Alice Paul

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Alice Paul

Alice Paul (January 11, 1885July 9, 1977) was an American suffragist leader. Along with Lucy Burns and others, she led a successful campaign for women's suffrage that resulted in granting the right to vote to women in the U.S. federal election in 1920.

Alice Paul was born into a Quaker family in Moorestown, New Jersey. She attended Swarthmore College (BA, 1905), the New York School of Philanthropy (social work), and the University of Pennsylvania (MA, sociology). In 1907, Paul moved to England where she attended the University of Birmingham and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Returning to the U.S. in 1910, she attended the University of Pennsylvania, completing a PhD in political science in 1912. Her dissertation topic was: The Legal Position of Women in Pennsylvania. In 1927, she received an LLM followed by a Doctor of Civil Law degree in 1928, both from American University's Washington College of Law.

While she was in England, Paul heard Christabel Pankhurst speak at the University of Birmingham in 1908. Inspired, Paul joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), where she met fellow American Lucy Burns. Her activities with the WSPU led to her arrest and imprisonment three times. Along with other suffragists she went on hunger strike and was force-fed.

In 1913 Alice Paul, and Lucy Burns formed the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage. Their focus was lobbying for a constitutional amendment to secure the right to vote for women. Such an amendment had originally been sought by suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1878. However, by the early 20th century, attempts to secure a federal amendment had ceased. The focus of the suffrage movement had turned to securing the vote on a state-by-state basis.

When their lobbying efforts proved fruitless, Paul and her colleagues formed the National Woman's Party (NWP) in 1916 and began introducing some of the methods used by the suffrage movement in Britain. Tactics included parades, mass meetings, vigils and demonstrations. These actions were accompanied by press coverage and the publication of the weekly Suffragist.

In the election of 1916, Paul and the NWP campaigned against the continuing refusal of President Woodrow Wilson and other incumbent Democrats to actively support the Suffrage Amendment. In January 1917, the NWP staged the first political protest ever to picket the White House. The pickets, known as “Silent Sentinels,” held banners demanding the right to vote. This is believed to have been the first non-violent civil disobedience campaign in the U.S. In July 1917, picketers were arrested on charges of "obstructing traffic." Many, including Paul, were convicted and incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia (now the Lorton Correctional Complex) and the District of Columbia Jail.

In protest of the conditions in Occoquan, Paul commenced a hunger strike. This led to her being moved to the prison’s psychiatric ward and force-fed. Other women joined the strike, which combined with the continuing demonstrations and attendant press coverage, kept the pressure on the Wilson administration. In January, 1918, the president announced that women's suffrage was urgently needed as a "war measure."

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Alice Paul depicted on a United States stamp

In 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution secured the vote for women.

Paul was the original author of a proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in 1923. She opposed linking the ERA to abortion rights, as did most early feminists. Paul called abortion "the ultimate exploitation of women."

In 2004, HBO Films broadcast "Iron Jawed Angels", chronicling the struggle of Alice Paul and other suffragists.

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