5,000 Women Rally in Capital Against War
Marjorie Hunter, The New York Times, 16 January 1968
WASHINGTON — A silent brigade of 5,000 women, many of them clad in black, trudged through the snow to the foot of Capitol Hill today to protest the war in Vietnam.
Gray-haired grandmothers, chic suburban housewives, miniskirted teen-agers—they had come by plane, by train, by bus to petition Congress on opening day to withdraw all American troops from Vietnam.
Few of them set foot on Capitol Hill. Barred from the Capitol itself by a law of 1882 forbidding demonstrations on the Capitol grounds, they marched to Union Plaza, just across the street, and stood shivering in a two-inch snow.
Only a small delegation—led by Jeannette Rankin, an 87-year-old former member v of Congress from Montana — was allowed inside the Capitol to present the antiwar petition to Congressional leaders.
Miss Rankin, the first woman member of Congress, voted against United States entry into both World War I and World War II. She served only two terms, being elected in 1916 and in 1940.
In recent months, she has traveled throughout the nation, encourarging women to demand an immediate halt to the war in Vietnam. Miss Rankin and her 15-woman delegation presented the petition to Speaker John W. McCormack of Massachusetts at a 15-minute session in his office, just off the House floor.
The delegation said later that the discussion “was entirely amiable” and that the Speaker had promised to refer their petition “to the appropriate committee,” probably the House Foreign Affairs Committee. However, the women said, the Speaker emphasized that he disagreed with their views.
Later, Miss Rankin presented the petition to the Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield of Montana, while her colleagues waited outside.
Among those going to the Capitol with Miss Rankin were Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr. of Atlanta, wife of the civil rights leader; Mrs. Dagmar Wilson of Washington, a founder of Women Strike for Peace; and Miss Bobbie Hodges of Los Angeles, a member of the Black Congress and Black Panther parties.
“I don’t think that black people should be in this war,” Miss Hodges said. “If anything, we should support the National Liberation Front in Vietnam.”
Earlier in the morning, the 5,000 women making up “the Jeannette Rankin Brigade” had gathered at Union Station. A charter train brought 1,400 women from New York, with a special round-trip fare of $7.50 [$54.22 in 2018].
Others came from Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, various parts of California and small towns in Kentucky. At times, the vast concourse resembled a political convention hall, as delegations raised their state banners.
Many wore lapel buttons—tiny plastic doves, or disks reading “bring the boys home” and “end the war.” A few wore McCarthy campaign buttons (for Senator Eugene J. McCarthy, Democrat of Minnesota, a peace candidate for the Democratic nomination for President).
Hundreds of policemen lined the half-mile route of march from the station to Union Plaza. Scoffing at the number of policemen, Miss Rankin said: “There is no reason why old ladies shouldn’t be allowed to go into the Capitol.”
At the plaza, Judy Collins, folk singer from New York, stood under a statue of Ulysses S. Grant and sang as the women marchers arrived. “This Land Is Your Land,” she sang. Soon, the crowd joined in the chorus. And they sang “We Shall Overcome,” a civil rights theme song that has been taken up by peace groups.
The official petition, demanding an end to the war and the solving of domestic problems at home, was read to the crowd by the Swedish actress, Viveca Lindfors.
Later, the crowd boarded buses and went to the Shore-hame Hotel for an afternoon of speeches and conferences.