Feminist Warrior Fridays: Lucy Burns

You guys, it’s been a long time since I wrote about my pal Julia Ward Howe, whose picture is the one here on this page. I love reading and writing about women from the past, especially if they are people I had not learned about before. Because, first, I love a good story with an interesting heroine, don’t you? And second, I find inspiration when I read about women who did cool stuff. It makes me want to do cool stuff too. So, I am going to do a series of posts on feminist warriors, and I’m going to try to make their stories as interesting as possible for you without just totally making shit up, because truth is usually more interesting than fantasy anyway.

Now, for some of these women, you may say “What the fuck, she is not even remotely a feminist warrior.” That is because my definition of feminist may be different from yours. Let me give you an example. Julia, my pal in the picture, was really into motherhood and family. Some might say that for a large part of her life, she was just a housewife who wrote. If she lived today, people would say, “Wow, she is really into traditional female roles.” But for the era she lived in, she was a badass feminist warrior. Call me crazy, but I think we understand the people of the past best when we understand the context they lived in, instead of based on today’s values. I hope the feminists of the future will look at my life and say “she was ahead of her time” instead of “she was behind our time.”

First up today is the AMAZING Lucy Burns, who nobody would say wasn’t a feminist warrior.

Holy shit, you guys, Lucy was a badass. I don’t even know where to begin with Lucy. I mean, check out this list of colleges she attended. (And no, she didn’t get expelled from them—she went to so many because she wanted to learn ALL THE THINGS.)

Yale University

Columbia University

Oxford University

University of Berlin

University of Bonn

Vassar College

Then she took all that education and said, “Dude, why the fuck don’t women have the vote? This shit is messed up, I’m clearly as smart as these dudes in class with me, and they can vote and I can’t? What in the actual fuck?” So, she joined the women’s suffrage movement, starting in England. Now, if you don’t know much about the suffrage movement, then let me explain about English suffragists. They were hardcore. Like, seriously, those women weren’t fucking around. Lots of them got arrested during the time Lucy was with them, including Lucy herself. Later on, the suffragists in the UK turned seriously violent–they burnt down rich people’s houses, they smashed in shop windows, they sent letter bombs. Lucy had left for America by then, but the idea that you need to show the world you’re serious about your rights was definitely part of Lucy’s belief structure.

Speaking of getting arrested, Lucy met Alice Paul (who was also a badass) when both of them got arrested and were hanging out at the police station, and Lucy was all, “Hey, you’ve got an American flag pin, I’m a yank too!” And then they became BFFs. They went back to America and joined the American suffrage movement, but had trouble convincing the old-timers who were running it, like Carrie Chapman Catt, that they should get hardcore like the British suffragists. So, Lucy and Alice were all “Fuck it, we’ll do it ourselves” and formed their own suffrage organization, eventually called the National Woman’s Party.

And that’s when shit got real. Like, they protested in front of the White House every day, with snarky banners that said stuff like “Kaiser Wilson, take the beam out of your own eye” and threw President Wilson’s own words back at him, like “We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts–for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.” That would be the early 20th century equivalent of throwing down. It pissed the president and his people off enough that they ordered the protesters to be arrested for “obstructing traffic” (which they weren’t, they were on the sidewalk and not even blocking pedestrian traffic).

Lucy got arrested along with lots of other suffragists from the NWP, and organized hunger strikes and protests among the prisoners. The prison officials force-fed her, and handcuffed her with her arms up in the air and left her there overnight, and did all kinds of bad shit to her. Funny, none of that convinced her to change her mind, so when they’d let her out of prison, she’d go right back out and protest again. I think if she was alive today, she’d say “Because fuck you, that’s why.”

Honestly, I don’t think the 19th Amendment would have gotten passed without her. Seriously. And when it passed and she was like “My work here is done” and she withdrew from public life and went to church and hung out with her niece instead. Because I’m pretty sure she’d earned a fucking break, amiright?

Lucy was most famously portrayed by Frances O’Conner in the amazing HBO biopic Iron Jawed Angels. Which was really more about Alice Paul than about Lucy, but was still awesome. Especially the cinematography.

If you’ve got a Feminist Warrior you’d like me to feature on Feminist Warrior Fridays, drop her name in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Feminist Warrior Fridays: Lucy Burns

  1. Fun topic. Jane Scott Duniway is a favorite of mine. She was a teenager on the Oregon trail, married, had a family, was widowed, and supported her family by owning a business in downtown Portland. These experiences influenced her to work, mostly as a writer, to advance women’s rights to vote in the NW. Her brother was editor of the Oregonian and they had a very public difference of opinions.

  2. Let me count the ways I adore you! Awesome theme and fabulous badass life summary! Looking forward to more Warrior Feminists 101, Professor!
    Rain recently posted…HappyMy Profile

  3. Jeannette Rankin! Another reason we get to vote in the US today. And Dorothy Height, one of the few women to have a leadership role in the civil rights movement.
    (Both social workers…I’m just saying! :))

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