Monday, November 03, 2008

Hero: Lucy Burns

Lucy Burns was a pivotal figure in the National Woman's Party. With her distinctive flame red hair, she is characterized as charming and a firebrand - she was crucial in supporting Alice Paul (the figurehead of the NWP) in the fight for the right to vote.

Born in Brooklyn, she attended Vassar College, Yale, Oxford and the University of Berlin in Germany. While at Oxford, Burns witnessed the British suffragist movement which was far more militant than the American movement.

In 1909, Burns became an activist and she perfected the art of street speaking. During her work for the Women's Social and Political Union, she was arrested multiple times and imprisoned four times.

Burns met Alice Paul in a London police station after both were arrested during a suffrage demonstration outside Parliament (London). Their alliance was powerful and ultimately changed our nation forever.

Burns returned to the US in 1912 (Paul in 1910) and they began to work with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) as leaders of its Congressional Committee. In April 1913 they founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU), which later evolved into the NWP. Burns organized campaigns in the western states (1914, 1916), served as NWP legislative chairman in Washington, D.C., and, beginning in April 1914, edited the organization's weekly journal, The Suffragist .

Burns was a driving force behind the picketing of President Woodrow Wilson's administration in Washington, D.C. in early 1917. Six months later, she and other NWP members erected banners outside the White House declaring that America was not a free democracy as long as women were denied the vote. Later that month, Burns (and others) were arrested for obstructing traffic.

Burns was arrested and imprisoned six times during this time. She declared suffragists were political prisoners and she was among those in the Occoquan Workhouse who instigated hunger strikes in October 1917. Ultimately they were placed in solitary confinement.

She was jailed again while protesting the treatment of the imprisoned Alice Paul, Burns and others joined Paul and others in another round of Occoquan hunger strikes. Burns was present in Occoquan for what became known as the “Night of Terror” on November 15, 1917, during which she was beaten and handcuffed with her arms above her head in her cell. Brutal force feedings followed and the public outcry ultimately forced the President to release all of the suffragist from the workhouse.

After her release, Burns commenced nationwide speaking tours. After the success of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, Burns retired from public campaigns and spent the rest of her life working with the Catholic Church.

JC's Comment - Who said civil disobedience was a bad thing? If it wasn't for the NWP and their willingness to be arrested for their convictions - how long would women have had to wait for the right to vote? The suffragist movement began before the Civil War and the woman who'd started it all - Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were long dead.

Sometimes you have to be willing to take one for the team in order to accomplish what is best for many others. I think we forget that when it becomes crunch time.

Go, Vote.

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