Friday, March 18, 2011

On Women & History- Lucy Burns

The third week in this installment for Women's History month is all about Lucy Burns, a woman I hold close to my heart.  Part of her history is local to me and my family and the arrival of The Comedian.  Her story and personality ring so true with me that we named our feisty middle child after her. 

LUCY BURNS- Born in 1879 Burns received her education stateside and abroad studying at universities like Columbia, Vassar and Oxford University just to name a few.  Supported and financed by her father Lucy was able to continue her education far beyond most women of her day.  While in England she met Emmeline Pankhurst and began working within the world of women's rights and activism. Arrested for disorderly conduct on a London street corner Burns was brought to a police station where she met Alice Paul, another leading Suffragist.  Together they worked as a highly functioning and balanced team in Europe and most notably in the US fighting for the rights of women.

Lucy Burns is most commonly known for being one of the first women arrested while picketing in front of the White House as well as the Suffragist who was arrested the most times.  After being arrested for a third time and sent to the Occoquan Workhouse Burns showed that no matter what she would not back down.  After years of tireless work with Suffragists like Alice Paul and trying to obtain the women's right to vote, jail time was not going to stop Burns.  Guards force fed her through a feeding tube.  It took five people to hold her down and they still couldn't get the tube into her mouth and resorted to shoving it up her nostril.  Guards even handcuffed her hands above her head and left her in this position for an entire night, later called the Night of Terror.  Fellow female prisoners stood by Burns and supported her that night. 

Author Doris Stevens wrote about Burns in her book Jailed for Freedom stating, "Her talent as an orator is of the kind that makes for instant intimacy with her audience."  Burns tirelessly fought alongside Alice Paul and other Suffragists right to the very end when women were finally given the right to vote in 1919.  It was a long, arduous battle that had Burns arrested six times.  She was a fiery speaker with diplomatic ways, a militant Suffragist who was a pivotal figure in the National Women's Party (NWP).  Her red hair matched her her charming disposition. 

After the Amendment passed, Burns decided to retire from working with the NWP and devoted her life to working with Catholic Charities.  She died in New York surrounded by family in 1966.  In our house I believe I see those same steadfast, charming and fiery traits coming out in her namesake. 

*Images from and

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