Rural Players on the National Stage: Alma Nash, the Missouri Ladies Military Band, and the National Woman Suffrage Procession
Elyssa Ford, Associate Professor of History, Northwest Missouri State University
Editor’s Note: The United States is gearing up to commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which granted suffrage rights to many–but certainly not all–U.S. women. (It was passed by Congress in June 1919, and ratified August 18, 1920.) Histories of the American woman suffrage movement have long focused on a national movement centered in eastern cities, but new research highlights the contributions of rural women. Over the coming year, we seek to highlight their stories, as well as the stories of women of color and other groups who were excluded from enfranchisement in 1920.
Though often ignored by the national and eastern organizations, women’s suffrage groups in the Midwest learned by the late 19th century that rural areas also must be targeted to win the hearts and minds of the electorate. In Missouri, rural women themselves played an important role in the suffrage movement. From Kirksville in the far northeast to Maryville in the far northwest, rural communities engaged in suffrage discussions, invited national speakers who bewitched – and sometimes enraged – local audiences, and supported their own suffrage workers. In a paper presented at the 2019 Missouri Conference on History, I examine the compelling story of Maryville’s Alma Nash and her all-women’s band that travelled to Washington, D.C., for the national women’s suffrage parade in 1913. Through their actions at the parade and at home in the Midwest, it is possible to see how a small group of young, rural women engaged with the suffrage movement and how they were shaped not just by the national suffrage discussion but by the local and often heated suffrage debates within their community. The full version of this paper under the title “’We Sure Led the Parade’: Alma Nash, the Missouri Ladies Military Band, and the Push for Women’s Suffrage from Rural Missouri to the Nation’s Capital” can be seen in the April issue of the Missouri Historical Review (https://shsmo.org/publications/mhr/), published by the State Historical Society of Missouri.