July 28 – Happy Birthday, Lucy Burns

Posted on July 28, 2016

Remember, women couldn't vote everywhere in the United States until after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1920.

1920! Not even 100 years ago!

We can thank Lucy Burns and lots of other brave and active women for the fact that women finally were given the right to vote.

Remember the conundrum of a disenfranchised minority or other group: you cannot vote to give yourself the right to vote...because you cannot vote!

So you have to beg the powers-that-be to give you the right to vote!

Please, sir, mightn't I have the opportunity to cast a vote?”

So what did women do to obtain suffrage?

They made speeches on street corners, organized groups to work on the issue, organized parades, talked to lawmakers, wrote opinion pieces to newspapers...

Lucy Burns started her fight in the United Kingdom, even though she was American (she was born in Brooklyn, NY, on this date in 1879). She'd been going to graduate school in Germany, and visiting the U.K., she ran into Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. She was so impressed with their struggle to earn the right to vote, she quit school and joined their efforts.

Burns met another famed American suffragist, Alice Paul, in England. You'll never guess where....at a police station! Both women had been arrested for taking part in demonstrations, and Paul noticed an American flag pin in Burns's lapel. They soon were good friends, and when they returned to the U.S., the two women joined the national women's suffrage organization. Later they worked together to form a Congressional Union and the National Woman's Party.

They created banners, held rallies, lobbied Congress, published articles, taught women, and supplied reporters with news bulletins. They picketed the White House.

And they were sometimes arrested.

When Paul and Burns were in jail, they organized protests with the other prisoners, and they held hunger strikes while stating that they were political prisoners, in an effort to draw attention to their cause.

Of all the well-known American suffragists, I read, Burns spent the most time in jail.

Finally, after a decade of work and suffering-for-suffrage, Burns saw the 19th Amendment pass and become ratified. Women could finally vote everywhere in the United States.

If you imagine Burns being overjoyed, you'd apparently be wrong. Apparently she was pretty bitter towards the great majority of women, who hadn't done anything to win the right to vote, and she was sick and tired of fighting. She said, “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 let them fight for it now. I am not going to fight anymore.”

And she quit politics, raised her orphaned niece, devoted herself to the Catholic Church, and lived to be an old lady. She died in 1966.

I hope that she became happy when she saw so many women, not just voting, but holding office. 

I hope that she would be even happier if she could see women achieving in politics today – including, I hope, a woman becoming a president less than a century after she and other suffragists won for all American women the right to vote!

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