A portrait of Inez Milholland hanging over a mantelpiece in the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington DC will be restored if a committee established in March is able to raise $4,000.
Milholland’s name is known today primarily by historians of the crusade to win for women the right to vote.
That crusade acquired crucial public attention on March 4, 1913, the day Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated for his first term. Women from every state gathered in the capital and staged a great parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Leading the parade on a white charger was Inez Milholland, then 25 years old.
She was, literally and figuratively, a figurehead of the nascent women’s rights movement.
The painting that is to be restored portrays Milholland as she appeared that day, on her white horse, bearing a banner that read “Forward into Light.”
But while Inez Milholland may be a somewhat obscure historical figure in other parts of the country, she’s a legend in the Adirondacks.
Born in 1886, she was the daughter of John Milholland, a Lewis, NY native who made a fortune with his invention of the pneumatic tube. (By training a newspaperman, he got his start on the Ticonderoga Sentinel.)
He used a part of that fortune to acquire property in Lewis – Mount Discovery and the surrounding lands, some of which is now occupied by the Meadowmount School for Strings.
(When my parents moved to the Adirondacks in 1956, they rented one of the estate’s cottages. Their neighbor was Peggy Hamilton, the lifelong companion of Inez’s sister Vida.)
Inez Milholland graduated from Vassar and married Eugene Boissevain, who later married Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Milholland died in 1916 while campaigning in California for Wilson’s opponent, Charles Evans Hughes. She’s buried in the Milholland family plot at the Congregational Church in Lewis.
Another four years would pass before the twentieth amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was adopted.
Eight years after that, the National Women’s Party held a conference at Meadowmount, which concluded with a pageant in the meadows below Mount Discovery.
Anne Boissevain Nussbaum, who married Eugene Boissevain’s brother and who lived in Westport, once recalled the pageant in detail for my father.
More than 10,000 people attended, she said. The theme was the passing of the torch of freedom from one generation to the next. Great women leaders of the past were honored, and Inez’s role was dramatized by the appearance of her sister, Vida, riding a white horse as Inez had done. In the final act of the pageant, Mrs. Nusbaum took the torch and passed it on to a group of women just setting off on a campaign tour.
The committee to raise funds to restore the portrait includes Margaret Gibbs, the director of the Essex County Historical Society at the Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown.
Representatives of the Milholland and Boissevain families, several scholars and Calvin Tompkins, the New Yorker writer who spent childhood summers with the Milholland family at Meadowmount, are also members.
The committee hopes to have the portrait restored in time for the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 2010.
Gifts to the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum are tax-deductible. Anyone interested in contributing to this effort may send a check directly to the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, c/o Page Harrington, 144 Constitution Avenue Northeast, Washington, DC 20002-5608. Please note on the check: “Inez portrait restoration fund.”