“Forward Out of Error, Forward into Light:” Hunger Striking, Force-Feeding, and Historiographical Oversight in Three Women's Suffrage Movements, 1909-1918

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



“Cracking Eggs:” Introduction Yesterday afternoon at about four or five, Mrs. Lewis and I were asked to go to the operating room. Went there and found our clothes. Told we were to go to Washington. No reason as usual. When we were dressed, Dr. Gannon appeared, and said he wished to examine us. Both refused. Were dragged through the halls by force, our clothing partly removed by force, and we were examined, heart tested, blood pressure, and pulse taken. Of course such data was of no value after such a struggle. Dr. Gannon told me I must be fed. Was stretched on bed, two doctors, matron, four colored prisoners present, Whittaker in hall. I was held down by five people at the legs, arms, and head. I refused to open my 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 stomach feels like a ball of lead. Left nostril, throat and muscles of neck very sore all night. After this I was brought into the hospital in an ambulance. Mrs. Lewis and I placed in same room. Slept hardly at all. This morning Dr. Ladd appeared with his tube. Mrs. Lewis and I said we would not be forcibly fed. Said he would call in men guards and force us to submit. Went away and we were not fed at all this morning. We hear them outside now cracking eggs.1 In this passage, Lucy Burns describes the experience of being force-fed at Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia in 1917, where she had been imprisoned after her arrest for militant suffrage activities. As had become standard practice among suffrage prisoners at the time, Burns went on hunger strike to protest her imprisonment as a common criminal and not as a political prisoner. Since 1909, hunger striking had been employed in the women’s suffrage campaigns of Britain, Ireland, and the United States, and hunger strikers in all three countries underwent the harrowing process of being forcibly fed. Considering the shock value of an account like Burns’, one might imagine the issue of suffragette hunger striking and force-feeding to have generated significant historical interest. However, this aspect of the movements appears in only a very small portion of works pertaining to women’s suffrage.



1909-1918, Women's Sufferage Movements, Historiography, Force-Feeding, Hunger Strike, History Thesis, Student Scholarship Recognition Day (SSRD)