Political and Social Movements

Suffragist Movement

Who was Alice Paul?

Alice Paul (1885–1977) was a groundbreaking feminist before the word “feminist” came into fashion. The Mount Laurel, New Jersey, institute named in her honor describes her as “the architect of some of the most outstanding political achievements on behalf of women in the twentieth century.”

Paul was born in 1885 to Quaker parents who instilled in her a belief in gender equality. After completing high school the top in her class, Paul graduated from Swarthmore College in 1905 and began work toward an advanced degree. In 1906 she traveled to England, where she continued her studies, did social work, and became actively involved in the suffrage movement. She was arrested three times for her involvement in protests.

In 1916, when the American women’s suffrage movement was divided and “dead in the water,” Paul founded the National Woman’s Party (NWP), an organization that spearheaded the campaign for national woman’s suffrage and that continued working for women’s rights and equality into the twenty-first century. Paul’s leadership of the suffrage movement was critical in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920), which guaranteed women the right to vote; she organized thousands of activists to put enormous pressure on the White House and Congress. Paul employed what was then considered a most unladylike strategy of “sustained, dramatic, nonviolent protest.” The suffrage campaign was characterized by national speaking tours, marches, and pickets (including the first ever at the White House). When protesters were arrested, they sometimes endured brutal prison conditions and staged hunger strikes.

After passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Paul continued her studies, adding to her master’s degree in social work (1907) a doctorate in economics (1912). She earned three more advanced degrees, culminating in a doctor of law degree in 1927 from American University. Called a brilliant political strategist, the forward-thinking Paul authored the first equal rights amendment for women, which she introduced to Congress in 1923. In 1942 she became chairperson of the National Woman’s Party. She later added language of gender equality to the charter for the United Nations as well as the 1964 Civil Rights Act. After a life of courageous activism on behalf of women, Paul died in 1977.


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