A Last-Dash Effort to Honor a Women’s Rights Pioneer

The National Women’s History Project in Santa Rosa is hoping that President Obama grants a Presidential Citizens Medal to Inez Milholland, who fought for women's suffrage, but time is running out.

The final days of a presidency are often a flurry of pardons, executive orders, and the awarding of executive distinctions. The National Women’s History Project in Santa Rosa is hoping the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency contains the awarding of a Presidential Citizens Medal to an activist some refer to as a “women’s suffrage martyr” — but time is running out on their request.

Compounding their problem is that President Barack Obama has not awarded any Presidential Citizens Medals since 2012.

The potential recipient in question is Inez Milholland, an early 20th-century activist who was a key player in the Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913. (Women gained the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920.) Mulholland was nominated for the medal by Rep. Jackie Speier, whose 14th Congressional District covers parts of San Francisco and much of San Mateo County, and her candidacy has been sponsored by the National Women’s History Project.

“This nomination of Inez for a Presidential Citizens Medal isn’t in isolation,” National Women’s History Project executive director Molly Murphy MacGregor said in a statement. “It is part of the continuation of a long and difficult struggle dating back to the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, and culminating in the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.”

Advocates of awarding the medal to Milholland see a special significance to its being granted soon soon, as 2016 marks the centennial of her death from pernicious anemia after collapsing during a speaking event. The Presidential Citizens Medal is the second-highest civilian honor that can be awarded by the president and is not the same as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Obama did award several Presidential Medals of Freedom in November. Recipients including Robert De Niro, Ellen DeGeneres, and Tom Hanks, among others.  

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