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Film Honors 'Iron Jawed' Women

Not far from the historic Occoquan Workhouse site, suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns were imprisoned for speaking out on women voting rights, making their mark in history. HBO recently made its mark as well with "Iron Jawed Angels," a film that tells the story of the suffragists. On the former Lorton prison property, HBO cameras rolled in October 2002, taking advantage of the locality for authenticity.

The film stars Hillary Swank, Oscar winner for her performance in "Boys Don't Cry," as suffragist Alice Paul, and Frances O'Connor as Lucy Burns. Also featured in the HBO exclusive film are Julia Ormond, Anjelica Huston, Patrick Dempsey, Laura Fraser, Bob Gunton, Molly Parker, Brooke Smith and Lois Smith. Members of the Richmond League of Women Voters Leo and Amy Burgett, Julia Flowers, Lucille Roane, Victoria Stoneman and Kathleen O'Connell stood in as extras in the movie.

In the early 1900s, a woman's role in the country's politics was minimal. Paul and Burns were instrumental in changing that. In 1913, Burns was jailed in solitary confinement in Washington, D.C. for staging a protest. Then Paul led an 11-woman protest in front of the White House in 1917. President Woodrow Wilson was in the oval office then, and Paul was one of a group of women moved to the Occoquan Workhouse where they staged a hunger strike. As a result of the suffragists' efforts, the 19th amendment was passed in 1920 giving women equal voting rights.

Amy Burgett was part of the suffrage parade scene filmed in Washington, D.C. Burgett was amazed by the costumes, hair styles and make-up they used, especially her shoes which weren't cut out for a whole day of standing. Burgett played an "educated white woman," she said.

"It was very eye-opening. I know a lot more about Alice Paul then I did before. I went up and introduced myself to Angelica Huston, who played Carrie Chapman Catt, the first president of the League of Women Voters. It's a very startling story," Burgett said.

Centreville resident and Fairfax League of Women's Voters member Olga Hernandez heard about the casting call but couldn't make it.

"It was just an open call," Hernandez said. "I wanted to do it but I couldn't get off work."

Hernandez did realize the significance of the ladies' plight though.

"When these women were put in prison, the public was aghast at the horrible conditions. They staged a hunger strike and were force fed," she said.

Burgett called the force-feeding incident the first action the women took beyond speaking out.

"That's what turned the tides in many ways," Burgett said.

An historical marker was placed at the site of the workhouse, but with the widening of Route 123, it was temporarily taken down. The Fairfax League of Women Voters stepped in and saved the historical marker.

"We had it commemorated years ago. As soon as the construction is finished we will reinstate it," Hernandez said.

Bernice Colvard is the historian for the Fairfax League of Women Voters. She has one of the only existing pictures of the Occoquan Workhouse that the League saved from destruction when the structure was leveled.

"This was part of the evidence for getting the marker," Colvard said.

Colvard has copies of original documentation from the Washington Asylum and Jail, which operated the workhouse. Lucy Burns' name appeared on the registry for November 1917. She was charged with "Unlawful Assembly." The women fasted as well, which the jail keepers tried to deal with.

"Twenty-seven white female prisoners (suffragists) transferred from the cell rooms in the punishment house to the hospital," one entry on the log read.

Angela Terantino, HBO spokesperson, said the film is on schedule so far.

"They're still in production, adding the music and stuff. The film doesn't go on until Feb. 15," Terantino said.

Burgett is still in an apartment in the Richmond area from Hurricane Isabel in September. She reserved the apartment's party room for a screening party for the film's Feb. 15 debut. All 120 members of the Richmond chapter are invited.