This public visibility had an extremely positive effect on the movement, reaching people their more passive campaign would never have touched.
Needless to say, the strategy of marching in the streets was not one typically associated with normal female behavior. Yet, through this brazen tactic, suffragists were able to elevate their public image to a position where they were seen as legitimate participants in the public political arena. Onlookers began to see suffragists as serious and dignified, and as individuals who had courage to make public appearances, presenting themselves to onlookers (McCammon). Much of the effectiveness of these parades was due to the manner in which they were held.
As McCammon notes, woman suffrage parades were neither festive nor frivolous. The women typically marched in formation. They wore white dresses and carried signs and banners stating reasons why women should have the right to vote. In eastern parades, primarily, a variety of women from all social levels were found participating in the parades, from working class women to professional women, to college women, to society women.
In fact, some women even brought their children to march in the parades. This solidarity of women was an effective means of attracting the attention of the press, with newspapers regularly reporting on the parades.
Even when the media coverage was less than favorable, it still helped the suffragists spread the word about the movement.
During the first half century of the WSM word was spread in small groups, in living rooms and churches. Supporters could express "their belief by signing petitions, giving money, buying suffrage souvenirs and literature, and working as organizers" (Borda). The time for education was over. and, once women took to the streets en mass support of suffrage became even more popular, as it raised the consciousness of a nation.
Woman suffrage parades were effective because they took the movement one step further from it's traditionally more passive activities. It was a natural evolution of development for the social movement. As King, Cornwall and Dahlin note, American political change is not a single, discrete outcome. There is a sequence of stages that must occur in order for the ultimate success of the change. At first, suffrage needed to educate key members of society and the political world in the most socially acceptable means possible. However, once that education had reached its maximum potential only by stepping their campaigns up a notch, and actually taking action contrary to the accepted social norms, by putting themselves into the public space via suffrage parades, could the WSM continue to make headway in their campaign. These parades allowed society to see women in action, in the exact political forum they were discussing. They also reached a wider variety of people and allowed potential supporters to see the plethora of people who already supported the movement.
In the end, the women's suffrage movement eventually successfully garnered women the right to vote, as well as other rights for women, in America.
Yet, it was a process that was accomplished in stages.
During the beginning of the movement, suffragists focused on education and persuasion of key political individuals through personal connections. and, this did work, until the end of the 19th century. The beginning of the 20th century saw a need for a change to the suffragists' strategies. Although it was socially unacceptable for women to actively participate in public arenas, once women entered this sphere through street speeches, it was only a matter of time before they were holding organized marches with hundreds and even thousands of marchers, and even more spectators, each step in their parade a step closer to women securing the right to vote.
Beck, E., Dorsey, E., & Stutters, a. "The Women's Suffrage Movement: Lessons for Social Action." Journal of Community Practice 11(3) 2003: p. 13-33. Academic Search Premier database. EBSCOHost. University of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ. March 9, 2008 http://web.ebscohost.com.
Borda, J. "The Woman Suffrage Parades of 1910-1913." Western Journal of Communication 66(1) Winter 2002: p. 25-52. Academic Search Premier database. EBSCOHost. University of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ. March 9, 2008 http://web.ebscohost.com.
King, B. Cornwall, M., & Dahlin, E. "Winning Woman Suffrage One Step at a Time." Social Forces 83(3) Mar 2005: p. 1211-1234. Academic Search Premier database. EBSCOHost. University of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ. March 9, 2008 http://web.ebscohost.com.
Lumsden, L. "Beauty and the Beasts: Significance of Press Coverage of the 1913 National Suffrage Parade." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. 77(3) Autumn 2000: p. 593-611. Academic Search Premier database. EBSCOHost. University of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ. March 9, 2008 http://web.ebscohost.com.
McCammon, H. "Out of the Parlors and into the Streets." Social Forces 81(3) Mar 2003: p. 787-818. Academic Search Premier database. EBSCOHost. University of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ. March 9, 2008 http://web.ebscohost.com.