The Lucy Burns Museum at Workhouse Arts Center

Take a highly unusual look into the past.

Photo courtesy Lucy Burns Museum

Lucy Burns Museum

A former prison is now the home of The Lucy Burns Museum at Workhouse Arts Center.

A former agricultural work camp, the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton has repurposed the sad, often violent, and crowded Lorton Prison into an uplifting cultural center, which hosts art exhibitions, performances, classes, and artists’ studios. The newly opened Lucy Burns Museum at the WAC tells the stories of both the prison and some of the people held there.

Illustration by Ed Fotheringham

“It’s certainly unique,” says museum director Laura McKie. “There is nothing quite like it anywhere else. It’s unusual in that it combines two stories together in one museum. One is the Lorton correctional unit. The other is a six-month story of the suffra-gists who were imprisoned in 1917 [for picketing the White House over women’s right to vote].”

Named for a leader of the cause, the Lucy Burns Museum shares the experiences of female voting activists at the dawn of the 20th century. Exhibits include the jail log where the suffragists’ names were written when they were charged, images of the 72 women who were jailed, and larger-than-life statues of movement leaders Burns, Alice Paul, and Dora Lewis. “The message we are trying to impart is that women were imprisoned here, and those on the hunger strikes did it for the right to vote, so it is our responsibility to vote,” says McKie. “We try to get people to leave with respect for the courage for the women who were willing to go to prison for the right to vote.”

The museum also tells the story of Lorton Prison with exhibits of objects such as a 17-foot crucifix created by prisoners for a chapel and modeled after a death row inmate, confiscated shivs and weapons, and films showing life in the prison, including performances by Frank Sinatra. Visitors can enter one of the 38 remaining cells to experience the restrictions placed on the prisoners. WorkhouseArts.org 

Photo courtesy Lucy Burns Museum

Lucy Burns

Suffragist Lucy Burns in prison.

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