Alice Paul (1885-1977) was a towering leader in the women’s suffrage movement. She was an outspoken suffragist and feminist who tirelessly led the charge for women’s suffrage and equal rights.
Born on Jan. 11, 1885, in Mount Laurel, N.J., Paul was the oldest of four children of Tacie Parry and William Paul, a wealthy Quaker businessman. Paul’s parents embraced gender equality, education for women and working to improve society.
Alice grew up attending suffragist meetings with her mother. She pursued an unusually high level of education for a woman at that time, graduating Swarthmore College in 1905, receiving a master’s in sociology in 1907 and a Ph.D. in economics in 1912 from the University of Pennsylvania.
Borrowing from her British counterparts, Paul organized parades and pickets in support of suffrage. Her first – and the largest – was in Washington, DC, on March 3, 1913, the day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Approximately 8,000 women marched with banners and floats down Pennsylvania Avenue from the US Capitol to the White House, while a half million spectators watched, supported and harassed the marchers.
On March 17, Paul and other suffragists met with Wilson, who said it was not yet time for an amendment to the Constitution.
In January 1971, Paul and more than 1,000 Silent Sentinels began 18 months of picketing the White House, standing at the gates with such signs as, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” They endured verbal and physical attacks from spectators, which increased after the US entered World War I. Police arrested them on flimsy charges and Paul was sentenced to jail for seven months, where she organized a hunger strike in protest. Newspaper accounts of her treatment garnered public sympathy. By 1918, Wilson announced his support for suffrage.
She founded the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1916. With the passage of the 19th Amendment, Paul believed the vote was just the first step in the quest for full equality. She wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. She is remembered as a tireless, devoted pioneer in the fight for women’s rights.