International Women’s Day is March 8, but in Fairfax County, we can’t help but celebrate it every day. Because everywhere you look in the county, you’ll find women who’ve changed history, preserved history, and broken all molds.
America celebrated the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 2020, which saw the opening of the Lucy Burns Museum at the Workhouse Arts Center, and soon after, the opening of the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial in nearby Occoquan Park. Here are the stories you’ll want to explore on your next visit to Fairfax County.
Women who have changed history.
Two women with local ties have made profound impacts on American life. In 1917, Lucy Burns was arrested for peacefully picketing the White House for the right to vote. She joined Alice Paul and many other suffragists in the Workhouse where they were all subjected to poor conditions and the infamous “Night of Terror” that would transform public opinion and open the pathway to equal voting rights. The Lucy Burns Museum at the Workhouse Arts Center (formerly the Occoquan Workhouse) tells the tale. Next door, the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial is the only memorial in the country that honors and tells the complete story of all American suffragists, complete with several bronze statues of prominent suffrage leaders, 19 Informational stations, a mediation garden, and most impressively, an actual hand-forged piece of the White House Fence, on loan from the National Park Service, that these women protested in front of in 1917.
In 1862, a clerk from the patent office in DC wanted to help Civil War troops after Second Manassas. She took the train to Fairfax Station where she nursed the wounded for three days and nights in the heavy rain at St. Mary of Sorrows church. During this time, she began to devise the idea that would eventually become the American Red Cross. Clara Barton went on to earn the title of Angel of the Battlefield for her brave service throughout the rest of the war. In DC, you can also visit the American Red Cross and the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum.
Women who have made history.
Sully Historic Site
Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman defied all odds by escaping on the Underground Railroad, then making more than a dozen trips back to rescue 70 more people. One of the stops on the Underground Railroad escape route was Sully Historic Site. Today you can learn the stories of the enslaved community that was there, and stories of the women who kept the plantation running while the men were off to war. For more Harriet Tubman history, the nearby Library of Congress, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History and Culture, and International Spy Museum all tell unique stories of this pioneer.
Speaking of spies, Laura Ratcliffe was an attractive young woman with close ties to Confederate soldiers John Mosby (the Gray Ghost) and J.E.B. Stuart. Stuart even carried a lock of her hair. But still, the Union officers who would pass through or stay at her family’s many Fairfax County properties would tell her secrets. She would promptly get that information to her Confederate friends, even trudging a distance through the mud to warn Mosby about a plot to kill him, thereby saving his life. You can visit Ratcliffe’s grave in an unlikely spot—on the grounds of the Washington Dulles Marriott Suites.
Women who have preserved history.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon is the most popular historic home in the country. And Ann Pamela Cunningham is a major reason why. She formed the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1853, raised the capital to buy the property, and took possession on Washington’s birthday in 1859. Since then, the Ladies’ Association has preserved and protected Mount Vernon, as well as built the museum and historic ecosystem that exists there today. A visit to Mount Vernon will reveal all about her and another notable woman who maintained the property—Martha Washington. Here are 10 excellent ways to experience Mount Vernon.
Women who created new history.
In all the United States, there is only one National Park for the Performing Arts, and a woman created it. Catherine Filene Shouse donated her Wolf Trap farm to the National Park Service in 1966 and played a prominent role in its transformation from alfalfa fields to one of the world’s premier performing arts venues. Today, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts’ Filene Center dominates the summer music scene with outdoor concerts from entertainment legends. The Barns is an intimate, year-round venue for both established and emerging artists. And the entire facility is a favorite for weddings and corporate meetings. Check out a sneak peek at who is on the lineup for Summer 2023 at Wolf Trap.
Elizabeth Hartwell is another woman to whom Fairfax County residents owe a debt of gratitude. In the early 1960s, a developer sought land on the Mason Neck peninsula for a planned community and an airport. Hartwell, a local resident, organized an effort to save the land from development. She was successful and the result is the 2,276-acre Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, the largest freshwater marsh in Northern Virginia and home to a large population of bald eagles.
Events Celebrating Notable Women
Woodlawn Historic Site's Needlework Show
Woodlawn Historic Site was once the home of Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, one of the nation’s most skilled needleworkers. Join Woodlawn throughout March 2023 for demonstrations, exhibits and more at the Woodlawn Needlework Show & Sale, celebrating 60 years in 2023.
At the National Museum of the United States Army on March 25, 2023, join historians and heritage experts on a field trip to various sites impacted by the "Angels of the Battlefield" - women during the Civil War. This "Spring Battle Ride" will visit the new Museum, the Winery at Bull Run, and the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum.
And at the Angelika Film Center at Mosaic District on March 8, you can join Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia in the 2023 season of LUNAFEST, a selection of short films by women and gender nonconforming directors. Learn more here.
Do a deep dive into some of these stories to learn more about the powerful and brave women who changed the course of history and have ties to Northern Virginia. Share your own stories with us in the comments below or on social media using @VisitFairfax or #FXVA.