blackbirdonline journalSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts

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Excerpt of a letter from Lucy Burns to Commissioner Brownlow on Behalf of the National Woman’s Party
reprinted from Jailed for Freedom, Doris Stevens, 1920

When our friends were sent to prison, they expected the food would be extremely plain, but they also expected that . . . enough eatable food would be given them to maintain them in their ordinary state of health. This has not been the case.

The testimony of one of the prisoners, Miss Lavinia Dock, a trained nurse, is extremely valuable on the question of food supplied at Occoquan. Miss Dock is secretary of the American Federation of Nurses. She has had a distinguished career in her profession. She assisted in the work after the Johnstown flood and during the yellow fever epidemic in Florida. During the Spanish war she organized the Red Cross work with Clara Barton. “I really thought,” said Miss Dock, when I last saw her, “that I could eat everything, but here I have hard work choking down enough food to keep the life in me.”

I am sure you will agree with me that these conditions should be instantly remedied. When these and other prisoners were sentenced to prison they were sentenced to detention and not to starvation or semi-starvation.

The hygienic conditions have been improved at Occoquan since a group of suffragists were imprisoned there. But they are still bad. The water they drink is kept in an open pail, from which it is ladled into a drinking cup. The prisoners frequently dip the drinking cup directly into the pail.

The same piece of soap is used for every prisoner. As the prisoners in Occoquan are sometimes seriously afflicted with disease, this practice is appallingly negligent.

Concerning the general conditions of the person, I am enclosing with this letter, affidavit of Mrs. Virginia Bovee, an ex-officer of the workhouse . . . The prisoners for whom I am counsel are aware that cruel practices go on at Occoquan. On one occasion they heard Superintendent Whittaker kicking a woman in the next room. They heard Whittaker’s voice, the sound of blows, and the woman’s cries.

I lay these facts before you with the knowledge that you will be glad to have the fullest possible information given you concerning the institution for whose administration you as Commissioner of the District of Columbia are responsible.

Very respectfully yours,
(Signed) Lucy Burns   end

   Silent Sentinels and the Night of Terror
   Introduction & Table of Contents

   Voices from Occoquan
   Introduction & Table of Contents

   1917 Suite: A Month, a Year, a Term of Liberty
   Introduction & Cross-issue Table of Contents

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