One hundred years after Alma Nash signaled the downbeat and her band began to play, quieting the unruly crowds gathered at the Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, DC, a group of Maryville High School young women will present a program to celebrate the achievement.
The Nodaway County Historical Society will host a Ladies Band Program at 2 pm, Sunday, March 3, at the museum, 110 North Walnut, Maryville.
The program will highlight the Missouri Ladies Military Band of Maryville who marched on March 3, 1913, the only all-women band to march and perform in the suffrage parade that day.
The event will feature 11 MHS students performing music as well as the opportunity to see a new exhibit at the museum on Nash.
Women’s Suffrage Parade
As the parade began in front of the Capitol Building on that day in early March, a crowd of heckling and resentful men refused to let the marchers move forward. The crowd, estimated at around 250,000, overwhelmed the police in the area.
That’s when Nash and her band began to play, quieting the crowd, and the parade moved ahead without incident.
Nash later told a Maryville reporter: “We did not have time to stop and think about the really important thing we did do when our band led the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. We were not right in the lead when the parade started; a number of women escorts, a number of walking officers of the National Equal Suffrage Association, with our band following, was the order when we first started.
“We had gone but a short distance when the crowd started closing up toward the line of the parade, and men blockaded a place in the street a short distance ahead. One of the suffrage officers came rushing back to us and told us to march on ahead and lead; that it would be necessary for the band to open the way proved true.
“We were not molested in the least, and although the march was slow on account of the crowds, no one offered to stand in our way down the avenue.
“These women were part of one of many remarkable stands for women’s suffrage.”
Several years before the parade, in 1905, Nash opened the Maryville School of Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar. Five years later, she organized an all-ladies concert band and then transformed that band into the first all-ladies marching band.
During this time, as women were strongly petitioning for suffrage, the leaders of several women’s groups decided to organize a parade in Washington to call more attention to their cause. The parade on March 3 was to precede the inauguration of President-elect Woodrow Wilson the following day.
The Maryville band members jumped at the opportunity to join in the suffragette cause.
A new discovery
An old, worn picture has been in Joyce Holt’s possession for many years, although she didn’t realize its significance until recently.
“It’s been in my old album forever, but I didn’t know what it was,” the 87-year-old Maryville resident said. “It just said Alma Nash and the Maryville band.”
Then a couple of weeks ago, Holt ran into Melissa Middleswart, a longtime friend and volunteer at the museum who had been busy planning the Ladies Band Program. And while discussing the event, the conversation soon turned to the photo.
They began to wonder if Holt’s mother, Edith Davenport, had been a member of the band since she was in possession of the photo.
After doing some digging, it was discovered that Davenport was a member of the band and involved in the local suffragette cause. However, for some unknown reason, she did not make the trip to march with the women in Washington.
Holt knows very little about her mother, just stories her grandmother and others have told her, because she died a few weeks after giving birth to her.
Davenport was born on April 15, 1895, and grew up in Maryville. She was a country school teacher and was a part of Nash’s band in her late teenage years.
“I always knew she played the piano beautifully,” Holt said.
In addition to the photo of the band, Holt also has a postcard her mother sent to her grandmother on February 13, 1914, when she was 18 years old. She wrote that she would not be home that night as she was “debating women’s suffrage.”
“Grandma never talked about suffrage being a big deal,” Holt said. “But she was trying to eek out a living and raise five kids.”
But it was obviously of great importance to Davenport. Holt also has a photo of her mother standing on a rock that’s painted with the words “Votes for Women.”
In the book “Suffrage Comes to the Women of Nodaway County, MO,” Martha Cooper wrote: “The Missouri Ladies Military Band of Maryville did not initially set out to be the nation’s first all-female suffragist marching band, but the young women were in the right place at the right moment to take this place in history.”
It would be seven more years after the Missouri Ladies Military Band marched in the Women’s Suffrage Parade that women were finally granted the right to vote.
One member of the band, Maye Shipps Corrough, on hearing the good news while at the Arkoe general store, said: “I got up on the counter and danced!”
Corrough’s trombone is on display at the museum and will be available for viewing following the Ladies Band Program on March 3. The event is free, but donations are welcome. Refreshments will also be served.
The museum reopens from its winter closing on March 5 with regular hours of 1 to 4 pm, Tuesday through Friday, or by appointment.
For more information about the program, call Middleswart at 660.582.8687.
Information for this article came from a 1966 Kansas City Star article, “Tribute to a Music Teacher: Her Ladies Band Helped Suffragette Cause,” a 1984 KC Star-Times article, “Woman played to beat the ban on vote,” “Suffrage comes to the women of Nodaway County, MO” by Martha Cooper, and the Missouri Women blog. Special thanks to Melissa Middleswart and Joyce Holt.