A combative and outspoken leader in the
women's suffrage movement,
Alice Paul broke away from the National American Woman
Suffrage Association to form the more radical National Woman's
Party. She clashed with
Woodrow Wilson, who was affronted
by Paul's "unladylike" tactics, including her protests outside the White
Born into an affluent Quaker family in Moorestown, New Jersey in
1885, Paul earned degrees from Swarthmore and the University of
Pennsylvania. She learned the militant and defiant tactics employed
by the British suffragists while studying and working in England. At
the time, Englishwomen were making their demands visible by parading
in the streets, forming picket lines, and giving public speeches in
support of their aims. Returning home, a radicalized Paul - along
with her friend Lucy Burns - joined the National American Woman
Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Their first move was to mount a
renewed campaign for a constitutional amendment that would give
women the right to vote.
The day before Woodrow Wilson's first inauguration, on March 3,
1913, Paul organized a women's suffrage parade of more than 5,000
participants from every state in the Union. The festivities drew
hundreds of thousands of spectators, but as the day progressed, some
onlookers began assaulting the marchers. The police did little to
stop the attack. Despite the violence, the parade succeeded in
obtaining Paul's objective:focusing national attention on the
women's suffrage issue.
Unhappy with Carrie Chapman Catt
and the NAWSA, whom she viewed as too conservative, Paul soon broke
away to form a more radical group, the National Women's Party (NWP).
This organization decided to focus its efforts on President Wilson,
who in 1917 still did not support a women's suffrage amendment.
Paul organized the "Silent Sentinels," a group of women who
protested in front of the White House, holding banners which
proclaimed, "Mr. President -- What will you do for woman suffrage?"
The picketing continued even as
America readied for war. The
suffragists were first harassed, then arrested. Sent to the Occoquan
Workhouse in Virginia along with many others, Alice Paul began a
hunger strike. Force-fed through tubes and threatened with
commitment to an insane asylum, Paul remained steadfast. Wilson was
offended by Paul's tactics, but he was also keenly aware of the
suffrage movement's growing political strength. By the end of 1917,
Wilson finally announced his support for the suffrage amendment. The
giving women the right to vote passed in 1920.
For the rest of her life, Alice Paul continued her work for the
equality of women around the world. At age 37, she earned a law
degree, and wrote the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment in
1922. Following World War II, she fought to include gender equality
in the charter of the United Nations. She died in her hometown of
Moorestown, New Jersey in 1977.