Alice Paul

Equality of Rights Under the Law Shall Not Be Denied or Abridged By the United States Or Any State On Account of Sex.
–Alice Paul, Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, Introduced by the National Woman’s Party, 1923.

Alice Paul, chief strategist for the militant wing of the suffrage movement and author of the Equal Rights Amendment, was born on January 11, 1885 in Moorestown, New Jersey. The product of an upper middle-class Quaker family, Paul attended Swarthmore College and earned a doctorate in social work from the University of Pennsylvania.

Miss Alice Paul, New Jersey, National Chairman, Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage… Edmonston, Washington, D.C., photographer. [ca. 1915]. Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party. Prints & Photographs Division

Alice Paul joined the woman suffrage movement while pursuing graduate studies in England. There, she was schooled in the militant tactics of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union. Upon her return to the United States in 1910, Paul found the suffrage movement in need of new ways to capture public and press interest. In November 1912 Paul attended the annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and offered her services. NAWSA accepted her offer and made her chairman of their Congressional Committee.

Head of Suffrage Parade, Washington, D.C. March 3, 1913. Votes for Women: The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage. Selected Images From the Collections of the Library of Congress. Prints & Photographs Division

Charged with maintaining NAWSA’s presence in Washington, D.C., her first task was organizing a parade and pageant designed to draw attention to the suffrage movement. Timed to coincide with festivities surrounding the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, the event resulted in a near riot as crowds surrounded and at times engulfed parade participants. Nonetheless, the parade on March 3, 1913 highlighted the suffrage cause at a time when the issue was falling from public consciousness.

Inez Milholland Boissevain…at the National American Woman Suffrage Association Parade, March 3, 1913. Washington, D.C. Votes for Women–The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage: Selected Images From the Collections of the Library of Congress. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1913, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Crystal Eastman, and others organized the Congressional Union (CU), later known as the National Woman’s Party (NWP). The group’s goal was ratification of a suffrage amendment to the United States Constitution. Until the late 1910s, NAWSA mainly worked on the state level, urging each state to pass legislation permitting women to vote.

The party in power has told us that we must get suffrage state by state or not at all. It is hard to realize that we do not have to accept that, that we can take a shorter, better route. It is difficult to believe that we can demand and make ourselves heard…do you want justice for American women? We hope that you do; because swiftly and simply and directly, you can get what you want.
–Miss Beulah Amidon, The Suffragist, October 7, 1916.

Sensing the Congressional Union was moving in a more radical direction, NAWSA ousted the CU almost immediately following its formation. Over the next seven years, Paul and her followers relentlessly pursued a Constitutional Amendment. Their policy of holding the party in power responsible for the Amendment’s success contrasted sharply with NAWSA’s commitment to political neutrality. In the 1916 election, for example, the National Woman’s Party campaigned against Wilson’s Democrats in states where women could vote.

Alice Paul…Raising Glass. Harris & Ewing, cSept. 3, 1920. Votes for Women–The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage. Selected Images From the Collections of the Library of Congress. Prints & Photographs Division

Even World War failed to divert the National Woman’s Party from the suffrage campaign. Instead of calling a truce with President Wilson, suffragists picketed his White House with signs demanding “Kaiser Wilson” extend democracy to women. These peaceful, if abrasive, demonstrations ended with arrest and imprisonment. Behind bars, Paul and other suffragists continued their protest with a prison hunger strike and eventually were force fed.

During a time when print media was one of the primary means of influencing public opinion, a number of women’s organizations created their own publications. One of the more well known of these  titles includes The Suffragist, the official journal of The National Woman’s Party. Not only did these periodicals improve organizing and spread awareness, they also illuminated the differences in strategy between various groups campaigning for suffrage. It is important to note that not all the press attention was positive. There were a number of anti-suffrage publications, as well as a number of critiques of the suffrage movement and it’s leaders in the mainstream press. For example, in an article in The Nation (1921), Freda Kirchwey writes about the failure of the suffrage movement, and specifically Alice Paul, to consider the perspectives and concerns of black women.

Following adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Alice Paul continued to fight for women’s equality. After earning a law degree in 1922, she wrote the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), also known as the Lucretia Mott amendment. The National Woman’s Party proposed the amendment in 1923 as a means of ending discrimination on the basis of gender. The ERA passed both houses of Congress fifty years later when a new generation of feminists took up the cause. However, three-fourths of the states failed to ratify the amendment by the 1982 deadline. Active in the movement until her death in 1977, Alice Paul lived to see enormous change in the rights and status of American women.

The National Woman’s Party remains active to this day, working from their headquarters at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, one of the oldest residential properties on Capitol Hill.

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