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The Unlikely Rebel

Suffrage leader Lucy Burns (1879-1966) was imprisoned at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, in November 1917, after she and others were arrested for picketing the White House in support of a federal amendment granting women nationally the right to vote. The authorities initially tolerated the picketing, which began in January 1917, but after the United States entered World War I, criticism became less acceptable, especially when it exposed the government's hypocrisy of supporting democracy abroad while denying voting rights to women at home. Among the first two picketers arrested on June 22, 1917, Burns served more jail time during her six sentences than any other suffrage prisoner, and she helped instigate hunger strikes to protest the suffragists' treatment and demand recognition as political prisoners. At Occoquan she was brutally restrained and forced fed. As this British poster shows, forced feeding involved inserting a tube in the prisoner's mouth or nostril, into which a solution of milk and eggs was poured. The result was often vomiting, pain, and lacerations. As one victim reported in 1909, "The drums of the ears seem to be bursting and there is a horrible pain in the throat and breast. The tube is pushed down twenty inches; [it] must go below the breastbone."
Length: 02:27


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