Alice Paul

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Alice Paul
AlicePaul 1901.jpg
Alice Paul, circa 1901
Born (1885-01-11)January 11, 1885
Moorestown, New Jersey
Died July 9, 1977(1977-07-09) (aged 92)
Moorestown Township, New Jersey
Alma mater University of Birmingham, University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, American University
Occupation Suffragist
Parents William Mickle Paul I (1850-1902)
Tacie Parry
Relatives Siblings: Willam, Helen, and Parry

Alice Stokes Paul (January 11, 1885 – July 9, 1977) was an American suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist. As one of the main leaders and strategists of the campaign, along with Lucy Burns and others, she led a successful campaign for women's suffrage that resulted in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, which prohibits gender discrimination in the right to vote.[1]

Early life[edit]

Alice Paul was born on January 11, 1885 in Moorestown, New Jersey, which is today a suburb of Mount Laurel. She grew up in a Quaker family where she was taught that both genders should be treated equally. Her mother, Tacie, was even a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Paul would sometimes join her mother in attending suffragist meetings. This is how Paul first heard about the suffrage movement and from this experience she developed her drive to not stop for anything until woman had equal rights. [2]


Alice Paul and Helen Gardener, ca. 1908-1915
Alice Paul

Paul attended the Friends School, a Quaker school in Moorestown, where she graduated at the top of her class. [3] She then went to Swarthmore College, co-founded by her grandfather, and earned a B.A. in Biology. Paul then earned her M.A. in sociology and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907 and 1912 respectively.[2] She continued her studies at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Paul received her law degree (LL.B) from the Washington College of Law at American University in 1922.[4] In 1927, she earned an LL.M, and in 1928, a Doctorate in Civil Laws from American University.[5]

Life work[edit]

Women's Suffrage and the Nineteenth Amendment[edit]

After her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, she moved to England where she first became acquainted with women suffragists and the work that they do. Alice Paul met the Pankhurst women, who were the founders of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Britain.[6] It was through working with these women that Paul had found her life calling, not as a social worker, but to help women win equal rights.

While associated with the WSPU, Paul had been arrested seven times, imprisoned three times, protested the treatment of suffrage prisoners with hunger strikes and participated within marches and demonstrations.[6] During the fall of 1909, Paul and another suffragist had disguised themselves as cleaning women within the hall in which a banquet was being held for the Prime Minister and most of the cabinet. It was when the Prime Minister stood up to deliver his speech that Paul and the other suffragist threw their shoes and broke stained glass windows in order to gain attention, while screaming “Votes for women!”.[6] It was due to these actions that Paul became known in the United States.[6]

Paul returned to the United States in 1910, and took a break to focus on her doctoral work because she was physically exhausted from her time spent in prison. [6] After she recouped, she joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and was appointed Chairwoman of their Congressional Committee in 1912 in Washington, DC.[5] Her initial work was to organize a parade in Washington the day before President Wilson's inauguration, which was a success. Paul wanted the support of President Wilson and she wanted to show the power of the NAWSA. The lead banner in the parade said, "We Demand an Amendment to the United States Constitution Enfranchising the Women of the Country."[6] Over half a million people showed up for the parade but the district police did very little in containing these people from harassing the parade marchers and it almost turned into a riot. Luckily, the Fifteenth Calvary was waiting outside the capital in case anything happened and when the fights started, they rode in to restore order. When other citizens found out about this event, they were angry at the police and Paul got praising reviews for her work. [6]

Cover to the program for the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade which Alice Paul organised

After the parade, the NAWSA's focus was lobbying for a constitutional amendment to secure the right to vote for women. Such an amendment had originally been sought by suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who, as leaders of the NWSA, fought for a federal amendment to the constitution securing women's suffrage until the 1890 formation of NAWSA, which campaigned for the vote on a state-by-state basis.

Paul's methods started to create tension between her and the leader of NAWSA, who thought that a constitutional amendment was not practical at that time. When her lobbying efforts proved fruitless, Paul and her colleagues severed all ties with NAWSA and formed the National Woman's Party (NWP) in 1916.[5] The NWP began introducing some of the methods used by the suffrage movement in Britain and would only support the suffrage amendment.[6]Alva Belmont, a multi-millionaire socialite at the time, provided funding. The NWP was accompanied by press coverage and the publication of the weekly Suffragist.[5]

In the US presidential election of 1916, Paul and the NWP campaigned against the continuing refusal of President Woodrow Wilson and other incumbent Democrats to support the Suffrage Amendment actively. In January 1917, the NWP staged the first political protest to picket the White House. The picketers, known as "Silent Sentinels," held banners demanding the right to vote. This was an example of a non-violent civil disobedience campaign. In July 1917, picketers were arrested on charges of "obstructing traffic." Many, including Paul, were convicted and incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia (later the Lorton Correctional Complex) and the District of Columbia Jail.[5] When the public first heard the news they were stunned. Leading suffragists and very well-connected women were going to prison for sixty days for peacefully protesting. President Wilson received bad publicity from this event and was livid with the position he was forced into. He quickly pardoned the women on July 19, two days after they had been sentenced. But the damage had already been done, the Boston Journal stated, “The little band representing the NWP has been abused and bruised by government clerks, soldiers and sailors until its efforts to attract the President’s attention has sunk into the conscience of the whole nation.”[6]

Suffragists continued picketing outside the White House after this event and during WWI with banners containing slogans such as “Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait For Liberty?”. [7] Although the suffragists protested peacefully, their protests were not always met kindly. While protesting, young men would harass and beat up the women, with the police never intervening on behalf of the protesters. Police would even arrest other men who tried to help the women who were getting beaten. Even though they were protesting during wartime, they continued peaceful, non-destructive protesting, so they still had some public support. Throughout this time, more protesters were arrested and sent to Occoquan, with no pardons offered.[6]

When sent to Occoquan, the women were given no special treatment and they had to live in harsh conditions, with poor sanitation, infested food, and dreadful facilities.[6] In a protest of the conditions in Occoquan, Paul commenced a hunger strike,[8] which led to her being moved to the prison’s psychiatric ward and force-fed raw eggs through a feeding tube. "Seems almost unthinkable now, doesn’t it?" Paul told an interviewer from American Heritage when asked about the forced feeding. "It was shocking that a government of men could look with such extreme contempt on a movement that was asking nothing except such a simple little thing as the right to vote."[9]

Alice Paul

On the night of November 14, 1917 at Occogan, known as the Night of Terror, a group of returning protesters was beaten mercilessly by the guards. The women were beaten to the point of unconsciousness, choked, and one was even stabbed between her eyes by her own banner, while others received concussion, lacerations, and broken ribs. None of them received medical assistance after the event and the women were just thrown into concrete "punishment cells." [7] Despite the brutality of the intervention, Paul remained undiscouraged and on November 27 and 28, all the suffragists were released from prison.[6]

Paul's hunger strike, combined with the continuing demonstrations and attendant press coverage, kept pressure on the Wilson administration.[5] In January 1918, Wilson announced that women's suffrage was urgently needed as a "war measure," and strongly urged Congress to pass the legislation. The amendment passed the House in 1918 but the Senate would be a different story. President Wilson even attended the Senate meeting and urged the senators to pass this amendment. The amendment still fell two votes short of passing. The next year, 1919, the amendment was one vote short of passing. In 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed and secured the vote for women. Originally, the amendment wasn't going to pass, being short by one vote again, but the senator of Tennessee changed his vote when he received a telegram from his mother asking him to support women’s suffrage. [2]

Equal Rights Amendment[edit]

Paul was the original author of a proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in 1923.[5] The ERA was passed by both houses in Congress in 1972 and was then submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. Approval by 38 states was required to ensure adoption of the amendment. Not enough states—only 35—voted in favor in time for the deadline. However, efforts to pass the ERA are still happening, as well as efforts to pass a new equality amendment. Although the amendment hasn't passed yet, almost half of the U.S. states have adopted the ERA into their state constitutions.[10]


Paul continued fighting for equal rights until she had a debilitating stroke in 1974. She died at the age of 92 on July 9, 1977 at the Quaker Greenleaf Extension Home in Moorestown Township, New Jersey, near her family home of Paulsdale. [3]


Alice Paul was a great suffragist who dedicated her life to the betterment of women, who suffered in unimaginable ways, but was able to accomplish what many thought was impossible. She should be remembered for the incredible work she accomplished and how she reshaped America. She went out fighting for change and she proved that one person does have the power to make a difference. Paul proved that persistence is key and, "When you put your hand to the plow, you can't put it down until you get to the end of the row." [2]

Alice Paul 2012 coin

In 1979, she was inducted, posthumously, into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[11]

Her alma mater Swarthmore College named the Women's Center and a dormitory in her honor. Montclair State University in New Jersey has also named a building in her honor.

Two countries have honored her by issuing a postage stamp: Great Britain in 1981 and the United States in 1995, issuing a 78¢ Great Americans series stamp.

In 1990, the Alice Paul Institute purchased the brick farmhouse, Paulsdale, in Mount Laurel, New Jersey where Paul was born. Paulsdale is a National Historic Landmark and is on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. API is keeping Alice Paul’s legacy alive and their mission is to promote gender equality.[2]

Hilary Swank, in the HBO 2004 movie Iron Jawed Angels, portrayed Paul during her struggle for passage of the 19th Amendment.

Paul appeared on a United States half-ounce $10 gold coin in 2012, as part of the First Spouse Gold Coin Series. A provision in the Presidential $1 Coin Program (see Pub.L. 109–145, 119 Stat. 2664, enacted December 22, 2005) directs that Presidential spouses be honored. As President Chester A. Arthur was a widower, Paul is shown representing "Arthur's era".[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Baker, Jean H., "Placards At The White House," American Heritage, Winter 2010, Volume 59, Issue 4.
  2. ^ a b c d e “Alice Paul: Feminist, Suffragist and Political Strategist.” Alice Paul Institute. Last modified November 08, 2010. Accessed April 15, 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Paul, Alice Stokes - Social Welfare History Project." Social Welfare History Project. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <>.
  4. ^ "Honoring Alice Paul". Washington College of Law. Retrieved September 3, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Alice Paul Biography.". Lakewood Public Library: Women in History. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Dodd, Lynda G. “Parades, Pickets, and Prison: Alice Paul and the Virtues of Unruly Constitutional Citizenship,” 24 J. L. & Pol. 339 (2008): accessed April 16, 2014,
  7. ^ a b Bernikow, Louise. "Night of Terror Leads to Women's Vote in 1917." Our History. Last modified 29 Oct. 2004. Accessed 16 Apr. 2014. <>.
  8. ^ "Miss Alice Paul on Hunger Strike", The New York Times, Nov 7, 1917. Accessed June 25, 2012.
  9. ^ Gallagher, Robert S., "I Was Arrested, Of Course…", American Heritage, February 1974, Volume 25, Issue 2. Interview of Alice Paul.
  10. ^ "ERA Charm Bracelet". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  11. ^ National Womens Hall of Fame
  12. ^ Alice Paul is explicitly specified in 31 U.S.C. § 5112(o)(3)(D)(i)(II)
  • Adams, Katherine H. and Michael L. Keene. Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign. University of Illinois Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-252-07471-4
  • Walton, Mary. A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-61175-7

External links[edit]