Rockin’ the Vote: Suffragist Memorial Honors Women’s Struggle

In 2016 when the country has been considering a female presidential candidate (and who, as you read this, is either President-elect Clinton or former Democratic nominee Clinton), it can be difficult to grasp that less than 100 years ago, the women of this country could not even vote.

Starting with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention pushing for women’s rights, the movement for equality for women continued for over 70 years, until efforts greatly intensified in the early 20th century. Then on March 5, 1917, the evening before the second inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, thousands of women picketed in front of the White House to make their case for the right to vote. Scores of women were arrested and unjustly charged with obstructing traffic.

Those arrested were hauled off to a prison in nearby Occoquan where they were kept in inhumane conditions, brutally beaten, and force-fed, simply for taking that stand for women. As word leaked out of their plight and their abhorrent treatment, this situation became a turning point in the women’s struggle for suffrage. An embarrassed Wilson, the one responsible for their arrest, was forced to go to Congress asking for the passage of the 19th amendment giving voting rights to women.

That brief two-paragraph history does not do justice to the injustices heaped upon those brave women. At the same time, it is more information than most people have ever known about the plight of the American woman through the 18th and 19th centuries. Women were considered property of the men they married, could not own property, could not vote, and even today typically do not receive equal pay for equal work.

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To help bring the history and the unending equality struggle to light, Turning Point Suffragist Memorial will be a garden-style memorial designed to honor those who fought and suffered for their beliefs. To be located at Occoquan Regional Park, adjacent to the site of the detention, the memorial will depict the events that led to the passage of the 19th amendment and the critical role that the Washington, D.C. demonstrations played in forcing the issue. The memorial is slated for completion by August 2020, the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The design of the memorial is “donated by renowned architect Robert Beach who painstakingly researched the suffragist movement to ensure his creation, “Empowerment,” captured the significance of the collective achievement of the thousands of suffragists.”

Members of the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association are as passionate as their predecessors about the need to keep spreading the word and fighting for equality for all. As Executive Director Pat Wirth explains, “Young women need role models. In 1980, the National Women’s History Project determined that less than 3% of the content in history books contained information about women. Even now it’s up to just 5%.”

The Turning Point Institute will be an educational platform to educate and empower students on “topics such as leadership, public speaking, political candidacy, social awareness and responsibility, civil rights, fiscal acumen, equal rights and more as they apply to present and future generations.” Coming from all parts of the country, these students will use the suffragists as role models to emulate the skills they employed. The programs will “serve as turning points in the lives of the scholars and empower them with the confidence they need to become successful in life.”

TPSMA is seeking funds to build the memorial. Those who are interested in supporting this important project can donate by going online to suffragistmemorial.org. One can also mail a check, payable to Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association, to TPSMA, 5400 Ox Road, Fairfax Station, VA 22039. Donations of $1000 or more will be recognized on the Donor Wall and a number of donor levels and sponsorship opportunities are presented on the website. For more information go to www.suffragistmemorial.org, or email at turningpoint@suffragistmemorial.org.

Excerpted text from TPSMA brochure

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