Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Lucy Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York City, on July 28, 1879. An Irish Catholic, Burns studied at Vassar and Yale Graduation School before teaching English at Erasmus High School.
In 1906 Burns moved to Germany to study languages. This included spells at the University of Berlin (1906-1908) and the University of Bonn (1908) before continuing her studies at Oxford University.
While in England, Burns joined the Women's Social and Political Union(WSPU) and her activities resulted in her being arrested and imprisoned. She met Alice Paul, another American working with the WSPU and when they returned home the United States they formed the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage (CUWS).
Burns and Paul attempted to introduce the militant methods used by theWomen's Social and Political Union in Britain. This included organizing huge demonstrations and the daily picketing of the White House. Over the next couple of years the police arrested nearly 500 women for loitering and 168 were jailed for "obstructing traffic". Paul was sentenced to seven months imprisonment but after going on hunger strike she was released.
After the United States joined the First World War in 1917, Burns was continually assaulted by patriotic male bystanders, while picketing outside the White House. Arrested several times, she spent more time in prison than any other American suffragist. Doris Stevens claimed that Lucy Barnes became the most important figure in the militant campaign: "It fell to Lucy Burns, vice-chairman of the organization, to be the leader of the new protest. Miss Burns is in appearance the very symbol of woman in revolt. Her abundant and glorious red hair burns and is not consumed - a flaming torch.... Musical, appealing, persuading - she could move the most resistant person. Her talent as an orator is of the kind that makes for instant intimacy with her audience. Her emotional quality is so powerful that her intellectual capacity, which is quite as great, is not always at once perceived."
Burns retired from political life after women in the United States got the vote. She was reported as saying: “I don’t want to do anything more. I think we have done all this for women, and we have sacrificed everything we possessed for them, and now let them fight for it now. I am not going to fight anymore.”
Lucy Burns died Brooklyn, New York City, on 22nd December, 1966.