Alice Paul was an early 20th century women’s rights activist who played a key role in the women’s suffrage movement that led to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Born into a Quaker family, she had a comfortable upbringing. Her parents were strong supporters of gender equality and her mother was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Growing up, she imbibed her parents’ values, principles and beliefs which were reflected in her life’s work. From a young age she believed that one should do whatever they could for the betterment of the society. She was a very well-educated woman—rare in the early 20th century America—who used her knowledge and intelligence to fight for the rights of women less fortunate than herself. While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, she became a member of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She went on to form the National Woman’s Party (NWP) with Lucy Burns to fight for women’s rights, especially women’s suffrage. The NWP staged protests in a non-violent manner, and Paul went on a hunger strike in an attempt to persuade the government to bring about an amendment in the legislature allowing women to vote. Their efforts eventually resulted in the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- Alice Paul was the eldest daughter of William and Tacie Paul. Her father, a successful businessman, was also the president of the Burlington County Trust Company.Her parents were Hicksite Quakers, and strong believers of gender equality. Her mother was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association - a movement she too would join later on.Even as a young girl, she always knew she wanted to work for the betterment of society.She attended Swarthmore College and graduated with a degree in Biology in 1905.Career
- She went to Birmingham, England, in 1907 to study social work. She met Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, a mother-daughter duo who led a militant suffrage movement, Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). They often engaged in violent and destructive action in their bid to be heard.She joined their movement and indulged in violent activities several times only to be arrested and imprisoned. But she took solace from the fact that their movement was making impact.On her return to the U.S. in 1910, she was determined to emulate the model of the English suffrage movement in her own country. She joined the University of Pennsylvania to work on her PhD.She joined the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and was soon made the head of the Congressional Committee. However, her own ideals clashed with those of the NAWSA and she left to found her own group.Along with a friend, Lucy Burns, she formed the National Woman's Party (NWP) in 1916. The group aimed at bringing about a change in the way the government viewed women’s suffrage.During the U.S. Presidential elections in 1916, the NWP protested against the refusal of the president to support the women’s suffrage movement.In January 1917, she organized the ‘Silent Sentinels’, a group of women who supported the suffrage movement and protested in front of the White House during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.For over two years, thousands of women picketed on every weekday and held banners demanding the right to vote. The protests were non-violent, yet the women were arrested and imprisoned at Occoquan Workhouse in inhumane conditions.Paul went on a hunger strike to protest, but was forcibly fed raw eggs to make her relent. Several of the picketers were also mercilessly beaten up by the police.None of the government’s atrocities could make the women relent and they continued with their demands. Their demonstrations also received widespread media coverage forcing the president to look into the situation.In 1919, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate. The majority of the state legislature in Tennessee voted in favour of the amendment and it was ratified on 18th August 1920. The ratification was certified six days later by the Secretary of State.Paul went back to college and earned her law degree in 1922 from the Washington College of Law at American University. She received an L.L.M. in 1927 and Doctorate in Civil Laws in 1928.She worked throughout her life for securing equal rights for women. In 1923 she demanded the introduction of Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution, though it took several decades to pass the law.Major Works
- She is mainly known for her role in the women’s suffrage movement which resulted in the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits any citizen of the U.S. to be denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.Personal Life & Legacy
- Alice Paul was a woman dedicated only to the cause of fighting for women’s rights. She never married, nor had any romantic relationships.She led a very active life till the age of 89 in 1974 when she was disabled by a stroke. She died in 1977 at the age of 92.The Alice Paul Institute, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in New Jersey in 1984 to honour her memory. The institute works to promote gender equality and betterment of women.The Cape May County Advisory on the Status of Women developed The Alice Stokes Paul Award to honour women who contribute significantly towards women’s issues.Trivia
- 26 August is celebrated as Women’s Equality day in the U.S.Her grandfather William Parry was one of the co-founders of the co-educational school, Swarthmore College.She played several sports like basketball, baseball and field hockey during her school days which was uncommon for a girl in the late 19th century.
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Books About Alice Paul
A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot
by Mary Walton
Two Paths to Equality: Alice Paul and Ethel M. Smith in the Era Debate, 1921-1929
by Amy E. Butler
Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow: The Tragic Courtship and Marriage of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore
by Eleanor Alexander