Check out the new website of the Lucy Burns Institute.
While I’m thinking about Lucy Burns, here’s a historical note. The 1850s wave of suffrage-for-women agitators nearly succeeded. When the Civil War began, they agreed to put down their cause for the duration of the war, with promises that as soon as the war was over, national party leaders would re-engage with the issue.
That didn’t happen, and the cause of votes for women went into a 50-year stall. Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, in their 20s, looked around at the state of the movement for women’s votes starting around 1912 and didn’t like what they saw in their own leadership–complacency and a willingness to host garden parties rather than engage in politics.
This thinking led to their idea to start “a picket’ in front of the White House in the middle of World War I. Burns, Paul and others would stand in front of the entrance gate to the WH about ten hours a day on weekdays, carrying banners and signs that got under Woodrow Wilson’s skin.
As an example, one day when the Russian ambassador dropped by the WH for a visit, the signs at the picket were about Russian women — who had just gotten the right to vote — having more rights than American women.
This eventually led to the decision from the highest levels to arrest the picketers; they responded by going on hunger strikes in jail, and this led to these women being forcefed in prison–a process that amounts to torture. It’s chronicled in the book “Iron-Jawed Angels.”
The Burns-Paul brand of agitation was frowned on by many of their peers in the wider suffragette movement, and by many of their natural supporters in the general population. This disapproval was sharpened when war broke out, and the new breed of feminist agitators were asked to set their cause aside while war was being waged. They declined to set aside their cause and were bitterly maligned for this decision.
However, it was just a few years after the country found out that anti-suffragette powerbrokers were willing to imprison and torture young women for their political beliefs that politicians quickly and with little apparent hesitation enshrined the right of women to vote in the Constitution–almost sixty years after the first wave had laid aside their cause for the Civil War.