Near Occoquan in Fairfax County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Women Suﬀrage Prisoners at Occoquan Workhouse
Occoquan Regional Park
In July 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in New York, officially opening the American women’s rights movement, a controversial resolution was adopted: “Resolved, which is the duty of women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton was able to get the resolution passed only with the help of Frederick Douglas, the former slave and famous abolitionist orator. For many years progress was slow and as late as 1913 women had full suffrage only in nine states and the territory of Alaska which had no presidential electors.
Marking a dramatic change in the polite crusade for votes for women, the National Woman’s Party, founded in 1916 by Alice Paul, adopted the strategy of holding the party in power responsible for the success or failure of woman suffrage. Attempting to persuade President Wilson and the Democratic Party to support actively the Susan B. Anthony amendment, first proposed in 1878, the National Woman’s Party began to picket the White House in 1917. Beginning in June 1917 scores of women were arrested, found guilty of unlawful assemble, sentenced to pay a fine of $25, or serve a term in jail.
Among those arrested were graduates of distinguished educational institutions, students, teachers, nurses, at least two physicians, a geologist, and a professor of history. The socially prominent included Lucy Ewing, niece of Adlai Stevenson, Vice President under Cleveland. The youngest arrested was 19 and the oldest to serve at Occoquan was 73. She found scrubbing floors almost beyond her strength.
The women had their mail withheld, were confronted with unwashed blankets, contaminated food, forced into prison dress and ordered to perform prison work. Protesting the poor treatment and general state of prison conditions, the women insisted they were political prisoners and should be treated accordingly. Some refused to work, were put in solitary confinement and given bread and water. Others, led by Lucy Burns of the Executive Committee of the National Woman’s Party, went on a hunger strike and were force-fed. As news of the extreme treatment given the suffrage prisoners began to emerge, public indignation and demands for an investigation of conditions finally forced their release late in 1917. Upon appeal, the sentences of the women imprisoned at Occoquan were reversed in 1918.
By August 26, 1920, the Susan B. Anthony amendment was ratified, ending a struggle for basic political rights that had lasted for 72 years. The woman suffrage prisoners at Occoquan had contributed significantly to that victory.
Sixty-five years after imprisonment, recognition was finally given these women. On March 6, 1982, under the leadership of Joseph T. Flakne and the auspices of the League of Women Voters of Fairfax, a handsome marker commemorating them was unveiled on route 123, near Youth Center No.2. The commonwealth of Virginia ratified the amendment giving women the right to vote in February 1952.
Evelyn L. Pugh
Professor of History
George Mason University
Sidebar under the right picture: Alice Paul designed the jail door pin as a symbol of appreciation for the women who had been imprisoned.
Erected by Northern Virgina Regional Park Authority.
Location. 38° 40.91′ N, 77° 15.21′ W. Marker is near Occoquan, Virginia, in Fairfax County. Marker is on Occoquan Regional Park Road near Ox Road (Virginia Route 123), on the left when traveling east. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Lorton VA 22079, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Beehive Brick Kiln (a few steps from this marker); 1804 Boundary Stone (approx. 0.3 miles away); 1804 Occoquan Town Plat (approx. 0.3 miles away); Occoquan Wharves (approx. 0.3 miles away); Town of Occoquan (approx. 0.3 miles away); Ebenezer Baptist Church (approx. 0.4 miles away); Ogle Harris’ Store (approx. 0.4 miles away); Lest We Forget (approx. 0.4 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Occoquan.
More about this marker. The marker is placed near the Occoquan Workhouse Beehive Brick Oven, which is what you see in the background of Picture 2.
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker. It is the Seneca Falls Convention Marker.
Also see . . .
1. Occoquan Workhouse Marker. This is the marker referred to in the text. (Submitted on September 7, 2007, by Kevin W. of Stafford, Virginia.)
2. Brutal Treatment of Women Suffragists at Occoquan Workhouse. (Submitted on September 7, 2007, by Kevin W. of Stafford, Virginia.)
3. Film Honors 'Iron Jawed' Women. (Submitted on September 7, 2007, by Kevin W. of Stafford, Virginia.)
Categories. • 20th Century • Civil Rights • Notable Events • Notable Persons • Politics •
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Kevin W. of Stafford, Virginia. This page has been viewed 15,232 times since then and 250 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on , by Kevin W. of Stafford, Virginia. • J. J. Prats was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.