Alice Paul was born on January 11, 1885, in Moorestown, New Jersey. Her father, who died when Alice was sixteen, was a businessman, banker, and property owner. The Pauls lived in the small Quaker community of Moorestown.
One of the beliefs of the Quakers was equality of the sexes. As a young girl, Alice attended the Quaker suffrage meetings with her mother. Alice Pauls’ father left them enough money so she could attend the exclusive Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
She graduated in 1905 as a biology major, but after discovering politics in her senior year, she went on to attend the New York School of Philanthropy.
She majored in sociology, and spent all of her spare time working for the woman suffrage in New York. In 1907, Paul earned a master’s degree in sociology. She went to England to continue her work toward her doctorate degree.
She was beginning to realize that she couldn’t change the situation by social work alone, but needed to change the actual laws. Women had no voice in either England or America to change any law.
The suffrage movement was different in England than in the States. British suffragists had begun wild women protests in 1905. They would sneak into male political meetings, and disrupt the meetings by shouting questions, wave banners and be arrested.
As Alice Paul became more involved with the Women’s Social and Political Union, she was warned of possible imprisonment. This threat did not prevent her from sneaking into political events. She was arrested ten times in England, three of which ended in prison time. While in prison, she continued to protest the government’s refusal to let women vote or speak publicly, by not eating.
She was force-fed for four weeks. She returned to America in 1910, where she continued her studies and her suffrage work. She brought back from England with her the same tactics used to get the attention of the newspapers and the government. She brought the wild suffragette movement back to the United States.
She teamed up with Lucy Burns, who she spent prison time within England. They went to the National American Women Suffrage Association and proposed forming a committee to lobby congressmen for a national suffrage amendment. They were named president and vice president but were told they would have to raise their own funds. They began by organizing a volunteer network then decided to bid for national attention.
Their first appearance as a committee was a celebration parade for the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. This would certainly be heard throughout the nation.
In just a few weeks they had over 8,000 marchers representing states, colleges, and even some other nations. They included 26 floats depicting women’s lives and hardships. This was the first procession of women in our nation for any cause. This parade caused so much excitement that it brought the women suffrage movement into the headlines.
By that summer both houses of congress were discussing women suffrage. Alice Paul then began publishing a weekly newspaper, The Suffragist, in November of 1913. In the issues to follow they spoke of injustice and the laws affecting the interest of women. In April 1916, the National Women’s Party was established as a political party.
This party did not endorse any candidate but only women suffrage. The Democrats and Republicans were beginning to realize the women’s votes could definitely influence the election. For the first time in American politics, both parties included support for women in their campaign platforms.
Woodrow Wilson was elected in spite of his demeaning behavior to women, so, on January 10, 1917, one day after his inauguration, Alice Paul and her organization began picketing the White House and continued for the next 18 months. On April 6, 1917, America went to war. The picketers began to use the war to make their points. There were many arrests of the picketers to follow, the fines were larger and the prison terms longer and harsher.
Alice Paul was arrested on October 20 and served seven months, which was the longest term ever served for women suffrage. The cells were unclean, with rotten food, parasites, and police brutality. She was put in a psychiatric ward, where she was questioned and awakened every hour by inspectors or insane inmates.
But the truth began to reach the public. Released suffrage prisoners, wearing prison uniforms, traveled on “The Prison Special” and told of terrible conditions. One week later Paul was released. President Wilson began urging members of the House and Senate to vote for the nineteenth amendment but kept losing.
Then in October 1918, he pleaded for woman suffrage as part of the war effort. The amendment was passed in 1920, giving women the rights of citizens, including the right to vote. She did not stop there. In 1922, she received her Law degree and in 1928 formed the World Party for Equal Rights for Women.
Paul’s equal rights amendment was “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Living in Switzerland, she encouraged an Equal Rights Treaty and a World code of Law. Equality was then written into the United Nations Charter. Paul fought for equal rights for the rest of her life, nationally and internationally. In 1977, at the age of 93, she died in her childhood town of Moorestown.
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