Today in History

Today in History: January 11

Alice Paul

formal portrait of Alice Paul, sitting near a window
Miss Alice Paul, New Jersey, National Chairman, Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage;
Member, Ex-Officio, National Executive Committee, Woman's Party

Photographer: Edmonston, Washington, D.C.
[ca. 1915]
Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party

Equality of Rights Under the Law Shall Not Be Denied or Abridged By the United States Or Any State On Account of Sex.

Alice Paul,
Equal Rights Amendment To the Constitution,
Introduced by the National Woman's Party,
1923.

Alice Paul, chief strategist for the militant wing of the suffrage movement and author of the Equal Rights Amendment, was born on January 11, 1885 in Moorestown, New Jersey. The product of an upper middle-class Quaker family, Paul attended Swarthmore College and earned a doctorate in social work from the University of Pennsylvania (external link).

Alice Paul joined the woman suffrage movement while pursuing graduate studies in England. There, she was schooled in the militant tactics of Emmeline Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union. Upon her return to the United States in 1910, Paul found the suffrage movement in need of new ways to capture public and press interest.  In November 1912 Paul attended the annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and offered her services. NAWSA accepted her offer and made her chairman of their Congressional Committee.

Head of suffrage parade, Washington, D.C.
Head of Suffrage Parade, Washington, D.C.,
March 3, 1913.
By Popular Demand: "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920

Charged with maintaining NAWSA's presence in Washington, D.C., her first task was organizing a parade and pageant designed to draw attention to the suffrage movement. Timed to coincide with festivities surrounding the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, the event resulted in a near riot as crowds surrounded and at times engulfed parade participants. Nonetheless, the parade on March 3, 1913 highlighted the suffrage cause at a time when the issue was falling from public consciousness.

Inez Boissevain Washington, D.C. March 3, 1913
Inez Boissevain, at the Suffrage Parade,
Washington, D.C., March 3, 1913.
By Popular Demand: "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920

In 1913, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Crystal Eastman, and others organized the Congressional Union (CU), later known as the National Woman's Party (NWP). The group's goal was ratification of a suffrage amendment to the United States Constitution. Until the late 1910s, NAWSA mainly worked on the state level, urging each state to pass legislation permitting women to vote. Sensing the Congressional Union was moving in a more radical direction, NAWSA ousted the CU almost immediately following its formation.

Over the next seven years, Paul and her followers relentlessly pursued a Constitutional Amendment. Their policy of holding the party in power responsible for the Amendment's success contrasted sharply with NAWSA's commitment to political neutrality. In the 1916 election, for example, the National Woman's Party campaigned against Wilson's Democrats in states where women could vote.

Alice Paul, full-length portrait
Alice Paul, Raising Glass, 1920.
By Popular Demand: "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920

Even World War failed to divert the National Woman's Party from the suffrage campaign. Instead of calling a truce with President Wilson, suffragists picketed his White House with signs demanding "Kaiser Wilson" extend democracy to women. These peaceful, if abrasive, demonstrations ended with arrest and imprisonment. Behind bars, Paul and other suffragists continued their protest with a prison hunger strike and eventually were force fed.

Following adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Alice Paul continued to fight for women's equality. After earning a law degree in 1922, she wrote the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), also known as the Lucretia Mott amendment. The National Woman's Party proposed the amendment in 1923 as a means of ending discrimination on the basis of gender. The ERA passed both houses of Congress fifty years later when a new generation of feminists took up the cause. However, three-fourths of the states failed to ratify the amendment by the 1982 deadline. Active in the movement until her death in 1977, Alice Paul lived to see enormous change in the rights and status of American women.

Use American Memory to learn more about women in the first decades of the twentieth century.