Suffragist Demonstrators First Before White House Fence

Historic Artifact Comes to NOVA Park

By Susan Laume:

Last month, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that a historic section of the White House iron fence will be loaned to NOVA Parks for placement in the Turning Point Suffragists Memorial, currently under construction at Occoquan Regional Park, in Lorton, Virginia. The artifact is a section of the fence in service from 1913 until 2019, surrounding the grounds to protect the White House. It stood guarding the People’s House through a century, with many historic moments unfolding before it throughout those years.

Significantly, in 1917, suffragists stood silently before the fence at the White House gates, earning the name “silent sentinels,” protesting the lack of equality and demanding voting rights for women.

Over the many years since, the fence has become a common backdrop for protestors, for all sorts of causes, who take their demonstrations to the White House. What is not often recognized is that suffragists were the first to protest there, in front of the iconic wrought iron fence.

Ironically, the site of the memorial, where the fence section will be placed, includes the grounds of the former prison where suffragists were held and received poor treatment – including beatings and force feeding – for exercising their right to peacefully protest. The reaction to their treatment there became the ‘turning point’ of opinion, moving the public to favor them and their cause after prior ridicule; hence the name Turning Point for their memorial.

The 19-station monument celebrates successful passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote, marked by Women’s Equality Day, August 26, 1920. Turning Point is the first and only national monument to women suffragists, and the first, and may be the only, organization to receive a section of the historic White House fence.

As custodian of the historic artifact, NOVA Parks is charged with adhering to strict standards for its care and protection. NPS completed restoration of the section and will hold it in storage until the site is prepared to receive it into its final placement as part of the memorial exhibit, at a date to be determined.

The memorial construction, fully funded in March, lost a significant portion of their pledged government funding due to the resource shortfalls caused by Covid-19 virus impacts. Primary senate and house budget funding sponsors, Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30th) and Delegate Kathy Tran (D-42nd) await Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne’s next projection of taxpayer revenues to determine if funds can be reallocated to the memorial. Tran notes there is some room for optimism in that the June shortfall projection was less than expected, and that the memorial has the interest of many. Still the number of competing priories for resources is great, including those named in Governor Northam’s budget for education at pre-K and community colleges.  Legislators have difficult funding decisions ahead.

As a last bit of irony, consider the times during which this monument’s value is being weighed. A time when a diverse group of people are fighting to take down past monuments to individuals who did not fully demonstrate the value of equality and civil rights. Here instead, a diverse group of citizens hope to erect a new monument to honor a diverse group of women, who fought for equality and civil rights a century ago without prior recognition.

For information on how to support the suffragists memorial, readers are directed to the Turning Point Suffragists Memorial Association,

MAIN PHOTO: Suffragists standing sentinel in front of White House gate, one of the first occurrences. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Susan Laume is a member of the Springfield District Democratic Committee and director of the Virginia Dog Army, an animal advocacy group.  She and her dog work as a therapy dog team.

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