Contributed by Gilli Richman
Although not erased, Alice Paul is a pioneer in the women’s suffrage movement as she advocated for the passage of the 19th Amendment allowing women the right to vote. Additionally, Paul authored the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923, which we are fighting to ratify today.
Alice Paul was born on January 11th, 1885 to wealthy Quaker parents. She attended Swarthmore College in 1905 to study Biology and then the New York School of Philanthropy (now known as Columbia University) to receive a Masters in Sociology in 1907. After studying social work in England, Paul received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1910.
In 1912, Alice Paul joined the National Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and led the Washington DC chapter. She lobbied Congress to create a constitutional amendment and parted from the NAWSA to create the National Woman’s Party. Paul took initiative by leading rallies, parades, and pickets to advocate for women’s suffrage. One of Paul’s greatest accomplishments is known as the Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington. On March 3, 1913, around 8,000 women gathered to march down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House with banners and floats on the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson. Fourteen days later, Paul met with President Wilson to push for women’s right to vote but was told that it was not the right time to introduce women’s suffrage as a new amendment to the Constitution. To counter that idea, Paul founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage which specifically targeted Congress. Paul organized over 1,000 women to protest outside the White House in 1917, for eighteen months, with the goal of gaining elected officials’ attention to create change and allow women the right to vote. She was jailed for seven months because the police arrested women to try and end the picketing. While in jail, Paul organized a hunger strike which gained the media’s attention and garnered further support for the women’s suffrage movement. In 1918, President Wilson declared his support for women’s suffrage and then the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Paul’s leadership and advocacy inspired thousands of women to join the fight for equality and women’s suffrage.
After women gained the right to vote, Alice Paul, along with the National Women’s Party, worked on the Equal Rights Amendment to guarantee women constitutional protection from discrimination. She was instrumental in the drafting and introduction of the ERA with the hopes of ensuring equality for women in all areas of life. Although the ERA was ratified in 1970, it was three states away from the thirty-eight needed to be added as a constitutional amendment.
Alice Paul made a great impact on women’s history as both an advocate and a leader. She inspired many women to continue in the fight for gender equality and she played a large role in working towards women’s rights internationally, by aiding in the formation of the United Nations. Her trailblazing efforts for gender equality remind us of the importance of being advocates to further equality and justice today.