Alice Paul

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Alice Paul
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
Political party National Women's Party
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, Alice strategized the events, such as the Silent Sentinels, which led the successful campaign that resulted in its passage in 1920.[1]

After 1920 Alice 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.

Early life

Alice 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), and a descendant of William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. 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. The Quakers believed that all people, including women, were equal in the sight of God. Alice first learned about woman suffrage from her mother, a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; Alice would sometimes join her mother in attending suffragist meetings.[3]


Alice Paul and Helen Gardener, ca. 1908–1915

Alice attended Moorestown Friends School, where she graduated at the top of her class.[4] In 1901, Alice went to Swarthmore College, an institution co-founded by her grandfather. While attending Swarthmore, Alice 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.[5]

Partly in order to avoid going into teaching work, Alice 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."[6]

Alice 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 continuing to earn money doing social work. She first heard Christabel Pankhurst speak at Birmingham. When she later moved to London to work, 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, Alice 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.[7]

Alice 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

In 1907, after completing her master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania, Alice moved to England where she eventually became deeply involved with women suffragists and their work. Alice 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 Alice 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 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. When she later moved to London, Alice joined the WSPU and, in 1909, began participating in demonstrations and marches. While associated with the WSPU, Alice 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. In August 1909, Alice accepted an organizer's job in the WSPU and was sent to various cities to prepare the ground for demonstrations and symbolic events. Alice 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, Alice 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, Alice 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

Alice Paul

After the ordeal of her final London imprisonment, Alice returned to the United States in January 1910 to continue her recovery and to develop a plan for suffrage work back home.[10] Alice'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.

Alice 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 National Woman Suffrage Association (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

One of Alice's first big projects was organizing the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington the day before President Wilson's inauguration. Alice was determined to put pressure on Wilson, because the President would have the most influence over Congress. Alice assigned volunteers to contact suffragists around the nation to ask supporters to come march in Washington. In just weeks, Alice had organized eight-thousand marchers representing multiple states in the country. Multiple bands, banners, squadrons, chariots, and floats were displayed in the parade representing all women’s lives gathered at the nation’s capital. 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 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 Procession 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

Alice'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. Alice 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 Alice's efforts. The NWP was accompanied by press coverage and the publication of the weekly Suffragist.[9]

Silent Sentinels

In the US presidential election of 1916, Alice 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.[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

In solidarity with other activists in her organization, Alice 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, Alice 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?" Alice 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 Alice languished. Despite the brutality that she experienced and witnessed, Alice remained undaunted, and on November 27 and 28 all the suffragists were released from prison.[11]

Alice'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 women's 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, beginning the battle for ratification by state legislatures. The Nineteenth Amendment to the USA Constitution was ratified in August 1920.[16] In the Tennessee Assembly's vote to decide ratification, the amendment was at first not going to pass, being short by one vote, but Assembly Member Harry Burn changed his vote when he received a telegram from his mother, Febb Burn, asking him to support women's suffrage.[3]

1964 Civil Rights Act

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. For decades he 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.[17]

Equal Rights Amendment

Alice 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 revive the ERA are still happening, as well as efforts to pass a new equality amendment. Although the amendment did not pass, almost half of the U.S. states have adopted the ERA into their state constitutions.[18]

A rivalry was formed between Alice's NWP and the League of Women Voters (LWV), who 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.[19]


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

Her alma mater, Swarthmore College, named 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. 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 Alice 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.[3]

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

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

Alice 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, Alice 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. The archives of the Alice Paul Institute include papers and items from Paul's family history.

See also


  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. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Who Was Alice Paul". Alice Paul Institute. Archived from the original on 2014-09-09. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Paul, Alice Stokes". Social Welfare History Project.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Who Was Alice Paul". API.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Adams, Katherine (2008). Alice Paul and the American Woman Suffrage Campaign. Chicago: University of Illinois. pp. 12–14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Honoring Alice Paul". Washington College of Law. Retrieved September 3, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 "Alice Paul Biography". Lakewood Public Library: Women in History. Retrieved 2006-05-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 10.9 "Parades, Pickets, and Prison: Alice Paul and the Virtues of Unruly Constitutional Citizenship".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Zahniser, J.D. (2014). Alice Paul: Claiming Power. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 178–231.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Night of Terror Leads to Women's Vote in 1917 – Womens eNews".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Zahniser, J.D. (2014). Alice Paul: Claiming Power. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 279–281.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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. 16.0 16.1 "An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Freeman, Jo (March 1991). "How 'Sex' Got Into Title VII: Persistent Opportunism as a Maker of Public Policy". Law and Inequality. 9 (2): 163–84.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "ERA Charm Bracelet". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-07-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Scharf, Lois (1983). Decades of Discontent: The Women's Movement, 1920–1940. Westport: Greenwood Press. p. 223. ISBN 0313226946.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Home - National Women's Hall of Fame". National Women’s Hall of Fame.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Alice Paul is explicitly specified in 31 U.S.C. § 5112(o)(3)(D)(i)(II)

Further reading

  • Adams, Katherine H. and Michael L. Keene. Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign. U. of Illinois Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-252-07471-4
  • Baker, Jean H. Sisters: The Lives of American Suffragists. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.
  • _____. Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Butler, Amy E. Two Paths to Equality: Alice Paul and Ethel M. Smith in the ERA Debate, 1921–1929. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.
  • Cahill, Bernadette. Alice Paul, the National Woman's Party and the Vote: The First Civil Rights Struggle of the 20th Century. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2005.
  • Cott, Nancy F. "Feminist Politics in the 1920's: The National Woman's Party." The Journal of American History 71 (1984): 43–68
  • Cullen-Dupont, Kathryn. American Women Activists' Writings: An Anthology, 1637–2002. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002.
  • Evans, Sara M. Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America. New York: The Free Press, 1989.
  • Graham, Sally Hunter. "Woodrow Wilson, Alice Paul, and the Woman Suffrage Movement," Political Science Quarterly 98 (Winter 1983–1984): 665–79; online
  • Hartmann, Susan M. "Paul, Alice"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000 Access Jun 05 2014
  • Hawranick, Sylvia, Joan M. Doris, and Robert Daugherty. "Alice Paul Activist, Advocate, and One of Ours." Affilia (2008) 23#2 pp: 190–196.
  • Hill, Jeff. Defining Moments: Women's Suffrage. Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 2006.
  • Irwin, Inez Haynes. The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party. Fairfax: Denlinger's Publishers, LTD, 1964.
  • Leleux, Robert. "Suffragettes March on Washington." The American Prospect 24 (2013): 81.
  • Lunardini, Christine. Alice Paul: Equality for Women. Boulder: Westview Press, 2013.
  • _______. From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, 1910–1928. New York: New York University Press, 1986.
  • McGerr, Michael. "Political Style and Woman's Power, 1830–1930." The Journal of American History 77 (1990): 864–885
  • Olson, Tod. "One Person, One Vote." Scholastic Update 127 (1994): 15
  • Stevens, Doris. Jailed for Freedom. New York: Liverwright Publishing Corporation, 1920.
  • Stillion Southard, Belinda Ann. "The National Woman's Party's Militant Campaign for Woman Suffrage: Asserting Citizenship Rights through Political Mimesis." (2008). PhD thesis, U of Maryland online
  • Walton, Mary. A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-61175-7
  • Ware, Susan. "The Book I Couldn't Write: Alice Paul and the Challenge of Feminist Biograpy." Journal of Women's History 24 (2012): 13–36
  • Willis, Jean L. "Alice Paul: The Quintessential Feminist," in Feminist Theorists, ed. Dale Spender (1983).
  • Zahniser, J.D. and Amelia R. Fry. Alice Paul: Claiming Power. Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-019-9958429.

External links