Alice Paul | Biography
Alice Paul | Biography

Quick Information

  • Full Name Alice Paul
  • Nationality American
  • Birthplace New Jersey, USA
  • Birth Date Jan 11, 1885
  • Age At Death 92 yrs & 5 months
Brain behind American women's voting right

Alice Paul | Biography

Suffragist, Women's Rights Activist, Feminist

Alice Paul and her friend Lucy Burns formed the National Woman's Party and fought against the government in getting American women their voting rights. She later formed the World Woman's Party and was a driving force behind the inclusion of language on women's equality in the United Nations Charter in 1945. She also fought for the establishment of a permanent UN Commission on the Status of Women and helped to get sex included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.


Quick Information
  • Full Name Alice Paul
  • Nationality American
  • Birthplace New Jersey, USA
  • Profession Suffragist, Women's Rights Activist, Feminist
  • Birth Date Jan 11, 1885
  • Age At Death 92 yrs & 5 months

Alice Paul was an American Quaker, suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist who was the mastermind of bringing American women the right to vote. She was the driving force for the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 that gave women voting right. Paul also proposed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. She fought for its ratification for the rest of her life, ensuring that the United States Constitution guarantees the protection of both women and men equally.

Who is Alice Paul?

Alice Paul was a crucial figure in the fight for the United States Constitution's Nineteenth Amendment, which outlaws sex discrimination in the right to vote. The first big victory for American feminism was achieved through continuous efforts and radical methods of protests held by Paul and her National Woman's Party members.

Paul returned to the United States in 1910 after completing her doctorate work in England. She also participated in several protests with the women's suffrage movement in England. After returning to the U.S., Paul joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association and soon became the congressional committee chairperson in 1912. But, she was disappointed with its policies. Subsequently, Paul quit the chair to join the militant Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. The group was later renamed to be recognized as the National Woman's Party that thrived for equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Early life and Education

Alice Paul was born in Mount Laurel, a township in New Jersey, on 11 January 1885. Paul was the oldest of the four children in her family. Her mother was Tacie Parry, and her father, William Paul, was a wealthy Quaker businessman. Alice Paul's parents married in 1881. In 1885, they brought their first child, Alice, into the world. Later, William (1886), Helen (1889), and Parry (1895) followed the lineage.

Her parents were immense believers in gender equality, women empowerment and strived for a better society. Paul's mother, a suffragist, took her daughter to women's suffrage meetings which later evolved her into a suffragist.

Paul grew up in a Quaker household and graduated as a topper in her class from a Hicksite school in Moorestown, New Jersey, in 1901. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 1905 with a biology degree. She also studied at the New York School of Philanthropy and earned a master's degree in sociology in 1907. Paul then went to England to do settlement work (1906–1909), where she was imprisoned three times for suffragist provocation. She also pursued social work in England. In 1919, Paul returned to the U.S. and got a Ph.D. in 1912 from the University of Pennsylvania.

Besides, Paul also earned a law degree from Washington College of Law in 1922 and master's and doctoral degrees from American University in 1927 and 1928, respectively, intending to promote constitutional modifications.

Early Career

Paul became politically active and was impressed by the dramatic techniques used in protests to support the demand during her time in London between 1906 and 1909. She was involved in the British women's suffrage campaign along with her American friend Lucy Burns in support of the British militant suffragists Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia. Pankhurst's movement used disruptive and radical methods such as window breaking and prison hunger strikes. Paul got arrested and imprisoned numerous times as a result of her affiliation with the group. She returned to the United States in 1910, and with her experience in England, Paul started to focus on the American suffrage campaign.

National American Woman Suffrage Association

Paul returned to America with great learnings from the radicalism of the English suffrage movement and a determination to restructure and re-energize the American battle for women's suffrage. She joined the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA), one of the primary national groups working for women's suffrage, during her doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1912, she was announced as the chair of the Congressional Committee. While the association's primary goal was the enfranchisement state-by-state, Paul concentrated on the secondary goal, the federal suffrage movement.  

Soon after Paul was appointed a chairperson, she quickly began planning a Woman Suffrage Procession for 3 March 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in Washington, DC. When spectators began abusing the women, the meticulously orchestrated march devolved into a near-riot, and the police failed to assist. The parade continued after the cavalry from Fort Myer restored order. Disagreements over the parade and fundraising caused Alice Paul and the NAWSA leadership to become increasingly enraged.

The next day, newspapers across the country carried stories about the brawl, and women's suffrage became a hot topic of conversation among lawmakers and the general public.

Paul was always discontent with NAWSA's policies. She wanted to urge Congress for a constitutional amendment, but NAWSA remained rigid on state-by-state initiatives. Because of this very difference, Paul and others broke away from NAWSA and founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage.

Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage

Soon, Paul, Lucy Burns, along with those who backed the approach for a constitutional amendment, terminated connections with NAWSA in 1914. They also formed a semi-autonomous body called the Congressional Union. Two years later, in 1916, Paul and her followers established the National Woman's Party (NWP). Implementation of changes on a federal level was set as its goal. 

National Woman's Party (NWP)

To draw attention to their work, the NWP moved rapidly to organize public events. In 1917, the NWP conducted the nation's first public picketing in front of the White House. No one dared to publicly criticize the President of the United States before that. They named themselves "Silent Sentinels" as they protested silently without conversing or interacting with the passers-by.

They held nonviolent demonstrative protests and used self-made banners with flaming slogans directed at President Wilson. "Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?" the banners asked, and they frequently repeated President Wilson's own words about liberty and democracy. The picketers were initially received with bewildered contempt by President Wilson, who tipped his hat to them as he walked by. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, his perspective changed.

During wartime

Few expected the suffragists to stop picketing a wartime President as the war intensified and common people appealed for unity and patriotism. Despite this, Alice Paul was adamant about not forfeiting the momentum and attention that the Silent Sentinels had brought to the cause. People considered Silent Sentinels' nonviolent protests during the war as an act of disloyalty. 

The women were harassed and abused, and they were detained and imprisoned on multiple occasions for obstructing traffic. The women were transferred to poor condition prisons such as Virginia's Occoquan Workhouse and the Columbia's District Jail. Alice Paul and others embarked on a hunger strike in October 1917. The jail officers retaliated by restraining her and forcing her to eat through a tube. The superintendent of Occoquan ordered nearly forty guards to confront the Silent Sentinels in November 1917. The women described it as the "Night of Terror," as they were battered, suffocated, and thrashed to unconsciousness.

Constitutional reforms

Paul and the NWP members continued to organize rallies outside the White House until Congress agreed to send Susan B. Anthony Amendment to the states for ratification, in 1919. The Susan B. Anthony Amendment was adopted by the needed 36 states in 1920, making it the U.S. Constitution's 19th Amendment. By eliminating sex as a viable legal justification to deny a woman the right to vote, the 19th Amendment paved the way for women to vote.

Paul considered the voting right to be only the first step toward genuine gender equality. She reformed the NWP in 1922 to eliminate all gender discrimination. Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), generally known as the Lucretia Mott Amendment, in Seneca Falls, New York, on 20 July 1923, 75 years after the first women's rights convention in 1848. It marked the beginning of a lifelong battle to achieve full equality for women. The National Woman's Party relocated into the Sewell House on Capitol Hill as its permanent headquarters in 1929. In honor of its principal patron, the NWP renamed the house the Alva Belmont House.

Other contributions

Paul formed the World Woman's Party, which operated as the NWP's worldwide organization until 1954 as she was concerned with women's rights all over the world. She was a driving force behind the inclusion of language on women's equality in the United Nations Charter in 1945 and the establishment of a permanent UN Commission on the Status of Women. She also helped to get sex included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Personal life

Alice Paul died on 9 July 1977, at the age of 92, in Moorestown, New Jersey. Her body was buried in a Quaker cemetery in Cinnaminson, New Jersey.

The Alice Paul Institute (API) was established in 1985 on her hundredth birthday in memory of Paul and to continue the battle on equality for all. 

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