About Inez Boissevain (Milholland)
Inez Milholland Boissevain (August 6, 1886 – November 25, 1916) was a suffragist, labor lawyer, World War I correspondent, and public speaker who greatly influenced the women's movement in America.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she grew up in a wealthy family. She was the eldest daughter of John Elmer and Jean (Torrey) Milholland. She had one sister and one brother. Her father was a New York Tribune reporter and editorial writer who eventually headed a pneumatic tubes business that afforded his family a privileged life in both New York and London. Her father supported many reforms, among them world peace, civil rights, and women suffrage. Her mother exposed her children to cultural and intellectual stimulation.
On July 14, 1913, she was married in London, England to Eugen Jan Boissevain, a Dutch importer. She admitted to proposing to Boissevain first, and she referred to this initiative as being a woman's "new freedom." They never had children.
Inez Milholland received her early education at the Comstock School in New York and Kensington High School in London. After finishing school, she decided to attend Vassar but when the college wouldn't accept her graduation certificate she attended Willard School for Girls in Berlin. She obtained a B.A. degree at Vassar in 1909 after four years of education.
During her attendance at Vassar College she was once suspended for organizing a women's rights meeting. The president of Vassar had forbidden suffrage meetings, but Milholland and others held regular "classes" on the issue, along with large protests and petitions. As a student she was known as an active radical. She started the suffrage movement at Vassar, enrolled two-thirds of the students, and taught them the principles of socialism. With the radical group she had gathered about her, she attended socialist meetings in Poughkeepsie which were under the ban of the faculty. An athletic young woman, she was the captain of the hockey team and a member of the 1909 track team; she also set a record in the basketball throw. Milholland was also involved in student productions, the Current Topics Club, the German Club, and the debating team.
After graduation she tried for admission at both Oxford and Cambridge with the purpose of studying law, but was denied due to gender. She also failed to gain admission to the Harvard Law School, but was finally matriculated at the New York University Law School, from which she took her LL.B. degree in 1912.
She was later admitted to the bar, joining the New York law firm of Osborne, Lamb, and Garvan, handling criminal and divorce cases. In one of her first assignments, she had to investigate conditions at Sing Sing prison. At the time female contact with male prisoners was not looked upon well, but she insisted on talking personally with the prisoners to uncover the horrible conditions.
Her causes were far reaching: in addition to prison reform, she sought world peace and worked for equality for African Americans. Milholland was a member of the NAACP, the Women's Trade Union League, the Equality League of Self Supporting Women in New York (Women's Political Union), the National Child Labor Committee, and England's Fabian Society. She was also involved in the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which later branched into the grassroots radical National Woman's Party. She became a leader and a popular speaker on the campaign circuit of the NWP, working closely with Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.
In 1913, at the age of 27, Milholland made her most memorable appearance, as she helped organize the suffrage parade in Washington D.C., scheduled to take place the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. She led the parade wearing a crown and a long white cape while riding atop a large white horse named "Gray Dawn."
At the beginning of World War 1, Milholland traveled overseas as a war correspondent for a Canadian newspaper to gain access to the front lines. From there she composed pacifist articles, which led to her censure by the Italian government, which ousted her from the country.
She was also a leading figure on Henry Ford's ill-fated Peace Ship expedition of late 1915, steaming across the Atlantic with a team of pacifist campaigners who hoped to give impetus to a negotiated settlement to the First World War. However, she left the ship in Stockholm because the trip was unorganized and dissension had ensued between passengers. Her role has recently been fictionalized by the British novelist Douglas Galbraith in his novel King Henry.
Milholland vehemently protested against America's involvement in World War I. She was a labor lawyer and was involved in the production of the socialist journal, The Masses.
In 1916, she went on a tour in the West, speaking for women's rights, despite suffering from pernicious anemia, despite the admonitions of her family who were concerned about her deteriorating health. On October 22, 1916, she collapsed in the middle of a speech in Los Angeles, and was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital. Despite repeated blood transfusions, she died on November 25, 1916, at 10:55. Her last public words were, "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?"
In a tribute to Milholland, Mount Discovery in the Adirondacks was renamed Mount Inez.
Carl Sandburg wrote a poem about her titled "Repetitions," which appears in his 1918 volume, Cornhuskers. Edna St. Vincent Millay, who married Milholland's widower Eugen Boissevain in 1923, also wrote a poem, "To Inez Milholland," included in her collection The Buck in the Snow. Julia Ormond's representation of Milholland was received with accolades in the movie Iron Jawed Angels, which received a standing ovation at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.