. In this essay, I examine two suffrage hikes that took place in the second decade of the twentieth century. The first was the 12-day, 170-mile 'Hike to Albany' in 1912. The second hike involved the 'Army of the Hudson' march on Washington, DC, which departed from Newark, New Jersey in 1913. Thirteen women (joined intermittently by others who completed various segments of the journey) completed the entirety of the arduous, often treacherous 225-mile route in just 16 days. In the end, Woman Voter estimated that the hikes resulted in $3 million worth of advertising for the cause and declared that 'no propaganda workhad ever achieved such publicity'. As the suffragettes occupied city streets and rural roads, their message reached the eyes, ears and collective consciousness of what often seemed an insulated or uninterested public. Moreover, the women staked a symbolic claim on the polity, interweaving the democratic technologies of the right to assemble and speak freely with the incongruity of their denial of full citizenship. They engaged in what I call 'physical activism'- the articulation of physical activity and political activism-striking simultaneous blows to the myths of women's physical and political inferiority. Gleanings There is a method in the madness of the hiking suffragettes, There's a harvest from their sowing, they're the fish within their nets. They are stirring up the natives on their journey tempest tossed. They are getting advertising at a very trifling cost. Now the hike along the Hudson seemed a foolish trip and vain, But it gave them advertising from Los Angeles to Maine. All the sport that many writers made of Colonel Rosa Jones Added fibre to their muscles, added marrow to their bones. To secure the right of suffrage is the purpose and intent Of the women who are hiking to the seat of government. Since the female is so stubborn when she will we know she will, Let us give the ballot to her, and then ask her to keep still.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1133-1153
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of the History of Sport
Issue number7
StatePublished - May 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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