Suffrage History at the Workhouse

Fighting for voting rights for women in the United States

Lucy Burns Sculpture Alice Paul Sculpture Dora Lewis Sculpture
Click for Lucy Burns Biography Click for Alice Paul Biography Click for Dora Lewis Biography

The District of Columbia’s Workhouse opened in Lorton, Virginia in the summer of 1910. A Women’s Workhouse was opened in 1912 on a nearby site. Sentences were of short duration and were for soliciting, prostitution, disorderly conduct and drunkenness. Women did laundry and made clothes for the prisoners of the two institutions. Some worked on the lawn and in the garden.

In 1917, women began demonstrating in front of the White House for the right to vote. They decided they would rather be imprisoned than be quiet. In response to their outspoken protests during World War I, they were sentenced to fines or imprisonment. They chose imprisonment. Some of those arrested were sentenced to the Women’s Workhouse at Lorton. The protesters were held under deplorable conditions. As news of the sentences spread, sympathy for the suffragists was aroused. Even the most hardhearted did not believe that pickets deserved such drastic sentences. After the pickets were released a number of women who had been arrested and served sentences toured the country on the “Prison Special” railroad car to keep public attention focused on the suffrage issue in the Senate.

President Woodrow Wilson reacted to the growing public outrage and finally advised Congress to pass the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.  In June 1919 the Congress submitted the 19th Amendment to the states for ratification. By August 1920, 35 states had ratified the amendment.  Tennessee became the necessary 36th state to ratify on August 26, 1920.  For the first time in November 1920  women were allowed to vote in the national election.


From the White House to the Workhouse to the Franchise

The Lucy Burns Museum portrays women’s struggle for equal rights and the opportunity for a vote in our democracy. The Occoquan Workhouse site is considered hallowed ground for the suffragists and for the modern women’s movement. The museum provides an historical context to the movement toward franchise and also provides individual stories of the women who helped bring about the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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