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Alice Paul

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The United States Constitution gives equal rights to all citizens of America, and this includes women. Why then, were women denied the right to vote? Because they had no place in the politics of the government under which they lived? Because they were dainty figures too frail to vote? Because they were unintelligent and hadn’t the sense to vote? The answer simply is that the men believed all of these things, and when men hold all the power, what they believe is made law. Quite frankly, the men were idiots. The movement for woman’s suffrage had been a major issue in the early-to-mid-1800s, but when the Civil War came and ended, people were more focused on rights for the newly-freed slaves than on woman’s suffrage, and consequently it was pushed to the background. But in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the movement for woman’s suffrage was once more picking up steam. Alice Paul was one of many women striving for suffrage in America, but her militant tactics were unique. It was these tactics which made her such a success in her goals. The passage of the nineteenth amendment, the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the addition to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are three ways in which she impacted American society.

Alice Paul was born January 11, 1885 in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey to William and Tacie Paul. She was the eldest of four children, who included William, born in 1886; Helen who was born in 1889; and Parry, 1895. Alice came from a wealthy family and, growing up, lived on a farm called “Paulsdale.” The members of her family were active members of a church of Hicksite Quakers, and as such Alice was raised with a belief in gender equality. She lived in a society where women were equal to men in all ways, so it wasn’t until a later age that she realized how unequal things were outside of that community. Nevertheless, her mother Tacie was a member of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, or NAWSA, and attended meetings regularly, often with Alice in tow. In 1901, Alice graduated first of her class from Hicksite School. It was her mother’s wish that all of her children attend college, and in 1905, Alice got a four-year degree in Biology from Swarthmore College, which had been founded by her own grandfather. In 1907 she received an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Economics in 1912. Alice worked in the settlement movement in New York for a while before going to Birmingham, England in 1907 to study social work at the Woodbrooke Settlement. During her stay in England, Alice met Christabel Pankhurst while she was giving—or attempting to give—a speech about woman’s suffrage. As it turns out, Christabel was the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, who was one of England’s most radical “suffragettes.” The Pankhursts raised awareness about the need for woman’s suffrage by doing such things as breaking windows, heckling, marching, and going on hunger strikes. It is needless to say where Alice Paul got many of her own tactics from in the campaign for woman’s suffrage in America. For participating in these radical protests, Alice was arrested many times in England, which would help to prepare her for her trials in America. (Carol)

Alice Paul joined NAWSA officially upon her return from England, and for a while was an active member of this association. However, after having been influenced to such an extent by the radical suffragettes of England, Alice found that her views on the best way to get suffrage differed greatly from those of NAWSA and chiefly from those of its president, Carrie Chapman Catt. She “felt that the time had come when women could cease begging for their rights.” (Kraditor) As a result, Alice withdrew from NAWSA in 1914 to form the Congressional Union for Woman’s Suffrage (CU). (Lewis) In 1916, the leaders of CU founded the Woman’s Party (WP). For a year afterwards, the CU was made up of disfranchised women in the east, while the WP was made up of women voters in the full-suffrage states most of which tended to be in the west. In 1917, the two small groups merged to become the National Woman’s Party (NWP). The NWP was a very militant group whose tactics, as has been mentioned, were borrowed from the English suffragettes. Its counterpart was meek in comparison. NAWSA has been described as a “loose federation of clubs of varying levels of activity,” (Kraditor), who tolerated “paper members” or inactive members. This group focused mainly on gaining suffrage at the state level, and for them a federal Amendment was a secondary goal (Carol). In contrast, the NWP was a militant group, tolerant only of active members, for whom the passage of a federal Amendment was the primary and only goal. A final and crucial point concerning the tactics of the two associations was their political stances. NAWSA was proudly and blatantly nonpartisan, which means that they supported neither Democrats nor Republicans and would support any candidate who supported woman’s suffrage. As opposed to nonpartisanship, the NWP utilized coercion to turn candidates and political parties to their own views. They held the president accountable for the fact that no federal legislation had been passed concerning woman’s suffrage, and in full-suffrage states, members of NWP campaigned against Democrats, of which party the president of that time and several members of Congress were members. In this way, they could make the two major parties fight for their votes based on the idea that if a party loses votes due to its views, then it will change those views. (Kraditor) But they had other ways of getting their point across. On March 3, 1913—when the CU was still a branch of NAWSA—Alice Paul organized a parade by women up Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration. Consequently, they were attacked by several outraged male on-lookers and many women were sent to the hospital. But fortunately for the suffragists, this action made it to the newspapers and raised public awareness—as well as support—for the suffragists’ cause. In January of 1917, NWP organized “Silent Sentinels” to stand outside the White House picketing the lack of action by the president. Shortly afterwards, the United States entered WWI, which raised doubts in the minds of many suffragists themselves concerning whether or not it was appropriate to picket a wartime president. The picketing nevertheless continued and the protestors were arrested and jailed on the charge of “obstructing traffic.” They were sent to the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia where they demanded to be treated like political prisoners—the response to which was that the United States does not have political prisoners. Not long after the first protestors were arrested, Alice Paul herself was thrown in jail. She was quickly put into solitary confinement, from where she began her hunger strike. As a result, she was sent to the mental ward in the hopes that she be declared insane and be permanently hospitalized. (Carol) But the doctor would not diagnose her, proclaiming, “In oranges and women, courage is often mistaken for insanity.” (Iron Jawed Angels) Alice continued her hunger strike, and to avoid the addition of a martyr to the suffragists’ cause, she was brutally force fed, sometimes through a tube in her throat but when that became too swollen a tube was stuck in her nostril. Once the word of the mistreatment of the prisoners reached the press, the public demanded that they be released and the resulting sympathy brought many to the suffragists’ cause. This event proved to be perhaps the most important during the campaign for woman’s suffrage and the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution soon after.

This Amendment was one of many contributions to today’s society which Alice Paul made. In 1917 in response to public outcry, President Wilson announced his support for the suffragists’ Amendment, calling it a “war measure.” At first it failed by two votes, but on May 21, 1919 the House of Representatives passed the Amendment, and the Senate as well on June 4. Interestingly, it wasn’t the radical nature of the NWP but the “reputation of temperance sympathizers” (Frost 317) which made the Amendment difficult to pass. Many liquor interests fought against the passage of the Amendment, even going so far as to get legislators drunk, bribing them, and threatening them. The Amendment needed to be ratified by 38 states in order to be passed, and in the end it came down to Tennessee. Specifically, it came down to the vote of Harry Burn from Tennessee. He had been threatened with an end to his career if he voted in favor of the Amendment, so initially he planned on voting against it. However, upon receiving a telegram from his mother, “he decided he had to grant his mother’s wish for suffrage” (Frost 317) and he voted in favor of the Amendment, casting the final vote. In 1920, the 19th Amendment passed and the women of American finally had the right to vote. Although we Americans take pride in our country’s democracy, it wasn’t too long ago that we were surprisingly undemocratic. Countless nations had given their women suffrage long before the US, including the Azerbaijan Republic, and I’ve never even heard of that place. By giving women the right to vote, America finally became a truly democratic country. Furthermore, it was the first step in demolishing that old stereotype of the frail, simpering female. Women finally became active members of the political world, and began to contribute more to society than just babies and breast milk. It also opened the door on the possibility of women themselves running for election—maybe for president, or maybe just a mayor, but who cares? The possibility was there. Once people realized that many women weren’t at all the stereotype, many doors opened. Unfortunately, many states weren’t happy with the new Amendment, and as a result many state legislatures passed their own laws restricting women in the work place.

In 1923, Alice Paul announced that she would be working for a new amendment for complete equality of the sexes. She herself authored the amendment, which initially was called the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” (after a well-known women’s rights activist) and stated “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” In 1943, however, it was rewritten and dubbed the “Alice Paul Amendment,” now saying, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” (Carol) The Equal Rights Amendment, as it is now called, once more brought woman’s rights to the foreground of the political stage. Nowadays, it is the common belief that women are equal to men in every way, and this is due mainly to the ERA. It brought attention to the needs and rights of women, and also to their new political power. Unfortunately, many women thought that the fight was over once they had gotten the right to vote, so the ERA did not get the support that the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment did and consequently has never been ratified as an amendment. ERA was, however, brought up in every session of Congress from 1923 until it passed in 1972. Although Congress extended the seven-year deadline to 1982, it still fell short of ratification by three states. But this should not be taken as a sign of failure, as it made many women realize that the fight for equality was far from over. The fight for ERA itself as well is not yet over, as it has come before every session of Congress since its failure to pass in 1982. It reminded politicians that women had power, and as such they must keep women happy in order to earn their votes. Although ERA never was ratified, it has nevertheless kept women equal to men.
After beginning the World Woman’s Party in Geneva, Switzerland 1938, Alice Paul moved back to the United States and became active in woman’s issues in America once more. She led a coalition which successfully added a sexual discrimination clause to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This Act states that, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer -

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” (Civil Rights Act of 1964)

Furthermore, this was successful in accounting for many of the issues which ERA was intended to correct, namely discrimination against women in the workplace. Women now enjoy the same employment opportunities, working conditions, and wages due to this act. It doesn’t give women any special protection, as many women then wanted, but it protects their equality, and in the end that’s all that really matters. The addition to Title VII was a major victory for Alice Paul and all women in America. It was the first time that women were really acknowledged as being equal to men, aside from the 19th Amendment.

All in all, Alice Paul was very successful in the fight for woman’s rights and equality. The ratification of the 19th Amendment, creation of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the addition to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were only three of the ways in which Alice Paul impacted American society. If not for her radical tactics and unwavering belief in suffrage and equality of the sexes, we would still be begging for suffrage state by state. She was truly the right person with the right beliefs at the right time. Maybe now that women can make decisions, the world stands a chance of surviving some of the idiot men in charge of government.



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