ON MARCH 3, 1913, one day before the
first inauguration of President Woodrow
Wilson, 20-year-old Lavinia Margaret
Engle of Forest Glen joined more than
8,000 demonstrators on Capitol Hill as
they prepared to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to
demand that women be given the vote.
Many of the marchers never reached
As the protesters gathered on Capitol Hill, tens of thousands of spectators,
mostly men in town for the inauguration, lined the avenue. The men heckled
and jeered the demonstrators as they
marched, then flooded into the street
and blocked their path. Women were
grabbed, jostled and pushed to the pavement. Policemen seemed indifferent to
the attacks taking place around them, The
Washington Post reported, their inaction
interpreted as sympathetic to the mob.
More than 100 women were hospitalized following the melee. Congressional
hearings ensued. The D.C. superintendent of police was fired. The incident,
reported in the national news, only amplified the call for women’s voting rights.
Engle escaped the fray unscathed. She
had marched as a member of the Maryland delegation in what was intended
to be a grand parade—organized by the
National American Woman Suffrage
Forest Glen’s Lavinia Engle
fought for suffrage and justice
Association—that would include nine
bands, four mounted brigades, 20 floats
and an allegorical performance about the
plight of women.
Engle’s childhood prepared her for a
role in the suffrage movement. She had
grown up in Forest Glen, a quiet suburban community just north of Silver
Spring, the daughter of Quaker parents.
Her mother, Lavinia Hauke Engle, was an
active suffragette who once joined Susan
B. Anthony in testifying before Congress.
Her father, James Engle, was a Treasury
After graduating from Antioch Col-
lege in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1912,
the younger Lavinia joined the suffrage
association as an organizer and field sec-
retary, traveling throughout the country
to incite women to action. She once rode
a mule up a dry creek bed in West Vir-
ginia to get the support of a legislator. Her
weapons, she said, were “justice, logic and
persuasion.” Her recipe for a good speech:
“Stand up, speak up and shut up.”
Engle was a firm believer in woman-
power, and she put that belief into action.
With the entry of the U.S. into World
War I in 1917, she helped organize a
suffrage field hospital staffed entirely by
women to nurse wounded soldiers. Engle
later recalled to an interviewer that the
most difficult part of the project was
finding a woman plumber.
Finally, after years of struggle, the 19th
Amendment to the Constitution went
into effect in 1920, giving women the
right to vote. The old suffrage association
was disbanded and in its place, leaders
formed the League of Women Voters.
For the next 16 years, Engle served as
executive secretary of the Maryland
league, investigating a variety of social
problems, from child labor to families in
poverty, and lobbying for health services
for women and children.
Engle found a political platform in
1930, when she was elected the first
woman to represent Montgomery County
in the Maryland House of Delegates. Her
political acumen caught the eye of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who appointed her
head of the speakers’ bureau for his first
presidential campaign in 1932. When the
Social Security Act was signed into law in
1936, Roosevelt asked her to head up field
operations for the new agency. She stayed
with Social Security until her retirement
During her lifetime, Engle received
accolades and awards for her work on
women’s issues. No matter her age or the
odds, she never gave up the fight. n
Author and historian Mark Walston was
raised in Bethesda and lives in Olney.
etc. BY MARK WALSTON