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“Forward into Light”

“Forward into Light” August 2, 2023
A poster advertising the 1924 “Forward into Light” pageant in Essex County, commemorating Inez Milholland’s role in the 1913 march on Washington.
A poster advertising the 1924 “Forward into Light” pageant in Essex County, commemorating Inez Milholland’s role in the 1913 march on Washington.

Harry McDougall, Essex County Clerk, Republican chairman, Dairymen’s League president and – more to the point – real estate agent, could not have known how accurately he had read my parents’ inclinations when he showed them a cottage that happened to be vacant and for rent when they moved to the Adirondacks in November, 1956.

Or perhaps he did. The white frame cottage, on a dirt road in the Town of Lewis, had been built for Jack Milholland, the brother of suffragist Inez Milholland, near the 36-room summer mansion which their wealthy father constructed in 1898.

As people with left-wing sympathies and histories (which made it difficult for my father to land work as a journalist in the New York and Washington of the McCarthy years), my parents could not help but find an association – however remote – with a once-renowned radical congenial.

Living next door, in another Milholland cottage known as Chimney Corners and built for Inez’ sister, Vida Milholland, was a woman named Peggy Hamilton, Vida’s longtime companion, who remained a lifelong family friend.

Women and the Adirondacks

This summer’s emphasis on strong, independent women – the Lake George Land Conservancy’s commemoration of Helen V. Froehlich, Mary Wiltsie Fuller, Mary Hilliard Loines and her daughters Sylvia and Elma, Lynn LaMontagne Schumann, Margaret Darrin and Winifred  LaRose – and the Bolton Museum’s celebration of Dr. Katherine Blodgett, Franziska Boas, Marjorie Sewell Cautley,  Louise Homer,  Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi; the Loineses; and Helen Sewell – made me think of the Milholland sisters.

Inez Milholland was, of course, the more famous of the two.  She was, literally and figuratively, a figurehead of the suffragist movement. That movement acquired crucial public attention on March 4, 1913, the day Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated for his first term. Women from every state gathered in the capital and staged a great parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Leading the parade on a white charger was Inez, then 25 years old. 

After Inez’s death, which came in 1916 while campaigning in California for Wilson’s Republican opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, Vida gave up a career in music to carry on her sister’s work. She was arrested on July 4, 1917 for picketing and served three days in jail. In 1919 she toured the United States as part of the “Prison Special” tour of National Women’s Party.

“Forward into Light”

In 1924, four years after the adoption of the 20th amendment, the National Women’s Party that both Inez and Vida had supported held a conference and pageant titled “Forward into Light” at Meadowmount, in a natural amphitheater at the foot of Mount Discovery.

An August16, 1924 issue of the Lake George Mirror reported in detail on preparations for the pageant.

“Co-operation in neighboring towns is adding much to the efficiency of the management (of the pageant),” the Lake George Mirror reported. “Enthusiasm is growing everywhere and the numbers of people for whom transportation must be provided is growing steadily. Everyone in all communities (are being asked) to lend their motors.”

My father, by the way, interviewed a relative by marriage of the Milhollands who participated in the pageant for an article in Adirondack Life in the 1970s.

More than 10,000 people attended, said Anne Boissevain Nussbaum, who lived in Westport.

The theme of “Forward into Light” was the passing of the torch of freedom from one generation to the next. Great women leaders of the past (such as Joan of Arc and the Empress of China who was said to have introduced higher education for women in that country) were honored, and Inez’s role was dramatized by the appearance of her sister, Vida, riding a white horse as Inez had done. In the final act of the pageant, Mrs. Nusbaum took the torch and passed it on to a group of women just setting off on a campaign tour.

The conference ended with a memorial service for Inez in the small Congregational Church in Lewis and a visit to her grave in the family plot in the churchyard on the hill.

The Other Milhollands

Although less famous than Inez, Vida Milholland was equally interesting.

Like Inez, she was a Vassar graduate, but rather than attending law school, as Inez had done, she studied music, hoping for a career as an opera singer. 

Vida Milholland committed suicide at Chimney Corners in 1952, reportedly depressed by the decline in family fortunes and exhausted by the efforts to manage what remained of the 1,600-acre estate, known as Meadowmount.

(The mansion, some outbuildings and land, were purchased in 1944 by violinist and Juilliard instructor Ivan Galamian, at the suggestion of cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who lived in nearby Elizabethtown throughout the 1940s. Under Galamian, Meadowmount became a prominent summer school for talented string players – Itzhak Perlman among them.)

The sisters’ father, John Milholland was an Essex County native. By training a newspaperman, he got his start in journalism as the publisher of the Ticonderoga Sentinel before leaving for New York and becoming an editorial writer for the New York Tribune.

The fortune that he used to acquire Meadowmount, which included the farm where he was born and raised, came from his investments in the pneumatic tube, a technology adopted by the US Post Office to transport mail.

It was also used to promote what was, perhaps, his favorite local cause: the reconstruction of Fort Ticonderoga.

A clam bake that he organized at the Pavilion in 1908 to build support for the reconstruction (whether led by the town, the state or civic-minded individuals was a matter of indifference to him), reportedly persuaded Sarah Pell and her father, Col. Robert Means Thompson, to finance the project.

Milholland was also a prominent and devoted Republican. (When my older brother was not yet six, Peggy Hamilton made him a gift of one of Mathew Brady’s own prints of his portrait of Lincoln and his son Tad, which had once belonged to Vida’s father. Today it hangs on the wall of his apartment in Brooklyn Heights.)

The Milhollands’ support for the party of Lincoln was perfectly consistent with their support for equal rights for women and blacks.

At the 1924 conference, John Milholland demanded that representatives from the NAACP and Howard University be allowed to speak at Inez’s memorial service in the Congregational Church.

“I want to remind you that in the first suffrage parade in 1911, Inez herself demanded that the colored women be allowed to march, and now today we were told that it would mar the program to have these guests of mine speak. I have nothing to say except that Inez believed in equal rights for everybody,” said Milholland.

The Legacy of the Milhollands

Inez Milholland’s legacy informs practically every aspect of women’s struggle for equality, in the work place, in the response to the Supreme Court’s decision to restrict the right to abortion, in actions such as the Woman’s March in Washington in January, 2017 and in the unfinished campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment.

It was certainly appropriate, then, for the federal government to formally ratify the Town of Lewis’ 1916 decision to rename Mount Discovery Mount Inez, which it did in 2019.  Women everywhere are, no doubt, not surprised that it took only one hundred years.

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