It’s the first Wednesday of the year and you know what that means – today’s another Women in History Crush Wednesday! Earlier this week you may have noticed that the Google doodle featured a group of women with a “votes for women” sign, and if you didn’t notice it then, you may notice now that the same cartoon adorns the top of this article. At the front of the pack stands our woman of the week holding a banner with her motto “deeds not words,” which we’ll touch on later. Now, without further ado our first WCW of 2016, Alice Paul.
Born on January 11th, 1885 in Mt Laurel, New Jersey, Alice Paul was raised on her family’s farm in Paulsdale. I don’t generally mention the ancestors of our WCWs, but Paul was related to some big names, including William Penn, John Winthrop, and one of the founders of Swarthmore College. Raised a Hicksite Quaker, Paul grew up following a tenet of equality, which taught that men and women were equal in every sense of the word. This principle, along with the women’s suffrage meetings that Paul attended with her mother during her childhood, spurred the interest in equal rights-based activism that she carried with her for her whole life.
Paul graduated high school at the top of her class, then in 1905 earned a degree in biology from Swarthmore College. For the next two years, she conducted graduate work at the New York School of Philanthropy (presently the Columbia School of Social Work) while pursuing another degree, this time in sociology, from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1907, Paul moved to Birmingham, England to study social work and gain experience as a case worker at the Woodbrooke Settlement. While in England, Paul befriended leaders of the British suffrage movement Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, and from them learned radical activism, an extreme form of protest that includes using approaches from non-violent picketing to window smashing in order to be heard. It was with the Pankhursts that Paul began living by “deeds not words,” as to her this meant to actually work for the cause instead of just talking about it. When Paul returned to Pennsylvania in 1910, she brought these lessons with her and with them reinvigorated the American suffrage movement.
While working for her doctorate in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, which she completed in 1912, Paul served as the leader of the Washington D.C. chapter of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. On March 3rd, 1913, Paul and fellow activist Lucy Burns organized the largest parade the nation’s capital had ever seen – over eight thousand women marched to the White House advocating for the right to vote. Though the parade was initially peaceful, groups of onlookers soon began physically attacking the suffragettes, while police stood idly by. The conflict didn’t hurt the suffrage campaign but rather strengthened it, acting as justification for the necessity of the movement.
After several years with the NAWSA, Paul felt in 1916 that she needed to increase the pressure on policy makers and so founded firstly the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in order to lobby for suffrage, and secondly the National Women’s Party to maintain presence picketing at the White House. Many of these “Silent Sentinels” were arrested over their eighteen month stint for obstructing traffic, although there is speculation that some arrests were made out of frustration because the women were “bothering President Wilson during wartime.” Paul herself spent seven months in jail, during which she organized several hunger strikes and wrote about the abusive treatment of older suffragettes within the prison, the latter of which helped gain public support for the movement. Finally in 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed and ratified, and women were allowed to vote in the United States.
Following her success with women’s suffrage in the US, Paul went back to school and received three law degrees, then spent several decades traveling to Europe and South America to advocate equal rights. Beginning in 1923, Paul worked on an amendment for absolute gender equality, first known as the Lucretia Mott Amendment, then the Equal Rights Amendment, and sometimes referred to during the mid twentieth century as the Alice Paul Amendment. Though she and others worked on passing this document for over fifty years, such an amendment has yet to be ratified and added to the Constitution. In 1938 she founded the World Women’s Party, which often worked with the League of Nations for including gender equality in their agenda. Additionally, Paul led a successful campaign to include a sexual discrimination clause to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul continued speaking out about equality internationally until well into her eighties.
“I think if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that it isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it.”
Paul died on July 9th, 1977 in Moorsetown, New Jersey. Eight years later, the Alice Paul Institute was founded to honor her and the equal rights movement. To this day, the institute runs programs to teach young women how to be leaders, as well as acting as a museum of women’s history.
To learn more about Alice Paul’s incendiary life, check out these National Women’s History Museum, History Channel, and Alice Paul Institute pages. Paul’s perseverance and dedicated work ethic in regards to equal rights remain as something to admired, and personally I’m in awe of and inspired by her scholarly achievements and success politically.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!