Alice Paul

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Alice Paul
Alice Paul1915.jpg
Alice Paul, circa 1915
Born (1885-01-11)January 11, 1885
Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey
Died July 9, 1977(1977-07-09) (aged 92)
Moorestown, New Jersey
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania
Swarthmore College
American University
Occupation Suffragist
Parent(s) William Mickle Paul I (1850-1902)
Tacie Parry
Relatives Siblings: Willam, Helen, and Parry

Alice Paul (January 11, 1885 – July 9, 1977) was an American suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist, and the main leader and strategist of the 1910s campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits sex discrimination in the right to vote. Along with Lucy Burns and others, Paul strategized the events, such as the Silent Sentinels, which led the successful campaign that resulted in its passage in 1920.[1]

After 1920 Paul spent a half century as leader of the National Woman's Party, which fought for her Equal Rights Amendment to secure constitutional equality for women. She won a large degree of success with the inclusion of women as a group protected against discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She insisted that her National Woman's Party focus on the legal status of all women and resisted calls to address issues like birth control and the suppression of African American women's votes.

Early life[edit]

Alice Stokes Paul was born on January 11, 1885 at Paulsdale in Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey.[2] She was the eldest of four children of William Mickle Paul and Tacie Paul (née Parry). She was a descendant of William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. She grew up in the Quaker tradition of public service, in a family that included a foreign aid worker to Russia and a founder of a Christian Science church, and the Quaker view of recognizing women as separate people from men. Her mother was even a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; Paul would sometimes join her mother in attending suffragist meetings. The Quaker tradition is where Paul first learned about the suffrage movement.[3]


Alice Paul and Helen Gardener, ca. 1908-1915

Paul attended Moorestown Friends School, where she graduated at the top of her class.[4] In 1901, Paul went to Swarthmore College, an institution co-founded by her grandfather. While attending Swarthmore, Paul served as a member on the Executive Board of Student Government which may have sparked her eventual excitement for political activism. Of the four children of William and Tacie Paul, Alice was the only one to graduate from Swarthmore College and she did so with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology in 1905.[5]

Partly in order to avoid going into teaching work, Paul completed a fellowship year at a settlement house in New York City after her graduation, living with and mentoring settlement residents as part of the College Settlement Association. While working in the settlement taught her about the need to right injustice in America, Paul quickly saw that social work was not the way she was to achieve this goal: "I knew in a very short time I was never going to be a social worker, because I could see that social workers were not doing much good in the world... you couldn't change the situation by social work."[6]

Paul then earned her M.A. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907.[3] She continued her studies at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England, not far from the University of Birmingham, while returning to social work to make an income. During time in London she made the acquaintance of the Pankhursts and later joined the protests of the Pankhurst's militant Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). She was arrested repeatedly during suffrage demonstrations and served three jail terms. After returning from England in 1910, Paul continued her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a Ph.D. in economics. Her dissertation was entitled "The Legal Position of Women in Pennsylvania"; it discussed the history of the women's movement in Pennsylvania and the rest of the U.S., and urged woman suffrage as the key issue of the day.[7]

Paul later received her law degree (LL.B) from the Washington College of Law at American University in 1922, after the suffrage fight was over.[8] In 1927, she earned an LL.M, and in 1928, a Doctorate in Civil Laws from American University.[9]

Early work in British woman suffrage[edit]

After her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, she moved to England where she first became acquainted with women suffragists and their work. Alice Paul encountered Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, the militant founders of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Britain.[10] It was through working with these women that Paul found her true calling, not as a social worker, but as a soldier in the battle to win equal rights for women.

After a "conversion experience" seeing Christabel Pankhurst speak at the University of Birmingham, Alice Paul realized that radical reform was what the world needed, not slow changes to the status quo - and that was to be found in the political power of woman suffrage, which would enable women of all stripes to enact reforms to better their lot. Paul joined the WSPU and, after a year, began participating in demonstrations and marches. While associated with the WSPU, Paul was arrested seven times and imprisoned three times, and participated in hunger strikes while in prison.[10]

She met Lucy Burns during a London march led by Emmeline Pankhurst, at which all of the participants were arrested. They continued to work together in the WSPU, and the relationship would continue for the duration of the suffrage fight, first in England, then in the United States. Paul quickly took on a leadership role in the WSPU, organizing demonstrations and symbolic events. Paul put herself physically on the line during dramatic attempts to increase the visibility of the women's cause. Before a political meeting at St. Andrew's Hall in Glasgow in August 1909, Paul camped out on the roof of the hall so that she could address the crowd below. She was cheered by the crowd as police forced her to come down; later, when Paul, Burns, and fellow suffragists attempted to enter the event, they were beaten by police while sympathetic bystanders attempted to protect them.[7]

During the autumn of 1909, Paul and another suffragist, Amelia Brown, disguised themselves as cleaners at the Guildhall, where the Lord Mayor was hosting a banquet for Prime Minister Asquith and other cabinet ministers. When Asquith stood up to speak, Paul and the other suffragist threw their shoes and broke stained glass windows in order to gain attention, while screaming "Votes for women!".[10] The women were arrested and sentenced to one month's hard labor.[7] During previous arrests, Paul had secured a quick release by going on hunger strike, but during this incarceration, she was force-fed, a process which caused great bodily harm. Paul had to be carried out of the prison at the end of her sentence.

Return to the United States[edit]

Alice Paul

After the ordeal of her final London imprisonment, Paul returned to the United States in January 1910 to continue her recovery and to develop a plan for suffrage work back home.[10] Paul's experiences in England were well-publicized, and the American news media was already covering her activities while she was still in London. She knew that she was positioned to bring greater attention and scrutiny to the woman suffrage cause, and used this power to shake up the stagnant American suffrage movement.

Paul re-enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, pursuing her Ph.D., while speaking about her experiences in the British suffrage movement to Quaker audiences and starting to work in United States suffrage on the local level. After completing her dissertation, a comprehensive overview of the history of the legal status of United States women, she began participating in NAWSA rallies, and eventually moved to Washington to chair NAWSA's Congressional Committee. NAWSA's work at the time was primarily focused at the state level; the passage of a congressional amendment seemed like an insurmountable challenge given the truculent opposition of the South and Northeast.

1913 Woman's Suffrage Parade[edit]

One of Paul's first big projects was organizing the 1913 Woman's Suffrage Parade in Washington the day before President Wilson's inauguration. Paul, was determined to put pressure on Wilson. The lead banner in the parade said, "We Demand an Amendment to the United States Constitution Enfranchising the Women of the Country."[10]

Over half a million people came to view the parade; with insufficient police protection, the situation soon devolved into a near-riot, with onlookers pressing so close to the women that they were unable to proceed. The Massachusetts and Pennsylvania national guards stepped in; eventually, students from the Maryland Agricultural College provided a human barrier to help the women to pass. The incident mobilized public dialogue about the police response to the women's demonstration, producing greater awareness and sympathy for NAWSA.[7][10]

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

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.

The National Woman's Party[edit]

Paul's methods started to create tension between her and the leaders of NAWSA, who thought she was moving too aggressively in Washington. Eventually, disagreements about strategy and tactics led to a break with NAWSA. Paul formed the Congressional Union and, later, the National Woman's Party (NWP) in 1916.[11]

The NWP began introducing some of the methods used by the suffrage movement in Britain and focused entirely on achieving a constitutional amendment for woman suffrage.[10]Alva Belmont, a multi-millionaire socialite at the time, was the largest donor to Paul's efforts. The NWP was accompanied by press coverage and the publication of the weekly Suffragist.[9]

Silent Sentinels[edit]

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 actively support the Suffrage Amendment. In January, 1917, the NWP staged the first political protest and picketing at the White House. The pickets, participating in a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign known as the "Silent Sentinels," held banners demanding the right to vote.

After the United States entered World War I in April, 1917, many people viewed the picketing Silent Sentinels as disloyal. In June, 1917, picketers were arrested on charges of "obstructing traffic." Over the next six months, many, including Paul, were convicted and incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia (which later became the Lorton Correctional Complex) and the District of Columbia Jail.[9]

When the public heard the news of the first arrests some were surprised that leading suffragists and very well-connected women were going to prison 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 first women arrested on July 19, two days after they had been sentenced, but reporting on the arrests and abuses continued. The Boston Journal, for example, 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."[10]

Suffragists continued picketing outside the White House after the Wilson pardon, and throughout World War I. Their banners contained such slogans as "Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait For Liberty?".[12] Although the suffragists protested peacefully, their protests were sometimes violently opposed. While protesting, young men would harass and beat 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 maintained public support by agitating peacefully. Throughout this time, more protesters were arrested and sent to Occoquan or the District Jail. Pardons were no longer offered. [10]

Prison, hunger strikes, and passage of Nineteenth Amendment[edit]

In solidarity with other activists in her organization, Paul purposefully strove to receive the seven-month jail sentence that started on October 20, 1917. She began serving her time in the District Jail.[13]

Whether sent to Occoquan or the District Jail, the women were given no special treatment as political prisoners and had to live in harsh conditions with poor sanitation, infested food, and dreadful facilities.[10] In protest of the conditions at the District Jail, Paul began a hunger strike.[14] This led to her being moved to the prison's psychiatric ward and being 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."[15]

Alice Paul

On November 14, 1917, the suffragists who were imprisoned at Occoquan endured brutality which became known as the "Night of Terror". The National Woman's Party (NWP) went to court to protest the treatment of the women in Occoquan Prison. The women were later moved to the District Jail where Paul languished. Despite the brutality that she experienced and witnessed, Paul remained undaunted, and on November 27 and 28 all the suffragists were released from prison.[11]

Paul's hunger strike, combined with the continuing demonstrations and attendant press coverage, kept pressure on the Wilson administration.[9] 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 House of Representatives passed a Constitutional amendment for woman suffrage that month. In response, the NWP stopped picketing, but when the Senate failed to pass the amendment in September, they returned, staging more confrontational demonstrations through the winter of 1918-19. NWP women now climbed statues, chained themselves to fences, burned 'watch fires' in front of the White House while Wilson went to Versailles. They also set fire to banners imprinted with his words on democracy as these words were announced from the Peace Conference.[16]

In June 1919, the Senate passed the suffrage amendment. The Nineteenth Amendment to the USA Constitution was ratified in August 1920.[17] Originally, the amendment wasn't going to pass, being short by one vote, but a senator from Tennessee changed his vote when he received a telegram from his mother asking him to support women's suffrage.[3]

1964 Civil Rights Act[edit]

Later in life, Alice Paul played a major role in adding protection for women in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, despite the opposition of liberals who feared it would end protective labor laws for women. The prohibition on sex discrimination was added to the Civil Rights Act by Howard W. Smith, a powerful Virginia Democrat who chaired the House Rules Committee. Smith's amendment was passed by a teller vote of 168 to 133. For twenty years Smith had sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment in the House because he believed in equal rights for women, even though he opposed equal rights for blacks. He for decades had been close to the National Woman's Party and especially to Alice Paul. She and other feminists had worked with Smith since 1945 trying to find a way to include sex as a protected civil rights category.[18]

Equal Rights Amendment[edit]

Paul was the original author of a proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in 1923.[9] 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.[19]


Paul continued fighting for equal rights until she suffered a debilitating stroke in 1974. She died at the age of 92 on July 9, 1977 at the Greenleaf Extension Home, a Quaker facility in Moorestown, New Jersey, less than a mile from her birthplace and childhood home at Paulsdale.[4]


Alice Paul was honored in 2012 on a $10 gold coin

In 1979 Paul was inducted, posthumously, into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[20]

Paul's alma mater, Swarthmore College, named the Women 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. The U.S. stamp was the 78-cent Great Americans series stamp.

In 1987, a group of New Jersey women raised the money to purchase Alice Paul's papers when they came up for auction, so that an archive could be established. Alice Paul's papers and memorabilia are now held by the Schlesinger Library in Boston and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. In 1990, the same group, now 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. The Alice Paul Institute keeps Paul's legacy alive with their mission to promote gender equality.[3]

Hilary Swank played Paul in the 2004 movie Iron Jawed Angels, which portrayed Paul's 1910s movement for passage of the 19th Amendment.

In 2010 Paul was posthumously inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

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".[21]

Some of her papers are held in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Baker, Jean H., "Placards At The White House," American Heritage, Winter 2010, Volume 59, Issue 4.
  2. ^ Kahn, Eve M. "Group Seeks to Buy a Suffragist's Home", The New York Times, July 13, 1989. Accessed July 12, 2008. "The Alice Paul Centennial Foundation plans to buy the house in Mount Laurel, but first the organization must raise $500,000 by Sept. 8.... The 2½-story, stucco-clad brick farmhouse was built in 1840 and once overlooked the Paul family's 173-acre Burlington County farm, east of Camden. Miss Paul was born in an upstairs bedroom in 1885 and lived in the house until she left for Swarthmore College in 1901."
  3. ^ a b c d "Alice Paul: Feminist, Suffragist and Political Strategist." Alice Paul Institute. Last modified November 8, 2010. Accessed April 15, 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Paul, Alice Stokes". Social Welfare History Project. 
  5. ^ "Who Was Alice Paul". API. 
  6. ^ Alice Paul in oral history compiled by Amelia Fry, Online Archive of California, quoted in Katherine Adams: Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign, University of Illinois Press 2008, p. 7
  7. ^ a b c d Adams, Katherine (2008). Alice Paul and the American Woman Suffrage Campaign. Chicago: University of Illinois. pp. 12–14. 
  8. ^ "Honoring Alice Paul". Washington College of Law. Retrieved September 3, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c d e "Alice Paul Biography.". Lakewood Public Library: Women in History. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Parades, Pickets, and Prison: Alice Paul and the Virtues of Unruly Constitutional Citizenship". 
  11. ^ a b Zahniser, J.D. (2014). Alice Paul: Claiming Power. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 178–231. 
  12. ^ "Night of Terror Leads to Women's Vote in 1917 - Womens eNews". 
  13. ^ Zahniser, J.D. (2014). Alice Paul: Claiming Power. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 279–281. 
  14. ^ "Miss Alice Paul on Hunger Strike", The New York Times, Nov 7, 1917. Accessed June 25, 2012.
  15. ^ Gallagher, Robert S., "I Was Arrested, Of Course…", American Heritage, February 1974, Volume 25, Issue 2. Interview of Alice Paul.
  16. ^ "An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie". 
  17. ^ "An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie". 
  18. ^ Jo Freeman, "How 'Sex' Got Into Title VII: Persistent Opportunism as a Maker of Public Policy," Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Vol. 9, No. 2, March 1991, pp 163–184.
  19. ^ "ERA Charm Bracelet". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  20. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame
  21. ^ Alice Paul is explicitly specified in 31 U.S.C. § 5112(o)(3)(D)(i)(II)

Further reading[edit]

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