While opponents of same sex marriage deny the existence of any correlation between marriage equality and extending voting rights to women and civil and social rights to African-Americans, the three movements are clearly within the American grain. The famous photo by Mathew Brady of Abraham Lincoln with his son Tad suggested that thought to me, in a round about way.
When my parents moved to the Adirondacks in 1956, they rented a cottage on the Lewis estate of John Milholland, who had made a fortune from the pneumatic tube.
Milholland had two daughters, Inez and Vida. Inez was the more famous of the two. She was, literally and figuratively, a figurehead of the suffragist movement. That movement 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, then 25 years old.
After Inez’s death, which came in 1916 while campaigning in California for Wilson’s Republican opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, Vida gave up a career in music to carry on her sister’s work. She was arrested on July 4, 1917 for picketing and served three days in jail. In 1919 she toured the United States as part of the “Prison Special” tour of National Women’s Party.
The Milholland family, however, was no less dedicated to equality for African-Americans. At Inez’s funeral at the Congregational Church in Lewis, her father demanded that representatives from the NAACP and Howard University be allowed to speak. “I want to remind you that in the first suffrage parade, Inez herself demanded that the colored women be allowed to march, and now today we were told that it would mar the program to have these guests of mine speak. I have nothing to say except that Inez believed in equal rights for everybody.” Dr. Emmett J. Scott of Howard University said, “Inez Milholland had the courage to face the application of democratic principles and was not afraid to follow them to their logical end.”
I have always assumed that it was the Milhollands’ commitment to racial equality kept them supporters of the Republican party, the party of Lincoln.
By the time my family moved to Lewis, Vida had been dead for years, but her home on the estate was still occupied by her lifelong companion, Peggy Hamilton. When my older brother was not yet six, Peggy made him a gift of one of Brady’s own prints of the portrait of Lincoln and his son, which had once belonged to Vida.
I would not presume to speculate about the nature of the relationship between Vida Milholland and Peggy Hamilton, but I think it’s safe to assume that the Milhollands would have viewed the extension of marriage rights to Gays and Lesbians as “the application of democratic principles to their logical end.”
To do so would only have been within the American tradition, one which their family embodied.
Photos: Above, Inez Milholland in 1913; Below, the Abe and Tad Lincoln photo by Brady.