Struggle at the Workhouse Exhibit
New Exhibit Featured at Workhouse Museum
This exhibit highlights one of the darkest periods of women’s history. It tells the story of the 1917 women suffragists who were force fed at the Occoquan Workhouse.
During the early part of the 20th century, women increased their efforts to obtain the vote through demonstrations, parades and rallies. In 1917, women suffragists protesting in front of the White House were arrested and sent either to the Occoquan Workhouse or the District of Columbia Jail. In order to protest their arrest, many of the women imprisoned began a hunger strike. In response, workhouse and jail officials implemented force-feeding to avoid possible martyrdom should the suffragists die during the strike. Among the women to experience this horrific torture were Lucy Burns at the Workhouse facility and Alice Paul incarcerated in the DC jail.
The Struggle at the Workhouse exhibit allows visitors to better understand the ordeal of these courageous women who were instrumental in gaining passage of the 19th Amendment. The exhibit includes life-size figures depicting the process of force-feeding, as well as a display describing the process. Judy Kelly, a museum committee member, curates the exhibit.
The Workhouse Museums encompass two museums that are central to Lorton history. The Prison Life Museum documents the experiences of prisoners at the workhouse and subsequent reformatory, which was built at Lorton. The Women’s Suffrage Museum portrays women’s struggle for equal rights and the opportunity for a vote in our democracy. Currently housed in Building 9 at the Workhouse Arts Center, the museum has welcomed over 4,500 visitors in the first seven months of operation, demonstrating the need for a permanent space. In late 2010 the Workhouse Museum plans to open to the public in their new home, Building 2, across the quad from their current temporary dwelling. The new space will give the Museum 7500 additional square feet to tell two stories that are integral to the history of America and Lorton.
The Museum is open Wednesday through Friday noon – 3 pm, and Saturday and Sundays noon – 4 pm.