My nominee, Lucy Burns (left), is one of many unsung champions of the international suffrage movement. An Irish Catholic from Brooklyn, Burns met Alice Paul -- coincidentally, the transnational foremother of another IntLawGrrls guest blogger, Deborah Popowski -- in London in June 1909. Burns and Paul were under arrest for participating in a suffragette demonstration. During the 6 months that followed, the 2 young women were arrested multiple times for interrupting male politicians with demands for votes for women. In 1910, Paul returned to the United States after a month of grueling forcible-feeding in a London jail; Burns, however, stayed on as an organizer for Emmeline Pankhurst’s militant suffrage group until 1912.
Upon her return to America, Burns joined Paul and a small group of women in organizing the largest suffrage demonstration in history, timed to coincide with the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson in March 1913. After several years of increasingly militant protest, Burns became one of the principal architects of the 1917 picket campaign. She drafted the infamous “Kaiser Wilson” banner, held below right by an unidentified woman, which prompted riots against the suffragists. Later, while in prison for picketing, Burns crafted a petition to authorities making the unprecedented demand that the imprisoned suffragists be treated as political prisoners.
During the “Night of Terror” at the Occoquan, N.Y., workhouse when suffrage prisoners were beaten into submission by prison authorities, Burns spent a night with her arms chained over her head, exhorting her colleagues to remain strong and defiant. (above left; photo credit) She later was forcibly fed during her hunger strike.
After the suffrage years, Burns retired to private life to care for her extended family.
Burns is said to have spent more time in jail for suffrage than any other American woman. Alice Paul described her friend as
about a thousand times more valiant than I, by nature.
We can all be inspired by Burns' steadfast courage and commitment to the cause of equality.