Visual Arts and Museum Affairs Blog

September 7, 2023: VAMA Collection: Inez Milholland Boissevain

Posted on September 07, 2023 at 12:00 AM

by Grace Soares, VAMA Intern

Pictured in the center of this pageant poster is Inez Milholland Boissevain. Milholland Boissevain was a prominent figure in the fight for women’s rights. Not only a powerful and successful suffragist, Inez Milholland Boissevain was a labor lawyer, peace activist, social activist, public speaker, and played an important role in New York society in the early 1900s.

Born on August 6th, 1886 in New York City, into a wealthy and educated family, Inez Milholland Boissevain received an education from Vassar College, and NYU Law School. Her views, radical for the time, included fighting for women’s rights, labor and prison reform, and racial equality. She was also anti-war, and pro-sex, making her extremely progressive and controversial.

As pictured in the 1917 pageant poster, Milholland Boissevain often participated in marches for women’s rights on the back of a stark white horse, wearing a crown and a long white cape, drawing attention from the masses. This regal image depicts her as almost an angelic figure, while still expressing the sheer power and strength she possessed.

In regards to the text on this poster, the phrase that may stand out to most viewers of this artwork is “Who died for the freedom of women”. Inez Milholland

Boissevain’s death did in fact result in part from her ceaseless fight for women and others who faced oppression. Milholland Boissevain suffered from pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disorder that causes a lack of the crucial vitamin B12. Her constant fight for equality was not only exhausting, but it was directly leading to a decline in her already wavering health. Inez collapsed on stage in Los Angeles, giving a speech about what she was most passionate about, women’s suffrage. She died shortly after on November 25, 1916.

Milholland Boissevain has been a figure of martyrdom for the women’s rights movement for over 100 years. Her legacy lives on, and her powerful yet beautiful image continues to leave a lasting impression in the minds of those who fight for the equality of women. 

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