The history of women’s suffrage, despite being integral to the fight for voting rights, is one that isn’t known by many. Patricia Wirth is looking to change that. A successful businesswoman and women’s rights activist, Pat has devoted herself to making sure the world knows that women have long been major drivers of change in this country.
Pat was born and raised in Newton, NJ, a small farm town located approximately 60 miles outside of New York City. It was such a small town that the same kids she went to kindergarten with were the ones she graduated high school with. Her mother, a seamstress, instilled in her a sense of responsibility to help the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Pat got married directly after high school and had her first child at 18; at 21 she had her second child; at 24 she was divorced and a single parent. After becoming a paralegal she spent 10 years in the corporate world’s legal departments and also spent another 5 years as Executive Director for the National Capital Paralegal Association.
In 1997 Pat opened a location of Potomac Falls Express Lube & Car Wash; she opened several other locations after that, and for 16 years she was the Owner/President/CEO of a hugely successful business. Pat got to where she did by perseverance, smarts, business acumen, and knowing that leaders suffer no fools. She knows when to push ahead with an idea she believes in, and no one can prevent her from following the path she knows is the right one for her and her interests.
Pat sold her business in 2013 in order to turn towards what she saw as her next purpose: helping those in need thrive. Her customers were loyal and her business was thriving, but Pat was looking for more, a way to effect greater positive change in the community. Then, while visiting the town of Occoquan, VA, for a fundraiser and learning about the history of its notorious prison, Pat was introduced to the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association (TPSMA), and everything changed.
During a visit to Occoquan in 2013, Pat got a brief lesson on the prison system’s famous female residents (notably suffragettes Alice Paul and Lucy Burns) and the torturous conditions they endured in the early 20th century. Back then, prisoners were held in either the Occoquan Workhouse or the DC Workhouse. Paul was held in DC while Burns was in Occoquan, both jailed there for their activism around securing a woman’s right to vote. Paul was notoriously force-fed during a hunger strike she initiated while imprisoned. Pat learned more TPSMA at a fundraiser she attended in 2014 and was invited to attend the group’s annual meeting in December. The meeting, by Pat’s assessment, lacked the experienced leadership necessary to launch successful fundraising campaigns and raise awareness of the group’s mission. They needed someone who’d generated revenue and managed staff and had knowledge of non-profit management. Luckily, for them, Pat’s newly open schedule made her the perfect candidate. She was hired by TPSMA as Executive Director, for a small stipend, and she started to corral the group towards a unified mission and funding goal. Her driving force became “nothing asked, nothing gained”, and without fear of asking everyone for anything they could give, she focused wholly on bringing the TPSMA vision to fruition.
The first step in that vision is building more monuments to women’s suffrage. Less than 8 percent of all of the memorials in the United States are dedicated to women. Think about that. For all of the suffering that Paul, Burns, and the other political prisoners at Occoquan Workhouse went through, there’d been no structure built to recognize their dedication to making sure that half of the country’s population had the right to elect the people who represent them in government. Consider how many monuments populate the DC area alone, and how much you learn about those honored by the simple inscriptions etched into those structures. That’s why TPSMA is doing this important work – because when even one person learns something about what women endured to gain the right to vote, s/he takes more seriously the importance of protecting that right.
The second step of that vision is to create a Turning Point Institute that brings young women to Washington, DC in order to educate them about the Suffragettes, the fight for the right to vote, and the need to continue the advocacy for women’s rights even today. Pat is a fighter who knows that once you take a hard-fought victory for granted you are in danger of losing it down the road; the Institute is a safeguard to protect those victories by ensuring they live on in the memories of future generations of engaged women.
Making things happen. Building things from scratch. Never backing down when it really counts. These are all qualities that Pat inherited from those who came before her – especially her mother and her grandfather. The inspiring stories of women like Paul and Burns and Ida B. Wells push Pat to not only preserve their legacies but also to pave the way for other women to stand firm for what they believe and face their own challenges head-on.
To donate to the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association, or to get involved yourself, please visit suffragistmemorial.org.