International Women’s Day is March 8th, 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.

With the centennial of the 19th Amendment, the opening of the Lucy Burns Museum, and the recent movie about Harriett Tubman, 2020 is the perfect time to celebrate herstory in Fairfax County.  Here are the stories you’ll want to explore on your visit!

Women who have changed history.

Suffragist News Column

Lucy Burns Museum

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 “Night of Terror” that would transform public thought 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, you’ll find the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial commemorating the suffragists. And all throughout 2020, you can enjoy the 100th anniversary of a woman’s right to vote, thanks to Lucy and other brave suffragists.

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 Slave Quarters

Sully Historic Site

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman defied all odds by escaping on the Underground Railroad, then making more than a dozen more 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 Tubman history, visit the nearby Library of Congress, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History and Culture, and International Spy Museum.

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 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.

Mount Vernon

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.

Women who created new history.

Wolf Trap Filene Center

Wolf Trap Filene Center

In all of 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.

Elizabeth Hartwell is another woman to whom Fairfax County residents owe a debt of gratitude. In the early 60s, 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.

space shuttle discovery

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

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 2020 for demonstrations, exhibits and more at the Woodlawn Needlework Show & Sale.

From Amelia Earhart to Rosie the Riveter, Women In Aviation and Space Family Day celebrates female contributions to space, aviation and the STEM fields. Bring your kids to the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on March 14, 2020 from 10am to 3pm for a celebration of women with the right stuff.


While many events happen in the spring, check back throughout 2020 as we celebrate the 19th Amendment centennial with more woman-focused events. Of course, the female influence on Fairfax County extends beyond any centennial year. It’s baked into our most popular sites and stories. So anytime you travel, be sure to include one of the sites listed here in your plans!