Alice Paul was a Quaker suffragist who fought to secure women the right to vote and other feminist causes. The author of the Equal Rights Amendment, written in 1923 but still not ratified, died at the age of 92 in 1977, and remains one of the nation’s most outspoken voices in the battle for equality. “There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it,” she once said.
Early Life and Education
Paul was born to suffragist Tacie Parry and successful Quaker businessman William Paul on January 11, 1885, in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The oldest of four siblings, she lived with her family on a 265-acre farm, and as Hicksite Quakers, was raised to value living simply along with a high importance placed on gender equality and advocacy. In fact, as a girl, she attended suffragist meetings with her mother.
“When the Quakers were founded…one of their principles was and is equality of the sexes,” Paul said. “So I never had any other idea…the principle was always there.”
Paul, who graduated first in her class in 1901 from a Quaker school, attended the Quaker Swarthmore College, co-founded by her grandfather, Judge William Parry, graduating in 1905 with a biology degree. She then moved to New York, and, in 1907, earned a master’s degree in sociology from the New York School of Philanthropy (today’s Columbia University).
Paul soon moved to England, where she studied social work and joined the British suffrage movement where she learned militant protest strategies, including breaking windows, hunger strikes, forming picket lines and other tactics and forms of civil disobedience. There, she was arrested on seven occasions and jailed three times. While imprisoned, she carried out hunger strikes and was painfully force-fed for weeks through a nasal tube.
Fighting for Suffrage
Returning to the states in late 1909, she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912 with a Ph.D. in economics, and in 1922, received a law degree from the Washington College of Law at American University.
Along with fellow suffragist Lucy Burns, whom she had met at a London police station, Paul joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was tapped as the group’s Washington, D.C., chapter. But while the organization worked at a state level to fight for a woman’s right to vote, Paul was set on amending the U.S. Constitution.
She and Burns organized a protest parade in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913—the day before the inauguration of President-elect Woodrow Wilson. An estimated 8,000 women turned out to march from the U.S. Capitol to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue, with a reported half-million bystanders responding with both cheers and jeers that included verbal and physical attacks ignored by police.
But the protest spurred Wilson to agree to meet with Paul and fellow suffragists, although he told them he would not push for the amendment.
'Silent Sentinels' and the Right to Vote
Undeterred, and disagreeing with tactics followed by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Paul and Burns formed the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in 1913, which then founded the National Woman’s Party in 1916 (the groups merged in 1917).
In January 1917, the groups held the first political protest at the White House, with approximately 2,000 women picketing the president’s home and executive offices for the right to vote. Six days a week for 18 months and clad in white dresses, they were called “Silent Sentinels,” as they protested without speaking and carried signs with messages such as “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” and “An autocrat at home is a poor champion of democracy abroad.” Over the campaign, more than 150 suffragists were arrested on obstruction of traffic charges, harassed, beaten and jailed.
Among those arrested was Paul, who was sentenced to seven months in the Occoquan Workhouse jail. There, she and the other suffragists were beaten, chained and held in deplorable conditions. In protest, Paul began a hunger strike, and was transferred to a psychiatric ward where she was forcibly fed.
Reports of her hunger strike and the prison condition made national headlines and drew sympathy from the public. Coupled with increasing support for the suffragist movement along with women filling roles on the homefront following the U.S.’s entry into World War I, Wilson eventually declared support for the 19th Amendment, calling it a “war measure.” In 1919, Congress passed the amendment and, on August 18, 1920, it was ratified.
Equal Rights Amendment
With the 19th Amendment passed, Paul began work on guaranteeing women the Constitutional right to protection from discrimination. In 1923, she authored the Equal Rights Amendment, debuting it in Seneca Falls, New York, where the first women’s rights convention was held in 1848. It read: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” (Paul revised the amendment in 1943 to read, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”)
Paul founded the World Woman’s Party in 1938, and successfully lobbied the League of Nations to include gender equality in the U.N. Charter and to include sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On July 9, 1977, Paul died at the age of 92 in Moorestown. The farm she grew up on is a National Historic Landmark and the headquarters of the Alice Paul Institute. The ERA nearly passed in 1982, but was not ratified when votes fell three states short.
“The thing I think that was the most useful I ever did was having a part in getting the vote for all the women, because that was a big transformation for the country to have one‐half the country enfranchised,” she told The New York Times a few months before her death in 1977. “While I didn't do it alone, I got a good deal of the credit because I happened to be there.”
“Alice Paul,” National Women's History Museum.
“Alice Stokes Paul,” Alice Paul Institute.
“Alice Paul and the Struggle for Women’s Suffrage,” Bill of Rights Institute.
“Dr. Alice Paul,” National Park Service.
“Alice Paul,” Harvard Radcliffe Institute.
“A Salute to Originator of E.R.A. in 1923,” The New York Times.