We “Protest The Unjust Treatment Of Pickets”: Brooklyn Suffragist Lucy Burns, Militancy In The National Woman’s Party, And Prison Reform, 1917–1920

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



From 1917 to 1919, the National Woman’s Party (NWP), a militant suffrage organization that campaigned for women’s right to vote in the United States during the Progressive Era, started dramatic demonstrations to promote their cause in Washington, DC. NWP co-leaders, Alice Paul, a New Jersey native, and Lucy Burns, an upper-class New Yorker, organized the controversial campaigns, which included, among other tactics, picketing for women’s rights outside the White House gates to pressure then-President Woodrow Wilson and Congress to grant women the right to vote.[1] At first, the government ignored the picketers and even considered them a tourist attraction, but upon US entry into World War I (WWI), sentiments toward the protesting women changed. The suffragists became viewed as anti-American demonstrators disturbing the peace and unwomanly women taking valuable attention away from the war effort.[2] The government looked for any way to stop the suffrage protestors and decided to arrest the women on bogus charges, such as obstructing traffic. When the outraged suffragists would not pay the fines imposed for their alleged offenses, authorities sentenced them to serve time in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia or the District of Columbia Jail. The conditions faced by the women were controversial and bleak.[