We “protest the unjust treatment of pickets”: Brooklyn Suffragist Lucy Burns, Militancy in the National Woman’s Party, and Prison Reform, 1917–1920




By Kelly Marino

From 1917 to 1919, the National Woman’s Party (NWP), a militant suffrage organization that campaigned for women’s right to vote in the United States during the Progressive Era, started dramatic demonstrations to promote their cause in Washington, DC. NWP co-leaders, Alice Paul, a New Jersey native, and Lucy Burns, an upper-class New Yorker, organized the controversial campaigns, which included, among other tactics, picketing for women’s rights outside the White House gates to pressure then-President Woodrow Wilson and Congress to grant women the right to vote.[1] At first, the government ignored the picketers and even considered them a tourist attraction, but upon US entry into World War I (WWI), sentiments toward the protesting women changed. The suffragists became viewed as anti-American demonstrators disturbing the peace and unwomanly women taking valuable attention away from the war effort.[2] The government looked for any way to stop the suffrage protestors and decided to arrest the women on bogus charges, such as obstructing traffic. When the outraged suffragists would not pay the fines imposed for their alleged offenses, authorities sentenced them to serve time in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia or the District of Columbia Jail. The conditions faced by the women were controversial and bleak.[3]

During the protests in Washington, DC, Brooklyn-native Lucy Burns constantly received the “maximum” prison sentences and the harshest treatment. The media, authorities, and other activists saw her as the protests’ “ringleader” because she directed the campaign on the front lines, rather than behind the scenes, as Alice Paul did before taking up a place on the picket line later in the demonstrations.[4] Burns illustrated extreme determination and exceptional bravery throughout the picketing, which is apparent in chronicles of her experience. After one of many seven-day stints of incarceration, for example, authorities demeaned her “so weak” that they “feared” her “death” and ordered her transfer from the Occoquan Workhouse to the District Jail, where authorities force-fed her and transferred her to the hospital via ambulance, just one of many similar incidents.[5] By the end of 1917, Burns’ physical condition had deteriorated so much that she had to return home for a period in December and receive treatment from a trusted doctor.[6] Burns alleged that she lost thirty pounds during the protests.[7] Plagued by not only weight loss, she had bruises and sores on her wrists from her manacling and handcuffing that needed to heal, and she suggested the harsh treatment had affected her heart.[8]

Despite her important, central, and dramatic part in the NWP suffrage demonstrations, Burns’ story has received little scholarly attention. Although Alice Paul’s participation has been well documented, the efforts of her closest coworker, Lucy Burns, have received much less attention in suffrage studies. They deserve a greater focus to recast the NWP’s history and its campaigns in a more balanced light, one that recognizes the organization as fueled not by Paul alone, but by many great leaders, including Burns. Burns’ continued participation in the NWP suffrage demonstrations during WWI, despite dangerous and unlawful treatment by the government, is evidence of her deep commitment to the women’s movement and the causes of women’s rights and women’s equality. A closer consideration of Burns and her role in the picketing provides fresh perspective on the suffrage campaign by showing the following: (1) Burns’ dedication to advancing the early twentieth century women’s movement and support for the modern feminist vision, despite her departure from political activism in 1920. In addition, (2) one way to generate new perspectives on the NWP’s well-researched history is to consider the contributions and leadership of other activists beyond Alice Paul in the suffrage years and place them side by side rather than subordinate in the narrative. Further, (3) another way to rethink suffrage history involves considering the legacy of the women’s suffrage movement outside partisan politics. Even the campaigns of narrowly focused groups, such as the NWP, had social and cultural implications for modern America beyond voting and government. The story of the NWP’s picketing campaigns, for example, interlink with the broader histories of radicalism, crime, and prison reform during the Progressive Era.

Burns’ participation and experience in NWP picketing campaigns deserve greater scholarly attention to shed light fully on the implications of her leadership on the strength and effectiveness of the NWP. Accounts of the NWP’s campaigns have noticeably downplayed Burns’ participation in organizing since women’s suffrage legislation passed in 1920. These diminishing accounts stem from the documented comments of disgruntled coworkers reflecting on the campaign after the fact, possibly embittered, and feeling abandoned because Burns did not continue her political career past 1920 to work with them for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).[9] “She was never as committed as we would have liked,” Paul commented about Burns when interviewed many decades later.[10] Perhaps, Paul felt frustrated that her closest ally and strongest organizer had faded away as the NWP began its new chapter. Co-suffragist Doris Stevens, another prominent NWP leader, also stated that it was “always difficult” for Burns “to give all of her energy and power to a movement” because she had other interests, including family, leisure, and learning.[11] This depiction resonated in the little scholarship published exclusively on Burns.[12] For example, at a meeting of the Berkshire Conference for Women’s Historians years later, historian Sidney Bland, the only scholar to have completed extensive research on Burns’ career, explained her supposed lack of faithfulness by echoing these activists’ sentiments. Bland stated that she “‘could never really be part of the feminist subculture” that developed in the post-suffrage era, “which rejected family as the nucleus” because “To Burns, family was very important.’”[13] According to traditional narratives, by 1920, Burns pulled away from the NWP to retire to family and private life. She supposedly had a different value set and vision of modern womanhood than Paul and the rest of the NWP.[14] However, a fresh look at Burns’ activism and suffrage career suggests that she remained staunchly devoted to women’s rights and women’s equality during the suffrage campaign and likely beyond, given her life choices to sustain herself independently and amid a community of women. Her departure from the political scene in 1920 did not necessarily mean a lack of interest or dedication to the women’s movement, but that many other diverging factors possibly spurred her to take a back seat in active campaigning.

By giving new attention to Burns’ activism and rethinking existing depictions of her participation in the suffrage movement, the need for a revised perspective on the NWP’s history has also become apparent, one that highlights the contributions of other leaders beyond Paul in the suffrage era. Although Burns allegedly served more time in prison for suffrage campaigning than any other US activist, the legacy of Alice Paul, in all writings about the NWP, overshadows her activism and the efforts of other prominent women on the national and state level who were an important part of the organization.[15] All major works written after passing the suffrage amendment in 1920 give greatest attention to Paul’s leadership, and subsequent scholarship on the movement has thus followed the same trend.[16] Since the 1970s, especially, social and cultural trends in modern society have influenced how scholars have written about the NWP, often leading to an emphasis on shocking, surprising, and explicitly feminist stories, at times overlooking the stories of women who stepped back over time and whose personal histories seem less gallant and more difficult to explain given the current political culture.[17] Moving beyond Paul in the NWP’s story, however, allows scholars to create a more well-rounded interpretation and possibly add new dimensions to the organization’s history during the suffrage years, leading to new future directions in the scholarship on the thoroughly researched movement.

Finally, by examining Burns’ actions and experiences while imprisoned during the NWP picketing campaign, the broader implications of the women’s suffrage movement in the early twentieth century become more apparent, as do the campaign’s influence on modern American society and culture. Too many studies still focus on the political implications of the suffrage movement and as a result, they sometimes conclude that passing the women’s suffrage amendment was a failure in 1920 because women did not vote in expected numbers or according to expected trends in the eras that followed.[18] However, studies that only focus on the intersections between the suffrage campaign and post-1920 political dynamics are shortsighted. Although the NWP’s most central agenda was promoting the Nineteenth Amendment, the campaigns of the NWP and other suffrage organizations also had many other implications, both intentional and unintentional. The movement’s full effect is only evident when considering all realms, such as altered social relations and gender ideologies and in changes in other aspects of American culture.[19] When suffrage picketers publicly wrote and spoke about the poor conditions in the Occoquan Workhouse and District of Columbia Jail, for example, besides generating backing for their core movement, they also drew attention to the dire circumstances faced by prisoners in American reformatories and penal institutions, more broadly. Their accounts thus fueled Progressive Era reform efforts in DC and throughout the country during the same era.[20]

Lucy Burns seemed destined for an influential life and career, and she was poised to make a difference, like many progressive turn-of-the-century women who wanted more for their lives than to become solely domestic housewives from a young age. Burns grew up privileged by wealth and elite social standing, and she received all the key intellectual training and experiences that would lead to her success as an activist. She was part of a new generation of middle- and upper-class college-educated women searching for a cause that would bring them into civil society for meaningful work. Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1879 to a devout and well-to-do Catholic family of Scottish, Irish, and English descent.[21] One of eight children, within her household, she had many strong role models: the example of her successful parents, brothers, and sisters to guide her through life.[22] Her father, Edward, had a prosperous career in banking and serving as a member of several local organizations. He was a known supporter of women’s suffrage.[23] Meanwhile, her mother, Anne (Anna Early Burns), was an active leader in her community too, holding executive positions in Brooklyn charities and benevolent groups, such as the city’s Catholic Women’s Association. She was not afraid to take up causes she considered altruistic and important, even if they took time away from mothering and housekeeping.[24] Burns learned from her parents and her sisters, several of whom supported and campaigned for the women’s suffrage cause, to think selflessly about community, state, country, and larger society welfare, a trend characteristic of the “progressives” who gained influence in the period.[25]

Fig. 1. Lucy Burns’ portrait, c. 1917. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Harris & Ewing Photograph Collection, Washington, DC.

Burns’ sound education also perhaps fueled her later political activism. Her parents believed in the importance of supporting the literacy and intellectual development of their male and female children, making her an intelligent and cultured socialite who could match most men of the period. Rather than send her to a public school, Burns’ parents enrolled her in a respected preparatory institution in Brooklyn, Packer Collegiate Institute. There, she was an active member of her class, holding leadership positions in respected organizations, such as Pi Delta Kappa, and participating often in school theater productions.[26] One reporter who knew Burns when she was a teenager wrote a description of her as a young person in the local Brooklyn papers, many years later. The account portrayed her as a boisterous and lively child who generated humor and attention. According to the newspaper writer who “remembers her as a schoolgirl of perhaps thirteen,” Burns was “thoroughly jolly,” a “mischievous youngster, up to all sorts of pranks.”[27] Her spirit and engagement did not diminish as she became a young adult and college student. At college, she studied language and linguistics with success, and she was a respected member of her class. She completed her undergraduate degree at Vassar College in 1902, and her enthusiasm for learning opened doors for her to receive additional graduate training in etymology at Yale University, 1902–1903, and languages at the University of Berlin in Germany, 1906–1908, and the University of Bonn, 1908–1909.[28] Between her stints in school, she worked as an English teacher at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn from 1904 to 1906, where she was popular among the students. Characteristic of Burns, one source suggests that she even coached athletics, particularly basketball, at one point.[29]

Burns became politicized and inspired to participate actively in the women’s rights movement as a young adult during her time in England; at one point, she was in London on vacation and witnessed the radical demonstrations of the British suffragists. As an educated woman who firmly believed she was just as good as any man, Burns was increasingly enthralled by the activism of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organization that made headlines for such activities as lighting fires, creating explosions, and interrupting political meetings in unlawful ways to bring attention to women’s right to vote in the United Kingdom (UK).[30] In 1909, Burns joined the WSPU in Edinburgh and officially became a suffragist quickly known for her abilities as a talented street speaker, thanks to her many years of advanced education. While working overseas in the UK with the WSPU, she faced multiple arrests and four incarcerations for her protests to support the women’s suffrage movement, clearly showing not only her commitment to the cause but her dedication and willingness to make sacrifices.[31] Burns’ involvement in suffrage in Europe was repeatedly far from that of an innocent bystander concerned with their reputation or safety. She was involved in many controversial demonstrations illustrative of her fiery, outspoken, and lively personality. For example, in November 1909, Burns was forcibly removed from a political banquet at the Guildhall by authorities for waving a banner in Winston Churchill’s face as he was passing her and asking, “How can you dine here while women are starving in prison?”[32] On another occasion later that month, outside Edinburgh Castle, where a political presentation was taking place, newspapers reported that she “smacked” a police officer in the face, knocked off his hat, and tried to pull his whistle away. She also allegedly threw inkbottles in the streets and broke the windows of a police office.[33] Due to her controversial reputation, in London, someone dropped a dictionary down on Burns while she was campaigning in the city, almost knocking her out.[34] None of this affected her commitment to the cause; it enlivened it.

Possibly, the most significant moment for Burns overseas came when she met fellow American suffragist and later NWP co-leader, Alice Paul, in Cannon Row, a London police station, and they started a decades-long friendship that would shape the course of history. Authorities arrested both women after participating in a suffrage protest in Parliament where they were among many suffragists trying to present petitions to political leaders. Burns attracted Paul because of the little US flag that she wore on her clothing. The two women quickly realized they were the only two Americans in the room and became fast friends.[35] However, their initial camaraderie was short lived, as Paul left England in 1910 because of an illness following a thirty-day stint in prison, while Burns stayed behind.[36] Despite the distance, the two women kept in touch. From 1910 to 1912, Burns worked in Scotland campaigning for the vote before returning to the US and reconnecting in person with Paul.[37]

In 1912, Burns reunited with Paul and joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), becoming part of the American women’s movement alongside her friend in the US.[38] The activities in which they participated in England tremendously inspired both women, especially the work of British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, who argued famously that “deeds” were more important than “words” in winning the vote.[39] Paul and Burns thus believed a more aggressive approach to campaigning would further help the US movement to avoid another era of “doldrums” and stagnation.[40] NAWSA leaders gave the two young activists a shot at creating change and appointed Burns and Paul as the leaders of the NAWSA’s Congressional Committee (CC), a branch of the organization in Washington, DC, organized to rally the federal government to pass national suffrage legislation, which until that point had imposed little effect. Paul and Burns’ term commenced in November 1912.[41] Getting the CC off the ground, however, was difficult with little backing from NAWSA, which historically had placed more support behind state campaigns for suffrage in the twentieth century. In particular, NAWSA had sent the two women to DC with little financial aid; as a result, the women had to work “day and night” to compensate. According to one article, “The policeman on the beat reported that the ‘lights were never out’”; to save money and “escape the temptation of sitting at home in the evening,” Paul and Burns even resorted to living in “unheated rooms,” a practice illustrative of their dedication.[42] Some reports of their early activism have stated that sometimes the women were so diligent and engrossed that they forgot to eat meals and could not remember when they last had food.[43]

Through efforts to revitalize the CC, by 1912, the group was gaining new media attention and support. Particularly, the women’s aggressive approach to suffrage activism represented a fresh departure in the campaign that appealed to women of all backgrounds, ages, and classes, especially women of the younger generations. For example, in November 1913, the media dubbed Burns “the Capital’s first militant suffragette” after she was fined and brought to court for chalking the White House sidewalks with “Votes for Women,” one of the most scandalous initiatives taken up so far in the movement.[44] In the years that followed, as a leader in the CC, Burns participated in many influential demonstrations and held many important positions in campaigns that contributed to the organization’s advancement. For instance, in 1913, she helped to direct the first-ever national suffrage school in Washington, DC, to train activists, serving as its principal and also a leader in arranging large parades and processions in the Capitol City in the period that followed, including the controversial suffrage March during Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration that year. She was the group’s chief leader in organizing western campaigns in 1914 and 1916, and she worked as the editor of the group’s major weekly publication known as The Suffragist for many years, a document instrumental to fundraising success, growth, and survival.[45]

Constantly battling a lack of financial resources, in another new move during the 1910s, Paul and Burns brainstormed the creation of a special branch of their organization, known as the Congressional Union (CU), which would serve as a fundraising body in April 1913.[46] At first, NAWSA leaders looked the other way, but over time, as the CU raised impressive income, they became increasingly apprehensive about the distribution of these financial resources and the women’s larger political style.[47] Under Paul and Burns’ leadership, the CC and the CU had refused to fall in line with the NAWSA’s “anti-party” political strategy and aggressively lobbied for and against political candidates and parties that did not support their cause.[48] The CU shared no generated funds with NAWSA, and the CC sought to form branches in states where NAWSA already had grassroots affiliates, serving as competition for these existing suffrage bodies.[49] Since the CC was an official branch of the NAWSA, when Burns and Paul formally split with the group’s executive leaders in December 1913 over unresolvable differences in campaign styles, their only option was to take the CU with them and leave the CC to new leadership. NAWSA remained in control of the CC, replacing its leaders with activists more sympathetic to their cause, while Burns and Paul remained in control of the CU, which they reorganized as the NWP at a Chicago convention in 1916, officially renaming in March 1917.[50]

By 1917, the NWP had become a viable rival of the NAWSA, with a branch in every state, a membership over thirty thousand, and hundreds of thousands of dollars obtained in fundraising.[51] Paul and Burns were increasingly nationally and internationally known activists, and Burns’ most significant activism to support the suffrage movement started that year. As the NWP’s legislative chairman, Burns was a primary leader of the suffragists’ picketing campaigns that began on January 10, 1917, outside the White House, which generated the most media attention of all the organization’s initiatives.[52] For the first three months, Burns and the other picketing suffragists were tolerated.[53] Once the US entered WWI, however, attitudes changed, as the suffragists’ actions and banners became increasingly viewed as controversial distractions from the war effort.[54] Rather than step down in the face of opposition, suffragists enlivened their protests for women’s rights during the war with increasingly contentious materials. In 1917, for example, Burns held one of many banners that would get her in trouble with the public and authorities for its politically charged nature. The banner stated, “We, the women of America, tell you that America is not a democracy” given that half of the population lacks the right to vote.[55] Burns, at another point, carried an even more shocking banner that directly and unabashedly called the president “Kaiser Wilson,” comparing him to the authoritative German dictator.[56] To stop the demonstrations, authorities arrested Burns and the picketing suffragists on bogus charges, such as “obstructing traffic,” “disorderly conduct,” “unlawful assemblage,” and for “displaying propagandist banners without a police permit.”[57] Activists were imprisoned after refusing to admit guilt or pay the required fines. Burns was incarcerated six times for her role in suffrage demonstrations in the US.[58] Despite unlawful and unusually harsh treatment, she and other activists did not back down; they fought back. Their efforts supported not only suffrage but also other causes, such as prison reform, illustrating a broader legacy for the turn-of-the-century women’s suffrage campaign, one that influenced other social justice movements during the Progressive Era.

Burns’ willingness to endure and challenge an unusually harsh and even unlawful prison experience to further the cause of women’s suffrage is the most compelling testament of her commitment to the causes of the women’s movement, women’s rights, and women’s equality. Upon entrance into the Occoquan Workhouse and the District Jail, suffragists, such as Burns, faced many hardships, including shocking instances of physical abuse, but they did not let this derail their spirits or campaign. During something called the “Night of Terror,” for example, on November 15, 1917, authorities tried to dissuade further suffrage protests by subjecting Burns and the women prisoners to cruel and unusual treatment to frighten them into giving up. A prominent leader, Burns especially was roughly handled, and at one point, her hands were even cuffed above her head in her prison cell to make an example out of her.[59] At Occoquan, physical assault was common to subdue the suffragists who would not obey the regulations: “clothes were pulled partly from their bodies, their hair yanked, their bodies pushed and shoved, and their faces scratched.”[60] After the women complained about their treatment to the institution’s leaders, little was done and conditions sometimes became worse, further illustrating to the women the dangers of a patriarchal society, the poor conditions in the nation’s prisons, and the lack of rights afforded to people behind bars.

Besides assault and battery at the hands of workhouse employees, suffragists like Burns and middle- and upper-class women, most of whom had never seen the inside of a jail before, found other aspects of their incarceration particularly dangerous to their physical well-being but persisted regardless. For example, Burns and other women complained about poor ventilation and difficulty breathing.[61] The uniforms the authorities gave them in the hot summer months were “heavy, and of an irritating coarse material” that made movement difficult, dangerous, and painful. To make matters worse, prison shoes often did “not fit” and resulted in “sore feet” that made their daily chores and duties hard to perform.[62] Created from pressed paper, the shoes wore through easily when the women worked.[63] At Occoquan, suffragists’ bodies were particularly strained, as the upper-class women were forced into penal labor and sewing, which they argued was unjust, given they felt they were political prisoners and not ordinary criminals.[64] To break up long hours, they were allowed a little fresh air or exercise to regenerate themselves. On Sunday mornings, they went on forced walks through the woods, the only outside exercise that guards allowed them to have.[65] These conditions left the women pale and weak but did not dampen their commitment to winning women’s suffrage.

Fig. 2. Burns as a prisoner during NWP protests. She was arrested and rearrested repeatedly. Courtesy of the Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Sanitation issues were another constant complaint from activists in the Workhouse and campaigners in the District Jail. Rats infested the cells where Burns and other suffragists slept, exposing them to disease, infection, and making getting a decent night’s rest, necessary to work, exceedingly difficult.[66] Besides rats, bedbugs filled their bunks, presenting similar health hazards, and worms contaminated their food.[67] Poor conditions forced suffragists to use unclean and unsterilized eating utensils. As one report commented, they often used the “same drinking cup as the other inmates,” a trend which put their immune systems at risk.[68] The suffragists could not receive items or food sent to them by friends to make their stay any easier, either.[69] The food they ate was a source of constant complaint and caused malnourishment, weight loss, and headaches because meals were weak in essential vitamins and minerals, including items such as hard corn bread or rancid ham.[70] One suffragist described the poor quality of the meals:

We were served cereal covered with watered condensed milk on the top of which worms floated… Saltpeter was used so freely in the food that my skin turned the color of saffron. We had split pea soup for supper every night in the week. The gingerbread was so bitter with ginger that I could not touch it. One Sunday night for supper we had… a cup of tea without sugar or cream and three green peaches so hard my teeth were of no avail against them.[71]

Still, more NWP activists continued to enter the institutions, knowing the risks, and expressing discontent, but not relenting, hoping that their resolve would force the government to end the stalemate and make the first positive move toward advancing federal women’s suffrage. Burns continued to return not long after each release.

Medical mistreatment was common when activists, such as Burns, fell ill, representing another challenge faced by campaigners. As suffragists became weak and refused to eat the meager rations, US authorities followed European examples and force-fed the women against their will and without their personal doctor’s advice or presence.[72] The suffragists, such as Burns, tried to refuse forced feeding by the mouth, so prison medical officials pushed a feeding tube up a nostril that damaged tissue and cartilage, and when they pulled it out, blood frequently covered the tube.[73] Burns commented about her experience that the food “dumped directly into the stomach” felt like a “ball of lead.”[74] The procedure caused her nostril, throat, and neck muscles to become very sore.[75] Burns alleged the doctors who force-fed her were not delicate, but rather “very rough.” During the process, prison medical staff clutched her by “the windpipe and choked,” so she felt as though she could “not breathe.”[76] Authorities transferred her several times to the hospital because of the consequences of hunger striking and force-feeding. The goal of these procedures was to hide from the public the harsh realities and injustices that the suffrage picketers were facing. Furthermore, they served as a form of emotional terrorism to discourage further protests among the picketers.

Emotional and psychological torture was an unfortunate yet common part of the prison experience for suffragists. Guards attempted to scare the misbehaving suffragists by punishing them in cruel and unusual ways to set an example for other women to give up their public campaigns. Workhouse authorities tried to play on fear and stress to cause the women to back down. At one point, Burns writes that the women were dragged into cells in the men’s part of the institution and separated from the other female inmates, undoubtedly to escalate distress.[77] When Burns was acting unruly, she was put in a room where men recovering from alcoholism with delirium tremens were kept in withdrawal.[78] Upper- and middle-class suffrage prisoners commonly were forced to share space with prostitutes, drug addicts, and alcoholics.[79] Newspaper accounts state that in the sewing room where the suffragists worked, at one end, authorities placed a pine coffin.[80] The prison guards used tactics and threats like this as another method to intimidate the women into backing down. For example, they warned the picketers who failed to follow the rules that they would face gags and straitjackets for minor offenses, such as talking out.[81] The women were isolated and allowed little communication with each other or outside supporters to increase loneliness, confusion, and anxiety. Prison officials did not allow suffragists, such as Burns, to read or have books or papers sent to them.[82] Authorities allowed no letter writing to control or minimize healthy communication. If they made exceptions, staff monitored and screened all activities.[83] To “prevent friends of the suffragists from getting inside the prison grounds,” the government sent a detachment of U.S. Marines from Quantico to patrol the grounds.[84] Prison officials also denied suffragists the right to move about the workhouse at customary times afforded to other inmates. Guards sometimes contained the women in rooms for longer than standard or denied them the right to leave their rooms.[85] Authorities sentenced Burns to solitary confinement as a punishment for instigating hunger strikes.[86]

Prison officials did not respect the legal rights of the picketing women often, either. For example, when suffragists asked to speak to the jail superintendent at Occoquan, he refused their requests.[87] Authorities denied women the right to see their lawyers or counsel when requested. Burns even mentions in her accounts of the workhouse she was told to “shut up” when she asked to speak to her lawyer to learn the status of their case.[88] To keep their experience hidden from the public, prison officials mandated that newspaper reporters could not talk to the women and could only see them from a distance of thirty feet.[89] When reports of the women’s treatment leaked to the press, however, many legal abuses were finally highlighted publicly. Some reports shed light on other unlawful practices, such as a failure to uphold racial segregation in the facilities where the suffragists stayed, news that might have stirred shock in the minds of the husbands, fathers, and concerned family members worried about the conditions experienced by their elite, white female relatives. Although the “progressive” upper classes in the twentieth century advocated many reforms that today would seem forward thinking, they did not have the greatest record concerning promoting improvements in race relations.[90] Some media reports about the suffragists’ imprisonment lamented that the pro-suffrage women “sleep in a dormitory with negresses.”[91] Accounts such as these reflected the racist sentiment during the period and led to appeals to the public and government for the protection and preservation of these white women in what they considered such dire and unjust circumstances. Congressmen and politicians responded to the reports of the legal violations of the picketers by proposing their own often-controversial solutions to end not only the protests but also the jailing of suffragists, which was becoming an embarrassment to the federal government. For instance, Senator Henry Lee Meyers of Montana pushed for a resolution that would make picketing illegal.[92] Regardless of their conservative nature during the war, government officials considered seriously such propositions, which stood to infringe on the rights of all Americans and which, in peacetime, would have been protested by the public, as a strategy to end what they considered anti-patriotic activism harmful to morale.

Suffragists, however, were not passive victims of mistreatment in the Workhouse or the District Jail. They pushed to reform both their conditions and eventually the conditions of all incarcerated, as the experience raised their awareness of abuses in America’s criminal justice system. Principally, the women responded with in-prison protests, including acts of daily defiance that escalated over time, and through legal recourse. First, when the women were asked to surrender their clothing and valuables, they often tried to decline, arguing they were political prisoners and deserved special treatment, rights, and considerations.[93] When the administrators or guards further pressed them for the removal of their civilian clothing or personal items, they all-out physically resisted until forced and sometimes resorted to walking around partially nude, rather than submitting to wearing the garments supplied to them.[94] Burns, for example, supposedly avoided prison clothes by wrapping herself in a blanket.[95] Suffragists also protested their mistreatment upon entrance into the institutions by refusing to share important information with the guards, such as their full names.[96] They argued that when they refused to talk or give their names, they were exercising their right to free speech.[97] At other moments, activists would not sleep and stayed up making loud noises, chanting, or singing at night to cause disturbances.[98] In the District Jail, for instance, suffragists kept everyone awake by “hammering with the heels” of their shoes against the walls of their cells until the early morning. After the guards discovered they were making the noises with their shoes, they forced the suffragists to go barefoot.[99] Suffragists also persistently looked for ways to access help and attempted to make unsolicited phone calls to the NWP headquarters to report their mistreatment when they could distract the administrators enough to access a phone.[100] Another common response to their unfair conditions was work slowdowns or strikes. When placed in the sewing room, for example, suffragists claimed they were exempt from regular labor as political prisoners and tried to refuse to work.[101] The most dramatic daily response and challenge to their captivity was the initiation of hunger strikes during WWI. In October 1917, Burns became a leader of the hunger strikes to protest the unfair treatment of the picketers, and the suffragists refused to eat, hoping they would generate enough concern among the prison administrators or shock among the public that the government would allow their release. The strikes not only gained publicity for suffrage, but they also drew attention to the mistreatment of Americans behind bars as reports of the realities of jail life became publicized.[102] Suffragists smuggled out messages about their treatment to media outlets, and newspapers printed selections from an illegal diary kept by Burns, for example, describing suffragists’ experience in Occoquan in early November 1917.[103]

Despite their dire circumstances and communication limitations, suffragists found other more political and legal avenues to protest their incarceration and seek outside assistance. Toward the end of the campaign, for instance, suffragists started a letter-writing initiative to rally support for their cause among their allies in other cities and states. Burns and other members of the NWP asked for new recruits to fill the picket lines in DC and legal action from other suffragists across the country to improve their situation. In early November 1917, for example, Burns wrote a letter to the People’s Equality League of Kings County, New York, requesting that the organization politically protest the unjust treatment of the Washington picketers.[104] The goal was to pressure the government to advance women’s suffrage and free the picketers. Brooklyn women who were members of the NWP pursued Congressman James Maher, the representative from Lucy Burns’ district, to protect Burns and other NWP members from New York. They sent a letter asking him to urge his Washington colleagues to recognize suffragists as political prisoners and grant them the associated rights.[105] Suffragists also pushed for state representatives and other state authorities to investigate their treatment in the workhouse and jail and visit the women from their state serving time. They urged their Congressmen to travel to the prison to witness the conditions first hand, and they asked public health figures, such as Margaret Fortheringham of Buffalo, a Red Cross dietitian, to go to Occoquan Workhouse to make assessments, particularly regarding food and nutrition.[106] Suffragists also petitioned to the local DC board of charities to investigate charges against William Whittaker, superintendent of Occoquan, for mistreatment, including providing food of an inadequate quality.[107]After being served salt port for 17 meals in a row over several weeks, the women smuggled food samples to Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, a noted American chemist, to examine. He commented, “The food was the worst he ever had seen.”[108] The media publicized his findings to prompt change for all Americans serving time in the facility.

Suffragists further questioned and challenged the legality of their arrests. They worked for a writ of habeas corpus that would lead to their release. Part of the petition for the writ argued that detention in Occoquan was unjust, given that their alleged offenses had occurred in the District of Columbia, making imprisonment in Virginia illegal.[109] The application for the writ also stressed acts of cruelty and used evidence from Burns’ experience to justify their freedom.[110] Suffragists issued affidavits asserting Whittaker was unlawfully beating the female prisoners and guards had chained them unreasonably. They filed these formal complaints at the office of Commissioner Louis Brownlow in the city.[111] Ironically, Occoquan, a 2,500-acre penal farm, was considered one of most progressive facilities in the area at the time, and the suffragists’ experience provided shocking evidence otherwise.[112] Suffragists maintained that their treatment in Occoquan represented “cruel” and “unusual” punishment and thus it was unconstitutional.[113] Burns, who had “assumed responsibility for the welfare of the women,” took action, such as collecting small paper scraps and a tiny pencil to record “day by day events” that would provide documented evidence to lawyers.[114] On scrap paper, she helped to create a signed statement and petition to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia to challenge the conditions the women faced. The women passed the paper from prisoner to prisoner through holes in the walls. Suffragist Doris Stevens called the document “historic,” arguing it was “the first organized group action ever made in America to establish the status of political prisoners.”[115] Perhaps, their most dramatic legal response was filing damage suits totaling $800,000.[116] However, the suffragists eventually dismissed the suits upon release and the lead up to the Nineteenth Amendment’s passage.[117]

Throughout the NWP’s campaigns, suffragists’ awareness of the mistreatment of both their supporters and the other inmates heightened. Their progressive impulses led them to not only back changes to the treatment of the picketing suffragists, but also, at moments, to make broader pleas to improve prison conditions and the treatment of all inmates, realizing their campaigns could have larger implications. Burns commented in November 1917 that the suffragists understood their presence benefited other people behind bars, and they were “content to render a service to other inmates.”[118] The suffragists’ petition, created in jail, to the Commissions of the District of Columbia included a statement that the women promoted the better treatment of all incarcerated, and effects were evident in the publicity and discussions during and after the protests.[119] The suffragists’ actions, for example, fueled public conversation about the status and treatment of political prisoners in the US vs. other countries, as well as a new consideration of the conditions faced by women in jail. Newspaper articles on the suffragists’ experiences compared their accounts to those of men in the US and political prisoners in other nations, such as France and Germany. The media commented that in France and Germany, people arrested on similar grounds could typically wear their own clothing, see their friends, receive mail, order their own food, and bring books, pictures, and even armchairs into cells, unlike in America.[120] The treatment of the suffragists further drew negative attention to the Wilson administration and its political practices during the war, as government responses to their campaigns exposed abuses and corruption under his leadership. As one source commented, speaking of suffragists’ torture and the broader political culture of the period, “All this despotic gagging and punishing is doing the government more harm than can easily be estimated…We object to such measures because they weaken the administration just when it should be strengthened.”[121] Such statements show that suffragists’ activism was having an effect. In the least, their actions fueled dialogue and raised awareness of conditions and treatment in American penal institutions, particularly the Occoquan Workhouse and the supposed state-of-the-art District Jail. Suffragists’ reports generated greater support for a fresh appropriation authorized by Congress to construct a new jail in Washington.[122] They shed light on the fact that “the Washington jails” were “not as good as they should be,” and they made city officials and activists reflect.[123]

However, the narrative of Burns’ activism and the story of the picketing suffragists did not end there. Despite generating much publicity and new support for the campaign, the NWP’s White House picketing did not lead to the Nineteenth Amendment’s immediate passage, and women such as Burns still had much to do to support its final approval in Congress and ratification. In 1918, Burns was arrested again during the NWP’s “watch fire” demonstrations, where copies of the President’s speeches were burned in trashcans at Lafayette Square to protest the Senate’s delay in approving the women’s suffrage amendment.[124] Burns also participated in a controversial demonstration outside the White House in which an effigy of Woodrow Wilson was set ablaze, leading to the women’s arrest for “building fires on Government property,” “standing on the coping around the White House,” and “attempting to make disorderly speeches.”[125] Later in 1919, she participated in the NWP’s “Prison Special” speaking tour to share her experiences with more Americans across the country and bring “pressure to bear on Senators blocking action the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment in the Senate.”[126] However, reports suggested that by 1920, as the victory for women’s suffrage seemed ensured, Burns had changed her residences to return permanently to Brooklyn.[127] Despite being out of state, she traveled back to DC to attend key gatherings of the NWP and continued to be involved from a distance.[128] Maintaining her interest in government and civic life, in October 1920, Burns and other New York suffragists who were members of “a woman’s independent campaign committee” mailed a letter to ask why Rose Schneiderman, a female candidate for U.S. Senator, well-known labor activist, and former suffragist, had been omitted from the list of published candidates running for office.[129] After this action, mentioned in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the trail goes cold regarding Burns’ political activities or campaigning.

Despite Burns’ dedication to the suffrage movement, accounts of her activism end here, they state that she distanced herself from an active public life and the cause of women’s rights after the Nineteenth Amendment’s passage. After ratification in 1920, NWP members gathered at a convention in Washington from February 15–19, 1921 on Susan B. Anthony’s birthday to decide the fate of the organization.[130] Burns was supposed to attend the 1921 NWP conference according to documentation; however, it is unclear if she appeared.[131] Paul states she was not sure that Burns came to this crucial NWP convention and notes she subsequently disappeared.[132]

To explain the absence of Burns from future NWP operations, one should consider many often-overlooked explanations beyond an alleged lack of dedication to the women’s rights movement. The most common rationale provided by historians is that Paul’s domineering personality and relentless leadership style drove other activists such as Burns away. Scholars argue that Paul’s commitment to women’s rights more than anything else, including family, likely created a divide between her and coworkers with other priorities. Yet, although there are statements from other campaigners who criticized Paul’s methods, and sometimes very publicly, there seem to be no documented, readily accessible comments from Burns to the media during or after the suffrage movement or in scholars’ secondary works in which she expresses serious trouble between the two women in terms of their relationship, besides incidental, mundane disagreements, such as a few scolding words in a private letter over a public account of a campaign given by Burns using undesirable phrasing.[133] The only time Paul criticizes Burns harshly is when she speaks about her disappointment she did not participate in the NWP’s campaigns after 1920.[134]

But then there also are other unconsidered possibilities for why Burns did not embrace the NWP’s new mission of fighting for the ERA, not because she did not view it as a worthy cause, but because of other more practical factors. Perhaps, Burns realized, as suggested in Paul’s statements, getting the ERA ratified would not be an easy endeavor, and she might have believed it was time for the former suffrage leaders to pass the baton to a younger generation. Alternatively, perhaps she simply wanted to end her own political career on a high, knowing she might not live to see the ERA approved. Paul recalled in the 1970s, many decades later, that Burns had commented in 1920 it was time disband the NWP and let other women “fight for it now.”[135] According to Paul, by the end of the suffrage campaign, some organizers, with particular mention of Burns, were reluctant to involve themselves in future planning. They felt they had “nearly killed themselves, had no money left and no strength left and no health left or anything…to think up all these other things….”[136] Paul further alludes that Burns was concerned about the difficulties in achieving future goals, such as equal rights, because she realized the task would not be easy, viewing it as a new chapter for new and more youthful campaigners. Even Paul conceded, although it did not stop them; over time, NWP leaders “saw just what Lucy Burns and all these people thought… [in advancing equal rights]. Our problem would not be the Senate and Congress and the President, because now we were voters and had had this power; but it would be changing the thought of American women….”[137] Particularly, she argues activists such as Burns emphasized the difficult task the NWP would face in shifting women’s stance on protective labor legislation for the female sex, which would be another type of battle and a more expansive challenge, one rooted in social and cultural change, even more so than political victory.[138]

Another explanation for Burns’ absence from public campaigning for women’s rights after 1920 might be more personal and far less contentious. For Burns, there was her advanced age, health, and emotional and psychological states to consider. Burns, in her early forties by the 1920s, was older than Paul was and had suffered great physical distress during suffrage campaigns in both the UK and US, which affected her body’s stability.[139] During the US campaign, she went on a hunger strike for nineteen days straight, which put her close to death.[140] Besides the campaign being taxing on her physical health, the period from 1910–1920 was also difficult for her mental state because of the often uncited familial grief she endured during the suffrage years. During the mid-1910s, while working for the CC, she lost her mother and father within two years of each other, possibly explaining time spent away from Washington and desire for the company of family. In 1914, Burns’ father, Edward, died suddenly of heart failure at his desk at the American Exchange National Bank where he was the vice president and director. He was sixty-six years old. Her mother, Anne, had died only two years before.[141] By the early 1920s, Burns’ personal life took another tragic turn with the death of one of her sisters, Janet, who also was a suffragist and a supporter of Burns’ political activism with the NWP. She had recently married in 1922, which should have been a celebratory event, leading to years of happiness, excitement, and new experiences and connections for the family.[142] However, she died tragically one year later in 1923, leaving behind a one-month-old baby.[143] Sorrow and the culture of death that surrounded her family must have taken a toll on Burns’ spirit and energy. Possibly feeling indebted to her sister for support during her suffrage years, Burns chose to help raise her niece, along with her surviving sisters with whom she lived, Anna and Helen. Her niece later recalls that Lucy first extended the offer; thus, she viewed her as her mother.[144] Besides helping to care for the child in her later years, according to several sources, she, like her mother, was active in supporting the Catholic Church.[145] Although many popular depictions of Burns seem to portray her as closed-off, private, withdrawn, and disheartened in her final years, accounts written after her death by personal acquaintances state that she was always a kind and likeable person with a delightful personality, despite health struggles as she aged.[146]

Yet, did these choices and realities mean a lack of fervor for and devotion to the cause of women’s rights after 1920, or did they simply signal a new direction and set of priorities for her life that did not necessary detract from her personal passion or internal support for women’s advancement? Given Burns’ activism, history, and achievements in the campaign for women’s suffrage in the UK and US, as well as other plausible reasons for her departure from the movement in 1920, her commitment to the movement for American women and to the causes of women’s rights and women’s equality seems implicit. To uncover her true sentiment about the status of women, one must first review what she endured in prison and second examine the statements from her and her coworkers about her dedication during the suffrage campaign. Burns herself stated early on that she grew up believing in women’s rights from the age of twelve: “I have always been a suffragist at heart,” she commented.[147] “I was a suffragist in my childhood because I could not understand why my brothers should attain the right to vote at the age of twenty-one years without any effort of their own, while the girls, who had received the same training, were shut off by law from participation in their country’s affairs.”[148] Burns further stated to the media in 1917 that she was among those American women who would “not hesitate” to give up their life for the cause, “as did the women in England.”[149] During the picketing, she told the media: “Imagine that small type of mind that thinks we will be willing to go to jail for sixty days for liberty, but not be willing to go six months or six years. The heavier the penalty, the higher will the flame of our resolution rise.”[150] At one point, Burns wrote in a letter sent to her sister, Janet, who asked her to take a break from the protests to protect her health, “I do not feel that I can take the rest you advise and return to Brooklyn. Conditions here are so terrible that I cannot resist going back to jail to help out those still confined.”[151] These statements, even if public, provide insight into her mindset, passion for women’s rights, and dedication to the NWP’s vision.

Fig. 3. Burns hard at work and going through mail at her desk. Courtesy of the Harris & Ewing Photographs Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Further, when determining her level of commitment, consider the other comments of her colleagues and coworkers, who viewed her as an invaluable leader during the suffrage campaign. Speaking of Burns’ participation in the suffrage campaign, Paul commented that she was “always much more valiant than I. About a thousand times more valiant than I.”[152] Paul further stated when asked if Burns was ever ready to back out at a difficult moment, “Oh, no, no. She was always a very belligerent person. She was always quite ready for a fight.”[153] Co-suffragist Doris Stevens also commented that Burns was “the very symbol of woman in revolt.”[154] Stevens even writes that Burns was the “‘voice’ of the modern suffrage movement.”[155]

When contemplating where Burns might have stood on the ERA and the NWP’s post-suffrage campaigns, it is also significant to note her public stances that directly pertain to women’s equality. For example, during the suffrage years, Burns had spoken out in support of much legislation advocated by the NWP in the post-1920 period.[156] She supported equal pay and equal rights for women in the workforce. This is evident in her campaign statements but often overlooked in scholarly studies.[157] She commented in 1914, for instance, “When I grew older and learned how women work in the world, under what conditions and for what a scanty wage, I saw their need of an influence that would draw them into public life and help them work together for better living conditions.”[158] In 1915, Burns supported an initiative to promote equality in the treatment of male and female applicants for civil service positions and government jobs and spoke against discrimination against women in industry. Not only did she argue that hiring practices were unjust in government agencies, but she also commented about pay inequalities.[159] When examining the choices Burns made after 1920, it is also important to reexamine her living arrangements after suffrage, including how these reflected her larger feminist consciousness. Scholars, up to this point, have dismissed Burns as relatively conservative and traditional in her aging notions of womanhood because she occupied the bulk of her later life with family pursuits. However, considering her choices from a different angle offers another picture. Centrally, Burns married no man, nor did she settle down as a traditional Victorian housewife dependent on a husband. Instead, Burns chose self-sufficiency and a community of women [her sisters] to sustain herself, which I argue is key evidence to consider when telling her post-suffrage story, evidence that shows an intact, strong feminist consciousness and progressive thought and decision-making well into her later years. The choices to be independent and live a life supported by and in support of other women, even if those women were family members, were broadminded elections, given the era in which Burns grew up as a child and the values likely instilled in her by her community.

In this article, I thus have argued for a revised perspective on the career of Lucy Burns and the nature of the NWP’s picketing campaigns. Existing scholarship about and popular depictions of Burns have historically had a negative slant that too often downplay her progressive nature and dedication to the movement for women’s rights, even after 1920. Her departure from active political campaigning in 1920 should not lead to a diminishing of her suffrage career or record as an ardent women’s rights activist. Further, I argue that to create more balanced and nuanced future histories of the NWP’s campaigns, it is important to move beyond celebratory narratives about Alice Paul as the “supreme head” of the organization and consider the participation of other activists, such as Lucy Burns, in shaping the movement. At the same time, too often, most scholarship similarly focuses too narrowly on how the women’s suffrage movement influenced government in modern America and in doing so misses larger effects on American society and culture outside the political realm. Intentionally or unintentionally, the women’s suffrage campaign had broader social and cultural implications for modern US history. Scholars who measure the success of the suffrage movement only by considering effects such as voting frequency and trends, which often lead to negative interpretations, miss some of the more interesting, expansive, and overlooked accomplishments of the movement.


  1. Linda G. Ford, Iron Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party, 1912-1920 (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991), 3.
  2. Janice Law Trecker, “The Suffrage Prisoners,” The American Scholar 41 (Summer 1972): 415.
  3. Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920).
  4. “31 White House Pickets Go to Jail,” Boston Daily Globe, Nov. 15, 1917, 16.
  5. Stevens, Jailed for Freedom, 201-202.
  6. “Miss Burns Tells Suff Party Plans,” New York Sun, Dec. 1, 1917, 22.
  7. “Miss Burns Tells Suff Party Plans.”
  8. Stevens, 233-234.
  9. In particular, see Alice Paul, “Conversations with Alice Paul: An Autobiography” interview by Amelia R. Fry, Suffragists Oral History Project, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1975, http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt6f59n89c&doc.view=entire_text; Stevens, Jailed for Freedom, 176.
  10. Alison Bernstein, “Oppressed Victims, or Creative Forces,” Vassar Quarterly 1 (Fall 1981): 29.
  11. Stevens, 176.
  12. Sidney R. Bland’s article about Burns remains the only major scholarly publication focused specifically on the activist’s life and career. Bland only covers Burns’ NWP picketing briefly and ultimately emphasizes she was not as committed to the organization’s campaigns as other members because she would disappear for periodically to be with family. Sidney R. Bland, “‘Never Quite as Committed as We’d Like’: The Suffrage Militancy of Lucy Burns,” Journal of Long Island History 17, no. 2 (1981): 15-17.
  13. Bland writes of Burns, “She was not a consummate feminist.” Bland, “‘Never Quite as Committed as We’d Like.’” Bernstein, “Oppressed Victims, or Creative Forces,” 29; Bland, “Burns, Lucy,” in Notable American Women: The Modern Period: A Biographical Dictionary, ed., Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1980), 124-125; Bland, “Stormy Petrel of Suffragism: Lucy Burns, the Other Leader of the National Woman’s Party” (Berkshire Conference, Vassar College, 1981). A copy of this paper is available in the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women Papers, 1974-2005, Series IV. “Fifth Conference,” New York, June 1981, Box 8, Folder 17, at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
  14. Bland, “Stormy Petrel of Suffragism.”
  15. Bland, “Burns, Lucy,” 125.
  16. Scholars and activists almost always describe Burns, and other activists, secondary to Alice Paul in the NWP’s picketing and campaigns, but Burns especially deserves more equal representation in the organization’s history. Lisa Marie Baumgartner, “Alice Paul, the National Woman’s Party, and a Rhetoric of Mobilization” (PhD Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1994); Jean Baker, Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005); Susan D. Becker, The Origins of the Equal Rights Amendment: American Feminism Between the Wars (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981); Jennifer L. Borda, “Woman Suffrage in the Progressive Era: A Coming of Age,” in ed. J. Michael Hogan, Rhetoric and Reform in the Progressive Era (Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2002), 339-386; Linda Ford, “Alice Paul and the Politics of Nonviolent Protest,” in ed. Jean H. Baker, Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 174-188, “Alice Paul and the Triumph of Militancy, in ed. Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, One Woman, One Vote (Troutdale: New Sage Press, 1995), and Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the NWP, 1912-1920 (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991); Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of the Woman’s Party (New York: Harcourt, 1923); Christine Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1910-1928 (New York: New York University Press, 1986); Stevens, Jailed for Freedom.
  17. Julianne Unsel goes into depth unpacking the trends in NWP historiography and explaining the focus on Paul renewed in the late twentieth century because of second-wave feminism and the rise of oral history, leading to new interviews with Paul. Julianne Unsel, “Woman’s Hour: Suffrage and American Citizenship in War and Reconstruction, 1914-1924” (PhD Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2005), 13-14.
  18. Scholar Kristi Andersen discusses the “myth” that women’s suffrage was a “failure.” Kristi Andersen, After Suffrage: Women in Partisan and Electoral Politics Before the New Deal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 447-448, 456. Also, see early works on the campaign such as William Henry Chafe, The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and Political Roles, 1920-1970 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972); Aileen S. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920 (New York: Norton, 1981); William F. Ogburn and Inez Goltra, “How Women Vote,” Political Science Quarterly 34 (September 1919): 413-433; William L. O’Neill, Everyone Was Brave: The Rise and Fall of Feminism in America (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969); Stuart D. Rice and Malcolm M. Willey, “American Women’s Ineffective Use of the Vote,” Current History 20 (1924): 641-647.For works that provide a more positive perspective of the outcomes of the suffrage movement, but yet are still centered on political change, see, for example: Andersen, After Suffrage, 2,4, 6-8; Paula Baker, “The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Political Society, 1780-1920,” American Historical Review 89 (June 1984): 620-647; Elisabeth S. Clemens, “Organizational Repertories and Institutional Change: Women’s Groups and the Transformation of U.S. Politics, 1890-1920,” American Journal of Sociology 98 (January 1992): 755-798; Jo Freeman, A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002); Michael E. McGerr, “Political Style and Women’s Power, 1830-1930,” Journal of American History 77 (December 1990): 864-885; Lorraine Gates Schuyler, The Weight of Their Votes: Southern Women and Political Leverage in the 1920s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008).
  19. One of the only scholars to consider the suffrage movement’s legacy outside politics is Ellen Carol DuBois, who emphasized in an early work that suffrage raised awareness about female subordination and sex discrimination. Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), introduction, 17-18.
  20. Estelle B. Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers: Women’s Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984).
  21. Biographical Records Questionnaire, AAVC Bio File, Box 16, Burns, L. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College.
  22. “Edward Burns Dies at Desk in Bank,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr. 18, 1914, 1; “Lucy Burns (1879-1966),” Selected Leaders of the National Woman’s Party: Visionaries, Library of Congress, Women of Protest Collection, accessed Jun. 13, 2018, http://www.loc.gov/collections/static/women-of-protest/articles-and-essays/selected-leaders-of-the-national-womans-party/visionaries.html.
  23. Obituary, AAVC Bio File, Box 16, Burns, L. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College.
  24. “Register, Brooklyn Borough,” in Trow’s Business Directory of the Borough of Brooklyn, City of New York (Manhattan: Trow Directory, Printing & Bookbinding Co., 1899), 37.
  25. Maureen A. Flanagan, America Reformed: Progressives and Progressivisms, 1890s-1920s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  26. “Packer Collegiate Institute,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr. 30, 1899, 21; “Packer Institute Class Day,” New York Times, Jun. 11, 1899.
  27. “Fads and Fashion,” Brooklyn Life, Nov. 20, 1909, 20.
  28. Sources suggest that she also attended summer school at Oxford and Columbia Universities. Bland, “Burns, Lucy,” 124; “In the Limelight: Lucy Burns,” Pearson’s Magazine 38, no. 7 (January 1918): 313; “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; Obituary, AAVC Bio File.
  29. Bland, “‘Never Quite as Committed as We’d Like’”, 6. The Fourth General Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York 1861-1910 (Poughkeepsie: A.V. Haight Company, 1910), 203.
  30. “In the Limelight: Lucy Burns,” 313; “Lucy Burns (1879-1966).”
  31. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; The Fourth General Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Vassar College, 203.
  32. “Two Americans in Guildhall Exploit,” New York Times, Nov. 12, 1909.
  33. “Miss Burns A Militant Woman Suffragette,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 18, 1909, 20.
  34. “Newest Woman Orators Don’t Mind Heckling,” The Evening Enterprise, Poughkeepsie, NY, Jul. 22, 1915, 7.
  35. Paul, “Conversations with Alice Paul”; “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; Stevens, 176.
  36. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; Stevens, 176.
  37. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story (New York: Hearst’s International Library Co., 1914).
  40. Scholar Sara Hunter Graham discusses the suffrage “doldrums” in her work and challenges that such a downturn existed. Sara Hunter Graham, Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 33-52.
  41. Jill Diane Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 124.
  42. Paul, “Conversations with Alice Paul”; Florence Brewer Boeckle, “Vassar Women as Suffrage Pickets,” Vassar Miscellany News, Nov. 10, 1917, 5; “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”.
  43. Ibid.
  44. “Lucy Burns Fined $1,” New York Times, Nov. 22, 1913.
  45. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; “Suffragists Learn How to Conduct Votes War in School at Washington,” Rock Island Argus, Dec. 19, 1913.
  46. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”.
  47. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper, ed., History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. V, 1900-1920 (New York: Source Book Press, 1970), 453-456.
  48. Zahniser and Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power, 239.
  49. Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, 456.
  50. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper, 675-676.
  51. Boeckle, “Vassar Women as Suffrage Pickets,” 5.
  52. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper, 677.
  53. Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper, 677.
  54. Ibid.
  55. “Angry Men Tear Up Women’s Banners,” New Iberia Enterprise and Independent Observer, Jun. 20, 1917.
  56. “Tears Suffrage Banner,” New York Times, Aug. 11, 1917.
  57. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; “Pickets Turn Lawyers,” New York Times, Jul. 6, 1917; “Police Stop Suffrage Riot,” The Commonwealth, Jun. 22,1917; “Seize 12 Militants Near White House,” New York Times, Jun. 26, 1917; “White House Riot Broken Up by Police,” New York Times, Jul. 5, 1917.
  58. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”.
  59. Ibid.
  60. “Suffragists Worsted in Workhouse Battle,” Evening Ledger—Philadelphia, Oct. 4, 1917.
  61. “For and Against Suffrage Pickets,” New York Evening Post, Nov. 27, 1917, 1.
  62. “Miss Flanagan Living on Bread and Water,” Hartford Courant, Aug. 23, 1917, 1.
  63. “Sixty Days for Twenty-Three Minutes at White House,” Jamestown Evening Journal, Nov. 14, 1917, 7.
  64. “For and Against Suffrage Pickets,” New York Evening Post, Nov. 27, 1917, 1.
  65. “Sixty Days for Twenty-Three Minutes at White House,” 7.
  66. “Suffragists Freed After Night of Rats,” Boston Daily Globe, Jul. 9, 1917, 3.
  67. “For and Against Suffrage Pickets,” 1.
  68. “Miss Flanagan Living on Bread and Water,” Hartford Courant, Aug. 23, 1917, 1.
  69. “Miss Flanagan Living on Bread and Water,” 1.
  70. “Prison Food Undermines Health of Suffragists, Miss Lucy Burns Asserts,” The Evening Telegram—NY, Sept. 26, 1917, 4.
  71. “Sixty Days for Twenty-Three Minutes at White House,” 7.
  72. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”.
  73. Stevens, 201-202.
  74. Ibid.
  75. Ibid.
  76. “Miss Burns Tells Suff Party Plans,” New York Sun, Dec. 1, 1917, 22.
  77. “Diary Kept by Picket Reveals Rough Treatment,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, Nov. 17, 1917.
  78. “Diary Kept by Picket Reveals Rough Treatment.”
  79. “Sixty Days for Twenty-Three Minutes at White House,” 7.
  80. Ibid.
  81. “Diary Kept by Picket Reveals Rough Treatment.”
  82. “Miss Flanagan Living on Bread and Water,” 1.
  83. Ibid.
  84. “Accuse Jailers of Suffragists,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 1917.
  85. “Diary Kept by Picket Reveals Rough Treatment.”
  86. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”.
  87. “Diary Kept by Picket Reveals Rough Treatment.”
  88. Ibid.; “Miss Flanagan Living on Bread and Water,”1.
  89. “Miss Flanagan Living on Bread and Water,” 1; “White House Pickets Stare at Stone Walls,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 20, 1917, 7.
  90. Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).
  91. “Miss Flanagan Living on Bread and Water.”
  92. Ibid.
  93. “30 Suff Pickets on Hunger Strike,” New York World, Nov. 16, 1917.
  94. “Diary Kept by Picket Reveals Rough Treatment.”
  95. “Lucy Burns was Made Fast to Bars, She Says,” New York Sun, Nov. 17, 1917, 1.
  96. “30 Suff Pickets on Hunger Strike.”
  97. “Accuse Jailers of Suffragists,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 1917.
  98. “Diary Kept by Picket Reveals Rough Treatment”; “Pickets Proud of Jail Term,” Washington Herald, Nov. 5, 1917, 1.
  99. “Sixty Days for Twenty-Three Minutes at White House,” 7.
  100. “Deny Report by Tweedale,” Washington Herald, Oct. 5, 1917; “Suffragists Worsted in Workhouse Battle”.
  101. “Sixty Days for Twenty-Three Minutes at White House,” 7.
  102. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”.
  103. “Diary Kept by Picket Reveals Rough Treatment.”
  104. “To Petition Hylan for Policewomen,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 13, 1917, 8.
  105. “Brooklyn Suffs Pursue Congressman Maher to Train Here,” New York World, Nov. 16, 1917; “State Amendment Drive,” New York Times, Nov. 16, 1917.
  106. “Prison Food Undermines Health of Suffragists, Miss Lucy Burns Asserts.”
  107. “Charges Preferred,” Alexandria Gazette, Aug. 31, 1917.
  108. “Sixty Days for Twenty-Three Minutes at White House,” 7.
  109. “Release of Pickets Sought Through Writ,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 18, 1917, 16.
  110. “Release of Pickets Sought Through Writ”; “Suffragists Obtain Writ,” New York Times, Nov. 18, 1917.
  111. “Charges Preferred.”
  112. “Sixty Days for Twenty-Three Minutes at White House.”
  113. “Lucy Burns was Made Fast to Bars, She Says,” New York Sun, Nov. 17, 1917, 1.
  114. Stevens, 200.
  115. Stevens, 178.
  116. “Suffrage Pickets Are Promised Early Trials,” New York Tribune, Jul. 13, 1919.
  117. “Pickets Abandon D.C. Damage Suits,” Washington Times, Jan. 13, 1920, 1.
  118. “‘I Couldn’t Resist Going Back to Jail,’ Writes Miss Burns,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 13, 1917, 2.
  119. Stevens, 178.
  120. “The Torturing of Suffragettes,” Pearson’s Magazine 38, no. 7 (Jan. 1918): 303-304.
  121. “The Torturing of Suffragettes,” 303-304.
  122. “For and Against Suffrage Pickets,” New York Evening Post, Nov. 27, 1917, 1.
  123. “For and Against Suffrage Pickets.”
  124. “Seize Suffragists Near White House,” New York Times, Aug. 13, 1918, 9.
  125. “Five Days in Jail for 25 Militants,” New York Times, Feb. 11, 1919.
  126. “Call Prison Special Democracy Limited,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 1919.
  127. “No Vote for Suffrage Leader,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 15, 1920, 21.
  128. “National Women’s Party Decide Political Policy,” Binghamton Press, Sept. 10, 1920.
  129. “The Woman Voter,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 7, 1920, 20.
  130. Paul, “Conversations with Alice Paul”; Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper, 677.
  131. “The Woman Voter,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 7, 1921, 16.
  132. Paul, “Conversations with Alice Paul.”
  133. Bland, “‘Never Quite as Committed as We’d Like’”, 18.
  134. Bland, 17.
  135. Paul, “Conversations with Alice Paul.”
  136. Ibid.
  137. Ibid.
  138. Ibid.
  139. Bland, “Burns, Lucy,” 125.
  140. Ibid.
  141. “Edward Burns Dies at Desk in Bank,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr. 18, 1914, 1.
  142. “Brooklyn Society” Column, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 30, 1922, 7.
  143. “Deaths,” Brooklyn Life, Sept. 8, 1923, 5.
  144. Her niece’s post-marriage full name was Janet Appleton Campbell, and she too attended Vassar College. Helen Brown, “Janet Appleton Is Married to George Prentiss Campbell,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Nov. 9, 1947, 14; Obituary, AAVC Bio File.
  145. Lucy Burns died on December 22, 1966, after several years of immobility because of a hip injury that never properly healed. “Lucy Burns (1879-1966)”; Obituary, AAVC Bio File.
  146. Obituary, AAVC Bio File.
  147. Ibid; “Lucy Burns Tells Why English Women Have Become Militant Suffragists,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun. 21, 1913, 4.
  148. “Women Answer, ‘Why I’m a Suffragist,’” Washington Herald, Mar. 1, 1914.
  149. “Suffragists to Press Campaign of Picketing,” Evening Ledger—Philadelphia, Jul. 17, 1917.
  150. “Pickets Proud of Jail Term,” Washington Herald, Nov. 5, 1917, 1.
  151. “‘I Couldn’t Resist Going Back to Jail,’ Writes Miss Burns,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 13, 1917, 2.
  152. Paul, “Conversations with Alice Paul.”
  153. Ibid.
  154. Stevens, 175-176.
  155. Ibid.
  156. Bland writes that she did not support the NWP’s post-1920 goals or vision of modern women. Bland, “‘Never Quite as Committed as We’d Like’”, 19.
  157. Ibid.
  158. “Women Answer, ‘Why I’m a Suffragist.’”
  159. “Man-Politician Taken to Task,” Washington Herald, Jun. 6, 1915.

1 thought on “We “protest the unjust treatment of pickets”: Brooklyn Suffragist Lucy Burns, Militancy in the National Woman’s Party, and Prison Reform, 1917–1920

  1. Pingback: 2020 Vol 28-1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *