Portrayed by Leslie Goddard
How did a nice young Quaker woman with a degree from Swarthmore and a PhD in Sociology end up being force fed in a city jail and confined to a prison psychiatric ward? As the psychiatrist who examined her said: “Courage in women is often mistaken for Insanity.”
On January 10, 1917, Paul organized about a dozen women to stand outside the White House, holding banners in the Congressional Union’s white, yellow, and purple and asking questions like “Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?” and “Mr. President, What Will You Do for Woman Suffrage?” They were the first people ever to picket the White House. It was so unexpected and so startling it grabbed headlines across the country. No one had ever done this before.
When Paul appeared on the picket line in October 1917, she was arrested and sentenced to a staggering 7-month jail term – for blocking traffic. She quickly went on a hunger strike to protest the conditions. A federal judge later overturned the convictions of her and all the picketers, ruling that peaceful picketing outside the White House was political speech protected under the First Amendment.
Leslie Goddard, PhD, is an award-winning actress and scholar who has been presenting history lectures and portraying famous women in history for more than ten years. Each year, she presents more than 250 programs, appearing at public libraries, museums and historic homes, professional associations, colleges and universities, and corporations.
A resident of the Chicago area, she holds both a master’s degree in theater and a doctorate in American studies and women’s history. A former museum director, she is the author of two books on Chicago history and currently works full-time as a public speaker, living-history presenter, and author. www.lesliegoddard.info
Little in Alice Paul’s quiet, comfortable Quaker upbringing suggested she would become a leader of the militant wing of the largest movement for political change in U.S. history and a pioneer of nonviolent social protest.
Born in New Jersey in 1885, she was raised with a sense of gender equality. “When the Quakers were founded,” she said, “one of their principles was and is equality of the sexes. So I never had any other idea.”
After graduating from Swarthmore College, she studied in England and joined the militant wing of the British suffragette movement, enduring arrest and imprisonment. She returned to the U.S. in 1910 fired up for the cause.
Paul launched her American suffrage work by organizing a parade on March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. The parade disintegrated as spectators began harassing marchers, attacking them, and pulling women off floats. The spectacle and violence made front-page headlines.
In 1914, she launched her own suffrage association, the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and then an independent political party, the National Woman’s Party, both committed to a constitutional amendment enfranchising women and to publicity-driven, nonviolent action.
Paul’s remarkable ability to inspire drew followers to her and aroused them to courageous action. Although tiny and frequently in poor health, she was a tireless worker who fearlessly put herself on the line and rarely sought personal acclaim.
On January 10, 1917, Paul launched her most daring tactic. She organized volunteers to stand outside the White House, holding banners in the Congressional Union’s white, yellow, and purple and with questions such as, “Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?”
No one had ever before picketed the White House. Some, including Wilson, coldly ignored them. A few complemented them. Many accused them of being undignified, petty, and distinctly unladylike.
When the United States entered World War I that April, opinions intensified. Many now saw the picketers as unpatriotic and even disloyal. Crowds began to gather, shouting insults, and eventually shoving or attacking the picketers.
In June, picketers began to be arrested for “obstructing traffic” and imprisoned, usually at a workhouse in Virginia. But the picketing continued, as did the arrests and the prison terms, which gradually increased in length. Imprisoned suffragists resisted prison rules, which drew increasing brutality.
By late summer, suffragists, including frail, older women, were being beaten, pushed and thrown into cold, unsanitary cells. When Paul herself was arrested, she was sentenced to a staggering seven-month jail term. She immediately organized a hunger strike. Prison officials responded by force-feeding Paul and several other strikers in a tortuous method.
Finally, in 1919, both houses of Congress passed the women’s suffrage amendment. A little more than a year later, the required thirty-six states ratified it, and it was signed into law on August 26, 1920.
For Paul, the fight was not over. In 1923, she authored the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment, which she would champion until her death.
Paul lived to see Congress pass the ERA in 1972. But she suffered a stroke in 1974 and died three years later at the age of 92, too soon to know the ERA would not be ratified.
Alice Paul is not widely remembered today, but recently she has been receiving new interest. The 2014 HBO movie Iron-Jawed Angels told her story, with Hilary Swank playing Alice Paul.
And in 2016, the Treasury announced plans to redesign the back of the ten-dollar bill with a depiction of the 1913 women’s suffrage parade she organized and with portraits of five suffrage leaders – including Alice Paul.
- Jan. 11, 1885 – Born in Mt. Laurel, N.J.
- 1908-1910 – Studies in England, joins British suffragette movement
- 1913 – Organizes women’s suffrage parade in Washington D.C. for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)
- 1914 – Breaks with NAWSA. Forms the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and later the National Woman’s Party
- January 1917 – Launches first White House picketing demonstrations
- April 1917 – The United States enters World War I
- June 1917 – First arrests of picketers. Eventually, more than 500 will be arrested and 168 imprisoned
- June 1919 – Suffrage amendment passes U.S. Congress
- August 1920 – Tennessee becomes the 36th state to ratify; 19th amendment becomes law
- 1923 – Introduces the Equal Right Amendment
- 1964 – Succeeds in having sex discrimination prohibition included in the Civil Rights Act
- 1972 – ERA passes Congress; goes to states for ratification
- 1977 – Dies, aged 92
- 1982 – Deadline to ratify the ERA passes, ERA fails to achieve ratification
- When the Quakers were founded, one of their principles was and is equality of the sexes. So I never had any other idea, the principle was always there.
- We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote.
- When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.
- It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun. There is hardly a field, economic or political, in which the natural and unaccustomed policy is not to ignore women…Unless women are prepared to fight politically they must be content to be ignored politically.
- I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.
- There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it.
- Unless women are prepared to fight politically they must be content to be ignored politically.
- Mr. President how long must women wait to get their liberty? Let us have the rights we deserve.
- This world crisis came about without women having anything to do with it. If the women of the world had not been excluded from world affairs, things today might have been different.
- A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Battle, by Mary Walton (2010)
Readable, well-researched Paul biography. My top pick.
- Alice Paul: Claiming Power by J.D. Zahniser (2012)
Very detailed, but sometimes dry biography
- Alice Paul: Equality for Women by Christine Luncardini (2012)
Short, comprehensive, lively biography
- Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement, by Robert P.J. Cooney (2005).
Big, lavishly illustrated 486-page history of the entire movement
- Miss Paul and the President, by Dean Robbins (2009)
Inspiring picture book for young children
- Iron-Jawed Angels (2004)
Flashy but fresh, powerful HBO film about Paul’s suffrage years. Hilary Swank plays Paul.
- One Woman One Vote (1995)
Terrific PBS documentary, explores the entire U.S. women’s suffrage movement.