Alice Paul (1885-1977)

ALICE PAUL

Early twentieth century leader of the woman suffrage movement, Alice Paul was born in 1885 in New Jersey, to a Quaker family that believed in gender equality, education for women, and working to improve society.  Paul gained exposure to the woman suffrage movement at a young age when her mother Tacie Parry Paul took her to woman suffrage meetings. 

After graduating at the top of her class at the age of sixteen, Paul attended Swarthmore College, a Quaker college founded by her grandfather.  She graduated with a degree in biology in 1905.  Through a fellowship, Paul conducted graduate work at the New York School of Philanthropy (now Columbia University) and received a Master of Arts degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907.  Through a scholarship, she then went to England to study social work at various British universities.  In 1912 she received a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and by 1928, had earned three law degrees. 

While in England, Paul met Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the British suffrage movement, and participated in radical protests for woman suffrage, including hunger strikes.  In 1912, back in the United States, Paul and Lucy Burns joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), leading the Washington, D.C. chapter.  While NAWSA had primarily focused on state-by-state campaigns, Paul preferred to lobby Congress for an amendment to the Constitution. Paul and her colleagues went on to found the National Woman's Party to pursue their tactics.    

As her first large-scale push for the public’s support of women’s right to vote, Paul organized the largest parade that had ever occurred in Washington, D.C.  On March 3, 1913, the day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, around eight thousand woman marched with banners and floats down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.  Around half a million people watched the parade, although some were there to verbally harass the marchers.  In addition to reducing the number of people who greeted Wilson when he arrived by train that day, the parade created a great deal of publicity for the women’s movement.  On March 17, Paul and other suffragists met with President Wilson about their cause but he said it was not yet time for an amendment to the Constitution.  They met with him twice more that month without making progress.  On April 7, the opening day of Congress, Paul organized a demonstration and later that month founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage to focus specifically on lobbying Congress.     

Trying a new tactic, Paul and other women became the first to picket the White House.  Starting in January 1917, they spent eighteen months picketing.  Over 1,000 “Silent Sentinels” slowly marched, day and night, in front of the White House gates, displaying suffrage banners with messages such as, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?"  They endured the verbal and physical attacks of spectators which only increased after the United States entered World War I and the women’s signs became more accusatory, asking President Wilson how he could send American men to die in a war for democracy when he denied women the right to vote at home.  Instead of protecting the women, the police began arresting them for obstructing traffic.  As the women continued picketing, their jail sentences grew longer.  Paul was sentence to jail for seven months.  In jail, she organized a hunger strike to protest their incarceration.  Doctors threatened to send Paul to an insane asylum, but she continued to refuse to eat and so they force fed her.  Newspapers printed stories about the women’s treatment in jail, garnering public sympathy and support for the cause.  By 1918, President Wilson publicly announced his support for suffrage.  It took two more years for the Senate, House, and the required 36 states to approve the amendment.  

After the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, Paul and the National Women’s Party focused their attention on the Equal Rights Amendment.  This amendment would guarantee women protection from discrimination.  Paul spent the rest of her life advocating for this and other women’s issues.  She died in 1977.

 

Additional Resources:



Web Sites:

Books:

  • Butler, Amy E. Two Paths to Equality: Alice Paul and Ethel M. Smith in the Era Debate, 1921-1929. New York: State University of New York Press, 2002.
  • Haynes, Inez. The Story of the Woman's Party New York: Kraus Reprints, 1971, c1921.
  • Lunardini, Christine. From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1910-1928. IUniverse, 2000.
  • Raum, Elizabeth. Alice Paul. Heinemann, 2004. [for ages 4-8]

Film:

  • "Iron Jawed Angels"


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