Day 82 of Colourisation Project – July 28
Born on this day, July 28 1879, Lucy Burns was an American suffragist campaigning on behalf of women’s rights in both the United States and in the United Kingdom and whose militant tactics helped forge support for a federal constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the vote in America.
Burns studied at Vassar College and Yale University in the United States before teaching English at Erasmus High School. In 1906 she moved to Germany for two years to study languages at the University of Berlin and also the University of Bonn. She proved to be a brilliant student of language and linguistics and went on to continue her studies at Oxford University.
It was during her time here that Burns developed an interest in women’s right’s especially the right to vote. She was inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters and joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) as a paid organizer from 1910 to 1912. Before long she was participating in militant activities resulting in arrests and imprisonment for which she earned a special award from the WSPU for bravery and for undertaking prison hunger strikes.
On returning home to the United States, she and Alice Paul, another American who also worked with the WSPU formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1913. In 1914 Burns became the first woman to speak in front of Congressional delegates for an amendment for women’s rights. The NWP adopted the same militant tactics as their sisters in Britain; engaging in huge rallies and demonstrations and picketing the White House on a daily basis. As a result of their activities close to 500 women were arrested for loitering and 168 were jailed for ‘obstructing traffic’.
In 1917 Burns, Paul and other party members were locked up in the Occoquan Workhouse, after picketing the White House. Whilst serving their sentences Paul and Stone organized a 19-day hunger strike, during which both women endured beatings and forced feedings. Lucy Burns spent more time in jail in the name of women’s suffrage than any other woman at the time. She was arrested six times and detained on numerous occasions.
Burns retired from political life after women in the United States got the vote in 1920. She was reported as saying: “I don’t want to do anything more. I think we have done all this for women, and we have sacrificed everything we possessed for them, and now let them fight for it now. I am not going to fight anymore.” She returned home to Brooklyn to live with her two sisters where she raised the daughter of another of her sisters who died shortly after childbirth. She devoted the rest of her time to the Roman Catholic Church.
Lucy Burns died in 1966 aged 87.
In 2006 the Lucy Burns Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization was established in Madison, Wisconsin in honour of Lucy Burns’ commitment to advancing the cause of women. According to the Lucy Burns Institute’s webpage: “She knew that being able to participate in a democracy by voting was an essential way to express our human dignity. For this goal, she was willing to fight and suffer.”
Dubbed the “Iron Jawed Angel”, Burns’ character was portrayed in the HBO production of the same name by actress, Francis O’Connor.
“I don’t want to do anything more. I think we have done all this for women, and we have sacrificed everything we possessed for them, and now let them fight for it now. I am not going to fight anymore.” — Lucy Burns before retiring from political activism.