Alice Paul | Biography

Quick Wiki

  • Full Name Alice Paul
  • Nationality American
  • Birthplace New Jersey, USA
  • Birth Date Jan 11, 1885
  • Age At Death 92 yrs & 5 months
  • Occupation Suffragist, Women's Rights Activist, Feminist
  • Place Of Death Moorestown, New Jersey, USA
  • Death Date July 9, 1977
Brain Behind American Women's Voting Right

Alice Paul | Biography

Died on 9 July 1977, at 92, in Moorestown, New Jersey

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.

Alice Paul was an American suffragist 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 rights. 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 Was Alice Paul?

American Quaker, suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist, 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) and Clash With Woodrow Wilson

Paul coordinated a women's suffrage parade with more than 5,000 people from every state in the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage on 3 March 1913, a day prior to Woodrow Wilson's first inauguration. A swarm of thousands attended the parade, but as the day continued, some onlookers began assaulting the marchers and the scenario went unabated by the cops. Despite the violence, the parade achieved Paul's goal of drawing national attention to the problem of women's suffrage.

After parting ways from NAWSA, Paul formed the National Women's Party, which was more radical (NWP). This group decided to concentrate its efforts on President Wilson, who even after his second reelection in 1916, still opposed a woman's suffrage amendment.

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 Columbia's District Jail where they faced severe guard abuse and deplorable living circumstances including worm-infested food, filthy water, and filthy bedding. 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 the 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.

Additionally, 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.

To acknowledge their service, women who took part in suffrage picketing were given 'Silent Sentinel' pins. "Without Extinction is Liberty," was etched on the little silver banners. "For service in the cause of women's independence Presented by the National Woman's Party," was etched on the reverse.

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.

‘Iron Jawed Angels’

Iron Jawed Angels2004 TV movie based on historical biography tells the story of Alice Paul and the females of the 1917 Women's Suffrage movement. The film depicted the effort of suffragists like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns in ensuring that future generations would have the right to vote and run for office. It also highlighted the sacrifices of participants of the suffragist movement in terms of health, marriages to freedom. The movie well-presented the scenario of imprisonment and forced feeding after picketing and hunger-striking against wartime president, Woodrow Wilson alongside the accomplishment of the results they envisioned.

Hilary Swank played the character of Alice Paul in the movie.

Alice Paul Gold Coins

The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-145), allowed the First Spouse Gold Coins, including provisions for Presidents who did not have a spouse while in office. In these cases, the First Spouse Gold Coins struck in conjunction with that President usually included a portrait of Liberty

But during the period of the then-President, Chester Arthur's administration, Congress granted exceptions because his wife died before he took office. This allowed the US Mint to manufacture and disseminate a coin honoring early twentieth-century American suffragist Alice Paul in this one case.

Susan Gamble, United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) Master Designer, designed the exterior of the Alice Paul Coin, which was sculpted by United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill. It had the words, In God We Trust, Liberty, 2012, and Suffragist, as well as a photograph of the American Suffragist.

Moreover, passed into law on 13 January 2021, The Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020, mandated the Treasury Department to issue quarter-dollar coins depicting "prominent American women" beginning from 1 January 2022 till 31 December 2025. Paul was nominated for the feature.

Death and Honors

Alice Paul died on 9 July 1977, at 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. Located aPaulsdale, the same area as Paul's home, the Alice Paul Institute, teaches the public about Paul's life and work, as well as offers girls' leadership development programs. The Alice Paul Institute aims to celebrate Alice Paul's legacy of gender equality work via education and leadership development.

Additionally, Paul was honored into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2010, interestingly in the same class as President Woodrow Wilson. She was also inducted into the 1979 National Women's Hall of Fame and the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame in 1994.

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