Lucy Burns (1879-1966)

Quotation Marks​​
Photo of Lucy Burns dressed in a black dress. Her hair is styled in a bun on top of the head.
Lucy Burns, 1913.​ (Courtesy of Library of Congress​)
​​​​​​​​“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

Burns spent more time in prison than any other American woman suffragist. She was a radical Irish Catholic firebrand from Brooklyn whose studies at Oxford exposed her to militant suffragists in Britain. Burns met Alice Paul in a London police station after both were arrested protesting for suffrage in front of parliament. The pair returned to the U.S. in 1913 and ​founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage.

Burns was among the “Silent Sentinels” who picketed in front of the White House in 1917. She angered the Wilson administration by declaring that as long as women were denied suffrage, America was not a free democracy. Burns and the other sentinels were arrested and confined in the Occoquan Workhouse where they staged hunger strikes in protest to their sentencing.

Burns believed arrested suffragists were essentially political prisoners. She was held in solitary confinement, force-fed, and on the “night of terror” the jail’s superintendent ordered her beaten and left overnight with her hands cuffed above her head. In all, she was imprisoned six times. Once freed, Burns engaged in nationwide speaking tours until the 19th Amendment was ratified. After its passage she retired from activism, devoting her life to the Catholic Church and an orphaned niece.

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