Suffragist of the Month - Mary Nolan
A tenacious fighter into her 70s
Note: On the 19th day of each month Lorton Patch will recognize a Suffragist of the Month in honor of the 19th Amendment and the Turning Point Suffragists Memorial in Occoquan Regional Park.
If you Google "Mary Nolan" lots of results are returned. There is a Congresswoman Mary Nolan from Oregon and a silent film star by the same name. The Mary Nolan we are interested in is more obscure, but nonetheless an inspiring figure in American history. Tiny and frail at age 73, she was the oldest imprisoned suffragist to endure the infamous Night of Terror at the Occoquan Workhouse.
Mary Nolan was born in Virginia, and educated at a convent in West Virginia. During the Civil War, she was a crusader for women's rights and was active in the southern library movement. In 1917, Nolan was a member of the National Women's Party. Still feisty in her seventies, she visited Washington DC after traveling from her home in Jacksonville, Florida, where she lived. The purpose of her visit was to picket President Woodrow Wilson's White House, joining the younger women in carrying signs demanding the vote.
Along with those younger women, Nolan was arrested and brought before a judge. Upon seeing the grey-haired old woman before him, the judge pleaded with Mrs. Nolan to post her bail, implying that a jail sentence could mean death. Indignant, Mrs. Nolan arose from her seat and addressed the judge. "Your Honor, I have a nephew fighting for democracy in France. He is offering his life for his country. I should be ashamed if I did not join these brave women in their fight for democracy in America. I should be proud of the honor to die in prison for the liberty of American women."
Fortunately, Mary Nolan endured her ordeal, and it is from Nolan that we know of the violence leveled on the prisoners as Occoquan. She made it her mission to reveal them to the public. Upon her release from prison, she dictated her experiences to Dudley Field Malone, a friend of President Wilson and a champion for equal treatment of women. Shortly after her arrival at Occoquan she watched a fellow suffragist demand that they be treated as political prisoners. The warden shouted "seize her," and the woman, Dora Lewis, was dragged away by guards. The guards then sprang on Mrs. Nolan and grabbed her by the shoulder. Conscious of a bad foot, she pleaded "I'll come with you; don't drag me." Her cries went unheeded and instead she reported "I was jerked down the steps and away into the dark. I didn't have my feet on the ground." Mrs. Lewis, another of the older suffragists, was not as lucky. She was flung into her cell where her head struck the iron bed frame. She was knocked unconscious, but later recovered.
Nolan's testimony proved critical in turning public sentiment in favor of the Suffragists' cause.
Mary Nolan is just one of the many brave women honored at the Turning Point Suffrage Memorial, without whom America's daughters would not have won the right to vote. For more information about her or the memorial visit http://www.suffragistmemorial.org/