Alexandria commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Tuesday with a socially distant ceremony outside the Kate Waller Barrett Library.
Mayor Justin Wilson read a city proclamation that recounted the dozens of suffragists who were imprisoned, tortured and ultimately released from the Occoquan Workhouse after their case was thrown out in the federal courthouse in Alexandria.
“For a lot of the women who live in the city of Alexandria, it took several more decades until we provided universal suffrage and universal franchise for everyone,” Wilson said. “We certainly commemorate that history, that this was the beginning of what was a longer struggle for a lot of women and that work continues on today.”
Women’s suffrage came to a head in 1917 when more than 70 women were jailed, beaten and force-fed at the Occoquan Workhouse. Reports of their severe treatment largely influenced the passage of the Amendment, including the story of Lucy Burns, who was force fed through her nose and spent a “night of terror” with her hands cuffed above her head.
Councilwoman Amy Jackson said that it’s important to pay it forward.
“Days like this fill me with personal pride,” she said. “We got here on the shoulders of others, like Del Pepper. She’s been on council 35 years, and some times she was the only woman on council.”
“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Pepper said. “The ladies that I’m talking about offered a vision for a meaningful path forward.”
Gretchen Bulova, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, is working with Alexandria Living Legend Pat Miller to install a marker in the next couple of months outside the courthouse in Carlyle.
“It’s the women’s community who have helped to preserve and save this community and build the experience you see here today,” Bulova said. “Alexandria has a really strong record of doing that. And it’s because people are willing to put themselves out there.”