Alice Stokes Paul (January 11, 1885 – July 9, 1977) was an American suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist, and one of the main leaders and strategists of the campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits sex discrimination in the right to vote. Paul initiated, and along with Lucy Burns and others, strategized events such as the Woman Suffrage Procession and the Silent Sentinels, which were part of the successful campaign that resulted in the amendment's passage in 1920.
Alice Paul in 1915
January 11, 1885|
Mount Laurel, New Jersey
July 9, 1977 (aged 92)|
Moorestown, New Jersey
University of Pennsylvania|
|Political party||National Woman's Party|
William Mickle Paul I|
After 1920, Paul spent a half century as leader of the National Woman's Party, which fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, written by Paul and Crystal Eastman, 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.
Alice Paul was born on January 11, 1885, at Paulsdale in Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey. She was the eldest of four children of William Mickle Paul I (1850–1902) and Tacie Paul (née Parry), and a descendant of William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. Her siblings were Willam, Helen, and Parry. She grew up in the Quaker tradition of public service; her ancestors included participants in the New Jersey Committee of Correspondence in the Revolutionary era and a state legislative leader in the 19th century. Alice first learned about women's suffrage from her mother, a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; Paul would sometimes join her mother in attending suffragist meetings.
Paul attended Moorestown Friends School, where she graduated at the top of her class. 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, one experience which may have sparked her eventual excitement for political activism. Alice graduated from Swarthmore College with a bachelor's degree in biology in 1905.
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 on the Lower East Side at the College Settlement House. While working on settlement activities taught her about the need to right injustice in America, Alice soon decided 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."
Paul then earned a master of arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, after completing coursework in political science, sociology and economics. She continued her studies at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England, and took economics classes from the University of Birmingham, while continuing to earn money doing social work. She first heard Christabel Pankhurst speak at Birmingham. When she later moved to London to study sociology and economics at the London School of Economics, she joined the militant suffrage group the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) led by Christabel and her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst. 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 sociology. 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.
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. In 1927, she earned a master of laws degree, and in 1928, a doctorate in civil law from American University.
Early work in British woman suffrageEdit
In 1907, after completing her master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania, Paul moved to England, where she eventually became deeply involved with the British women's suffrage movement, regularly participating in demonstrations and marches of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). After a "conversion experience" seeing Christabel Pankhurst speak at the University of Birmingham, Paul became enamored with the movement. She first became involved by selling a Suffragist magazine on street corners. This was a particularly difficult task considering the animosity towards the Suffragists and opened her eyes to the abuse that women involved in the movement faced. These experiences, combined with the teachings of Professor Beatrice Webb, convinced Paul that social work and charity could not bring about the needed social changes in society: this could only be accomplished through equal legal status for women.
While in London, Paul also met Lucy Burns, a fellow American activist who would become an important ally for the duration of the suffrage fight, first in England, then in the United States. The two women quickly gained the trust of prominent WSPU members and began organizing events and campaign offices. When Emmeline Pankhurst attempted to spread the movement to Scotland, Paul and Burns accompanied her as assistants.
Paul quickly gained the trust of fellow WSPU members through both her talent with visual rhetoric and her willingness to put herself in physical danger in order to increase the visibility of the suffrage movement. While at the WSPU's headquarters in Edinburgh, Paul and local suffragists made plans to protest a speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey. For a week prior, they spoke with people on the streets to promote knowledge about why they were protesting against the Cabinet member. At the meeting, after Grey discussed proposed legislation he claimed would lead to prosperity, Paul stood up and exclaimed: “Well, these are very wonderful ideals, but couldn’t you extend them to women?” Police responded by dragging her out of the meeting and through the streets to the police station where she was arrested. As planned, this act was viewed by many as a public silencing of legitimate protest and resulted in an increase of press coverage and public sympathy.
Later events involved even more risk of bodily harm. 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. When she was forced by police to descend, crowds cheered her effort. Later, when Paul, Burns, and fellow suffragettes attempted to enter the event, they were beaten by police as sympathetic bystanders attempted to protect them. After Paul and her fellow protesters were taken into custody, crowds gathered outside the police station demanding the women's release.
On November 9, 1909, in honor of Lord Mayor's Day, the Lord Mayor of London hosted a banquet for cabinet ministers in the city's Guild Hall. Alice Paul planned the WSPU's response; she and Amelia Brown disguised themselves as cleaning women and entered into the building with the normal staff at 9:00 am. Once in the building, the women hid until the event started that evening. It was then that they came out of hiding and "took their stand." When Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith stood to speak, Brown threw her shoe through a pane of stained glass and both women yelled "Votes for women!" Following this event, both women were arrested and sentenced to one month hard labor after refusing to pay fines and damages.
While associated with the Women's Social and Political Union, Paul was arrested seven times and imprisoned three times. It was during her time in prison that Paul learned the tactics of civil disobedience from Emmeline Pankhurst. Chief among these tactics was demanding to be treated as a political prisoner upon arrest. This not only sent a message about the legitimacy of the suffragists to the public, but also had the potential to provide tangible benefits. In many European countries, including England, political prisoners were given a special status: "[T]hey were not searched upon arrest, not housed with the rest of the prisoner population, not required to wear prison garb, and not force-fed if they engaged in hunger strikes." Though arrested suffragettes often were not afforded the status of political prisoners, this form of civil disobedience provided a lot of press for the WSPU. For example, during a London arrest (after being denied political prisoner status), Paul refused to put on prisoner's clothing. After the prison matrons were unable to forcibly undress her, they requested assistance from male guards. This shockingly improper act provided extensive press coverage for the suffrage movement.
Another popular civil disobedience tactic used by the Suffragettes was hunger striking. The first WSPU related hunger strike was conducted by sculptor Marion Wallace Dunlop in June 1909. By that fall it was being widely used by WSPU members because of its effectiveness in publicizing their mistreatment and gaining quick release from prison wardens. Refusing food worked in securing an early release for Paul during her first two arrests. However, during her third prison stint, the warden ordered twice daily force-feeding to keep Paul strong enough to finish out her month-long sentence.
Though the prisons staunchly maintained that the force-feeding of prisoners was for their own benefit, Paul and other women described the process as torturous. At the end of her month in prison, Paul had developed severe gastritis. She was carried out of prison and immediately tended to by a doctor. However, after this event, her health was permanently scarred; she often developed colds and flu which would sometimes require hospitalization.
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. Paul's experiences in England were well-publicized, and the American news media quickly began following her actions upon her return home. She drew upon the teachings of Woodbrooke and her religion and quickly decided that she wanted to embrace a single goal as a testimony. The single goal she chose was the recognition of women as equal citizens.
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 towards 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 National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) rallies, and in April 1910 was asked to speak at NAWSA's annual convention. After this major opportunity, Paul and Burns proposed to NAWSA leadership a campaign to gain a federal amendment guaranteeing the vote for women. This was wholly contrary to NAWSA's state-by-state strategy. Paul and Burns were laughed at by NAWSA leadership; the only exception was Jane Addams, who suggested that the women tone down their plan. As a response, Paul asked to be placed on the organization's Congressional Committee.
1913 Woman Suffrage ProcessionEdit
One of Paul's first big projects was initiating and organizing the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington the day before President Wilson's inauguration. Paul was determined to put pressure on Wilson, because the President would have the most influence over Congress. She assigned volunteers to contact suffragists around the nation and recruit supporters to march in the parade. In a matter of weeks, Paul succeeded in gathering roughly eight-thousand marchers, representing most of the country. However, she had much more trouble gaining institutional support for the protest parade. Paul was insistent that the parade route go along Pennsylvania Avenue before President Wilson. The goal was to send the message that the push for women's suffrage existed before Wilson and would outlast him if need be. This route was originally resisted by DC officials, and according to biographer Christine Lunardini, Paul was the only one who truly believed the parade would take place on that route. Eventually the city ceded the route to NAWSA. However, this was not the end of the parade's troubles. The City Supervisor Sylvester claimed that the women would not be safe marching along the Pennsylvania Avenue route and strongly suggested the group move the parade. Paul responded by demanding Sylvester provide more police; something that was not done. On March 13, 1913 the parade gained a boost in legitimacy as Congress passed a special resolution ordering Sylvester to prohibit all ordinary traffic along the parade route and "prevent any interference" with the suffrage marchers.
On the day of the event, the procession proceeded along Paul's desired route. The event, which was led by notable labor lawyer Inez Milholland dressed in white and riding a horse was described by the New York Times as "one of the most impressively beautiful spectacles ever staged in this country." Multiple bands, banners, squadrons, chariots, and floats were also displayed in the parade representing all women's lives. One of the most notable sights was the lead banner in the parade which declared, "We Demand an Amendment to the United States Constitution Enfranchising the Women of the Country. "Over half a million people came to view the parade and 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. Police largely did nothing to protect the women from rioters. A senator who participated in the march later testified that he personally took the badge numbers of 22 officers who had stood idle, including 2 sergeants. Eventually, the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania national guards stepped in and students from the Maryland Agricultural College provided a human barrier to help the women pass. Some accounts even describe Boy Scouts as stepping in and providing first aid to the injured. The incident mobilized public dialogue about the police response to the women's demonstration, producing greater awareness and sympathy for NAWSA.
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.
National Woman's PartyEdit
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 for Woman Suffrage and, later, the National Woman's Party (NWP) in 1916.
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. 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 newspaper, The Suffragist.
In the US presidential election of 1916, Paul and the NWP campaigned in western states where women could already vote 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 Alice, were convicted and incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia (which later became the Lorton Correctional Complex) and the District of Columbia Jail.
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."
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?". 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.
Prison, hunger strikes, passage of 19th AmendmentEdit
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.
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. In protest of the conditions at the District Jail, Paul began a hunger strike. 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."
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.
Equal Rights AmendmentEdit
Once suffrage was achieved in 1920 Paul and her party shifted attention to constitutional guarantees of equality through the Equal Rights Amendment, which was written by Paul and Crystal Eastman. The larger rival the League of Women Voters (LWV) opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. The LWV also supported workplace legislation for women, whereas the NWP thought that workplace legislation restricted women's natural ability to work.
1964 Civil Rights ActEdit
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. For decades he had been close to the National Woman's Party and especially to 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.
Personal life and deathEdit
Alice Paul had an active social life until she moved to Washington in late 1912. She enjoyed close relationships with women and befriended, sometimes dated, men. Paul did not preserve private correspondence for the most part, so few details are available. Once Paul devoted herself to winning the vote for women, she placed the suffrage effort first in her life. Nevertheless, Elsie Hill and Dora Kelly Lewis, two women she met early in her work for NAWSA, remained close to her all their lives. She knew William Parker, a scholar she met at the University of Pennsylvania, for several years; he may have tendered a marriage proposal in 1917. The more thorough discussion of Paul's familial relations and friendships is found in J.D. Zahniser's biography.
Paul 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 and is buried at Westfield Friends Burial Ground, Cinnaminson, New Jersey, U.S.
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. Her 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 her legacy alive with their mission to promote gender equality.
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 directs that Presidential spouses be honored. As President Chester A. Arthur was a widower, Paul is shown representing "Arthur's era".
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. The archives of the Alice Paul Institute include papers and items from Paul's family history.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced in 2016 that an image of Alice Paul will appear on the back of a newly designed $10 bill along with Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession that Paul initiated and organized. Designs for the new $5, $10, and $20 bills will be unveiled in 2020 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of American women winning the right to vote via the 19th Amendment.
In 2018, Alice Paul was a central character in an episode of Timeless (Season 2, Episode 7) which alludes to Paul giving an impassioned speech to President Woodrow Wilson during a march that ends in police violence upon the suffragist marchers. According to history, Paul was at the event, and was arrested, but there is no evidence that she spoke to Wilson on that day.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alice Paul.|
- R.Digati (Mar 23, 2002). "Alice Paul". Social Reformer, Suffragette. Find a Grave. Retrieved August 17, 2011. (Westfield Friends Burial Ground, Cinnaminson, New Jersey)
- The Alice Paul Institute
- Alice Paul at Lakewood Public Library: Women In History
- The Sewall-Belmont House & Museum—Home of the historic National Woman's Party
- Biographical sketch at the University of Pennsylvania
- Papers, 1785–1985. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
- "I Was Arrested, Of Course…", American Heritage, February 1974, Volume 25, Issue 2. Interview of Alice Paul by Robert S. Gallagher.
- Conversations with Alice Paul: Woman Suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment, An Interview Conducted by Amelia R. Fry, 1979, The Bancroft Library
- Michals, Debra. "Alice Paul". National Women's History Museum. 2015.