A tiny museum in Lorton, Virginia, tells the remarkable story of Lucy Burns and Alice Paul and six months that changed history. The imprisonment of women suffragists from June to November 1917 was so outrageous that opposition to their long struggle crumbled. Burns, Paul, and many others had been protesting peaceably in front of Woodrow Wilson’s White House for months, carrying such signs as “Mr. President, How long must women wait for liberty?” Then one day, they were charged with “obstructing sidewalk traffic” and brutally thrown in the DC Jail’s Workhouse, way out in Virginia. When they went on a hunger strike, they were force fed. Finally, news reports of their treatment turned public opinion around. The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress, was ratified by 36 states, and became part of the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920.
My friend Nina and I visited the decommissioned and refurbished Workhouse, which also houses many art studios, on June 1. Though the museum was about to close, we were lucky to get a private tour by a very knowledgeable docent. With the Norton’s Women Modernists fresh in my mind, I was eager to learn about political activists who were the artists’ contemporaries. These photos tell just some of the story. I bought a Scholastic book, Women’s Right to Vote by Elaine Landau that tells more. Now I’m eager to see the new Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument the next time I visit DC.