While the Declaration of Independence declared “all men are created equal,” African American men did not gain the right to vote until the end of the Civil War (1865) and then had to struggle for decades to be able to fully use that right. Women did not gain the right to vote until 1920, also after decades of struggle!
The turning point in the long struggle for women’s right to vote happened in the early 20th century at a large prison complex near the north shore of the Occoquan River.
In 1917, women seeking the right to vote, called “suffragists,” were the first group to picket in front of the White House. They were arrested and sent to the prison at Occoquan. There they were beaten and force-fed. When they were released, many went right back to protest and were arrested again. Newspaper reports of their treatment in prison shifted public opinion and led to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, signed in August of 1920.
Today, Occoquan Regional Park is part of that former prison complex. For a number of years, a non-profit called the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association has been raising money and planning for a national memorial to American suffragists – with a special focus on those imprisoned at Occoquan, who endured harsh conditions and abuse to win voting rights for American women. The memorial will honor these brave women and provide awareness and education about how their courage, methods, and commitment led to the passing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In November 2019, over 200 people from all over Northern Virginia attended the groundbreaking for this memorial.
The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial will be dedicated in August 2020 on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. But the work is not done. Due to higher than expected construction costs, more funds are needed to make this memorial a reality. You can help by making a donation to this important effort by clicking here: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/TurningPointSuffragistMemorial/
The 19th Amendment was the greatest expansion of voting rights our country has ever seen. NOVA Parks is proud to be in partnership with the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association to host this memorial at Occoquan Regional Park.