Alice Paul

On this date in 1885, feminist Alice Stokes Paul was born in Moorestown, N.J., to a Quaker family which believed in the equality of the sexes. She attended Swarthmore College, then spent a year as a student at the New York School of Philanthropy while working at a settlement house. Paul earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in economics and sociology, then won a fellowship to study in England. She took courses at the University of Birmingham and London School of Economics and worked in the British settlement movement.

Paul was arrested and jailed several times in England for joining in brick-throwing at government buildings and took part in hunger strikes. Returning to New Jersey in 1910, she lectured in favor of adopting the British militancy. That year she stopped speaking to Quaker groups after her views were repudiated by them and transferred her allegiance to pure feminism. Like Quaker-raised Susan B. Anthony, Paul became an agnostic, according to Warren Allen Smith in Who’s Who in Hell. Her story inspired the 2004 HBO film “Iron Jawed Angels” in which she was portrayed by Hilary Swank.

Teaming up with her New York friend Lucy Burns, Paul talked the National American Woman Suffrage Association into letting them take over its congressional committee with help from Jane Addams, in 1912. They set up shop in Washington, D.C., organizing a historic parade of suffragists on March 3, 1913, upstaging the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. Peacefully parading women were attacked by a violent mob, which created huge headlines and reinvigorated the suffrage campaign.

During World War I, Paul and supporters picketed the White House with placards asking “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?” When mobs attacked, police arrested more than 100 suffragists, many of whom were sentenced to notorious workhouses. Paul and other hunger strikers were force-fed, and she was even transferred to a psychiatric hospital. The public outcry forced Wilson to unconditionally release the women. Demonstrations continued and Congress finally enacted the suffrage amendment, ratified by the states in 1920.

Paul went to law school, earning three degrees, then began promoting the Equal Rights Amendment, which she called the Lucretia Mott Amendment. Many women’s groups at the time, including the League of Women Voters and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, opposed the ERA on the grounds that women needed protective legislation. The amendment was first introduced into Congress in 1923. Paul lobbied for it in every successive session until 1972, when it passed. The combined forces of the tax-exempt religious lobbies defeated the ratification process in 1982 after it failed to gain support in the required number of states.

Paul, who never married, died at age 92 in 1977 at a Quaker facility in New Jersey, less than a mile from her birthplace.

PHOTO: Paul in 1915.

Freedom From Religion Foundation