It’s Women’s History Month, so who’s blocking Tammy Baldwin’s bill to put a Suffrage Memorial on the National Mall?

Turning Point Suffragist Memorial

The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial in Fairfax County, Virginia, memorializes the women whose harsh treatment while being jailed marked a national turning point in the effort by women to secure the right to vote. Supporters want to see a suffragist monument placed on the National Mall in Washington, DC. (Photo by NOVA parks)

By Pat Kreitlow

February 29, 2024

Visitors to Washington, DC could someday see a monument to the women who fought for generations for the right to vote. But first comes a new fight—over a small piece of land.

“Our clothing [was] partly removed by force, and we were examined. Dr. Gannon told me then I must be fed. Was stretched out on bed, two doctors, matron and four prisoners present. I was held down by five people at legs, arms and head. I refused to open mouth. Gannon pushed tube up left nostril. I turned and twisted my head all I could, but he managed to push it up. It hurts nose and throat very much and makes nose bleed freely. Tube drawn out covered with blood. Operation leaves one very sick. Food dumped directly into the stomach feels like ball of lead. Very sore all night. After this I was brought into the hospital.”

So reported Lucy Burns who had been arrested for a silent protest outside the White House and then went on a hunger strike.  

Her crime? Demanding that she and all women could have the right to vote.

Burns and others would be force-fed maggot-infested food, beaten, and unlawfully restrained in rat-infested cells in November 1917. But as word got out about their brutal treatment, it marked a turning point in public sentiment—and less than two months later, President Woodrow Wilson ended his opposition to a Constitutional amendment granting women suffrage, the universal right to vote in all elections.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, site of a notorious prison workhouse where the protesters were illegally jailed, there is now the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial. It has only been around for three years, and you probably did not know about it until right now.

That is part of the reason why Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin is part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers seeking a monument in the nation’s capital to commemorate the American heroes who worked for more than 70 years to secure voting rights for women. One year ago, to mark the start of National Women’s History Month, the group introduced a bill calling for the monument to be placed on the National Mall—the coveted space between the US Capitol and the Washington Monument—populated and flanked by memorials, museums, statues, galleries, and federal offices.

And yet, just as women had to fight not to be marginalized at the ballot box, they face a similar challenge in getting a memorial placed on what’s been called the nation’s front yard, which is visited by an estimated 36 million tourists annually.

The bill passed the House of Representatives last November but is being held up in the Senate because the National Park Service says it considers the mall to be a “substantially completed work of civic art,” citing the Commemorative Works Act of 1986, which required an act of Congress to approve any new memorials on the mall.  In other words: No more new memorials.  There has been one exemption for the 2021 Global War on Terrorism Memorial.

Suffrage monument advocates want Congress to allow a monument to be added in the Constitution Gardens area, near a memorial to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence—all men—so that the mall’s annual visitors can appreciate the service and sacrifice from Founding Fathers as well as daughters, mothers, and their allies whose work culminated in the passage of the 19th Amendment 

“The National Mall is home to memorials for those who fought for our freedom, presidents who defined our country, and the seat of our government,” Baldwin said last year when introducing the bill. “And it is only fitting that it also houses the Women’s Suffrage National Monument.”

“Our bipartisan legislation took a positive step forward in passing in the House, and now I’m fighting to earn the support needed in the Senate to make sure we honor all those who fought for women’s rights with this monument,” said Baldwin this week.

Author

  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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