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U.S.LIFE > People > Biographies of Famous Americans > Alice Paul

Alice Paul

Alice Paul FULL NAME: Alice Stokes Paul

BIRTH DATE: January 11, 1885

BIRTHPLACE: Moorestown, New Jersey

FAMILY BACKGROUND:  Alice was the first-born child of William Mickle Paul and Tacie Parry Paul. William was a banker and businessman, serving as president of the Burlington County Trust Company. Alice had two brothers, William Jr. and Parry, and a sister, Helen. As Hixsite Quakers, the family believed in gender equality, education for women, and working for the betterment of society. Tacie often brought Alice to her women's suffrage meetings.

EDUCATION: Alice attended the Friends School (Quaker) in Moorestown, graduating at the top of her class. She went on to Swarthmore (a Quaker college founded by her grandfather in 1901), at the age of 16, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology in 1905. While attending Swarthmore, her father contracted pneumonia and died suddenly. Through a College Settlement Association fellowship, Alice conducted graduate work at the New York School of Philanthropy (now Columbia University), then received a Master of Arts degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907. That fall, through a scholarship, she went to England where she studied at the Woodbrooke Settlement for Social Work, and studied social work at the University of Birmingham and the London School of Economics. Back in the U.S., Alice received a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912. In 1922, she earned an LL.B. from the Washington College of Law, then earned an LL.M. from American University in 1927 and a Doctorate of Civil Law in 1928.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: While in England, Alice met Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the British suffrage movement, who advocated “taking the woman’s movement to the streets.” Alice participated in more radical protests for woman suffrage, including hunger strikes and even three prison terms. She met Lucy Burns in a London police station after being arrested in a suffrage demonstration at the entrance to Parliament. They participated in some demonstrations together; even getting arrested and jailed together. Alice also worked at the Dalston branch of the Charity Organization Society in London, then the Peel Institute of Social Work at Clerkenwell, and the Christian Social Union Settlement of Hoxton. She returned to the U.S. in January 1910. Lucy returned to Brooklyn in the summer of 1912.

That fall, Alice and Lucy approached the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), having decided to join forces toward a constitutional amendment by directly lobbying congressmen. They were allowed to take over the NAWSA Congressional Committee in Washington, D.C., but they had no office, no budget and few supporters. Alice was only 26 years old.

Drawing on her experiences in England, Alice organized the largest parade ever seen -- a spectacle unparalleled in the nation's political capitol -- on March 3, 1913, the eve of President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. About 8,000 college, professional, middle- and working-class women dressed in white suffragist costumes marched in units with banners and floats down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. The goal was to gather at the Daughters of the American Revolution's Constitution Hall. The crowd was estimated at half a million people, with many verbally harassing the marchers while police stood by. Troops finally had to be called to restore order and help the suffragists get to their destination -- it took six hours.

The parade generated more publicity than Alice could have hoped for. Newspapers carried articles for weeks, with politicians demanding investigations into police practices in Washington, and commentaries on the bystanders. The publicity opened the door for the Congressional Committee to lobby congressmen, and the president. On March 17, Alice and other suffragists met with President Wilson, who appeared mildly interested but feigned ignorance and said the time was not right yet. They met two more times that month. She organized another demonstration on April 7, opening day of the new Congress. Also in April, Alice established the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CUWS), sanctioned by NAWSA and dedicated to achieving the federal amendment. By June, the Senate Committee on Women's Suffrage reported favorably on the amendment and senators prepared to debate the issue for the first time since 1887.

In 1914, the CUWS separated from NAWSA, mainly over financial issues but also because Alice and NAWSA leaders Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt disagreed about the direction of the organization. Alice was focused on a federal constitutional amendment, whereas Shaw and Catt were working on state-by-state suffrage. Ultimately, both groups complemented each other: NAWSA's push to win suffrage in state elections meant federal politicians had a stake in keeping women voters happy, while the CUWS's more militant stance kept the suffrage issue at the forefront, nationally and politically.

In 1915, Alice founded the Woman's Party for women in western states who had the vote already. Then in late 1916, the CUWS and the Woman’s Party merged into the National Woman’s Party (NWP), under Alice's leadership. She called a halt to any more pleading for the right to vote -- instead, she mounted an even more militaristic political campaign demanding passage of the women's suffrage amendment, which she named the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.

At that point, the women's suffrage fight had already been going on for almost 70 years -- starting in 1848 with a Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The first women's suffrage amendment was presented to Congress in 1878, and reintroduced every year for 40 years, but was never voted on. By 1917, however, support had grown and women were already voting in 12 western states. And in 1916, Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the first woman elected to Congress. But a national suffrage amendment was still no closer to passing.

The NWP staged more demonstrations, parades, mass meetings, picketing, suffrage watch fires, hunger strikes, press communications, and lobbying. It published a stylish Suffragist weekly paper, organizing women in the west who could vote. Their tactic was to hold the party in power (the Democrats) responsible for failure to pass the amendment -- and they urged women who could to vote against Democrats. NAWSA leaders condemned the policy, saying pro-suffrage politicians were in both parties. Suffragists released from prison, in prison uniforms, rode a "Prison Special" train, speaking throughout the country. Other women held automobile petition drives across the country.

Beginning January 10, 1917, the NWP began picketing the White House -- the first group in the U.S. to wage a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign. They became known as the Silent Sentinels, standing silently by the gates, carrying purple, white and gold banners saying "Mr. President, what will you do for suffrage?" and "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?" The first day, 12 NWP members marched in a slow, square movement so passers-by could see the banners. Over the next 18 months, more than 1,000 women picketed, including Alice, day and night, winter and summer, every day except Sunday.

At first they were politely ignored, but then World War I began on April 6 and the picketers' signs became more pointed -- often using the president's quotes against him. One banner read: "Democracy Should Begin at Home." They asked, how could he fight to help disenfranchised people when he had disenfranchised people at home? They became an embarassment.

Spectators began assaulting the women verbally and physically -- while the police did nothing to protect them. Then in June, the police began arresting the picketers on charges of "obstructing traffic." First the charges were dropped, then the women were sentenced to a few days' jail terms. But the suffragists kept picketing, and the jail terms grew longer. Finally, to try to break their spirit, the police arrested Alice on October 20, 1917, and she was sentenced to seven months in prison. The banner she carried that day said:


Alice was placed in solitary confinement for two weeks and immediately began a hunger strike. Unable to walk on her release from there, she was taken to the prison hospital. Others joined the hunger strike. "It was the strongest weapon left with which to continue ... our battle ...," she later said. Then the prison officials put Alice in the "psychopathic" ward, hoping to discredit her as insane. They deprived her of sleep -- she had an electric light, directed at her face, turned on briefly every hour, every night. And they continually threatened to transfer her to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a notorious asylum in Washington, D.C., as suffering a "mania of persecution." But she still refused to eat. During the last week of her 22-day hunger strike, the doctors brutally forced a tube into her nose and down her throat, pouring liquids into her stomach, three times a day for three weeks. Despite the pain and illness this caused, Alice refused to end the hunger strike. One physician reported:

"[She has] a spirit like Joan of Arc, and it is useless to try to change it. She will die but she will never give up."

Hundreds of women were arrested, with 33 women convicted and thrown into Occoquan Workhouse (now the Lorton Correctional Complex). This was the first of actual violence perpetrated on women: forced feeding, rough handling, worm-infested food, and no contact with the outside world. Blankets were only washed once a year. The open toilets could only be flushed by a guard, who decided when to flush. Doris Stevens, one of the prisoners, later wrote in The Suffragist:

"No woman there will ever forget the shock and the hot resentment that rushed over her when she was told to undress before the entire company ... We silenced our impulse to resist this indignity, which grew more poignant as each woman nakedly walked across the great vacant space to the doorless shower ..."

Viginia Bovee, an officer at the Workhouse, stated in an affidavit after her discharge:

"The beans, hominy, rice, corn meal ... and cereal have all had worms in them. Sometimes the worms float to the top of the soup. Often they are found in the corn bread."

November 15, 1917, became known as the Night of Terror at the Workhouse:

"Under orders from W.H. Whittaker, superintendent of the Occoquan Workhouse, as many as forty guards with clubs went on a rampage, brutalizing thirty-three jailed suffragists. They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head, and left her there for the night. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed, and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, who believed Mrs. Lewis to be dead, suffered a heart attack. According to affidavits, other women were grabbed, dragged, beaten, choked, slammed, pinched, twisted, and kicked." [Barbara Leaming, Katherine Hepburn. New York: Crown Publishers, 1995. Page 182.]

Newspapers across the country ran articles about the suffragists' jail terms and forced feedings -- which angered many Americans and created more support. With mounting public pressure, the government released all the suffragists on November 27 and 28, 1917. Alice served five weeks. Later, the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals overturned all the convictions.

Congress convened a week after the women were released, and the House set January 10 as the date to vote on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. On January 9, 1918, President Wilson announced his support of the women's suffrage amendment. The next day, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the amendment (274-136). The Senate didn't vote until October, and it failed by two votes. From January through October, the NWP kept pressure on the politicians with front-page news -- burning President Wilson's speeches at public monuments, and burning "watchfires" in front of the White House, Senate and other federal sites. Hundreds more women were arrested, conducting hunger strikes while incarcerated. The NWP urged women voters and male supporters to vote against anti-suffrage senators up for election that fall.

The 1918 election left Congress with mostly pro-suffrage members. The House reaffirmed its vote (304-89). On June 4, 1919, the Senate passed the amendment by one vote. On August 26, 1920, the last state (of 36 states needed) to ratify it was Tennessee. Women voted for the first time in the 1920 presidential election -- including Florence Harding, the next First Lady. The fight took 72 years -- spanning two centuries, 18 presidencies, and three wars.

On February 15, 1921 (Susan B. Anthony's birthday), a statue commissioned by Alice and the NWP was placed in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Sculpted in Carrara, Italy, the statue depicted Lucretia Mott followed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, with the unfinished portion in back representing women leaders to come. It stayed in the Rotunda for two days, then was relegated to the crypt of the Capitol. To this day, it is the only national monument to the women's movement.

In 1922, Alice went on to study law at the Washington College of Law. She still had unfinished business, to "remove all remaining forms of the subjection of women." The following year, she introduced the first Equal Rights Amendment: "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction." She continued to re-introduce the ERA for many years -- finally getting it through Congress in 1970. But the ERA failed to win ratification from enough states within the specific time limit, and it failed. Alice went on to receive a Master’s and Doctorate legal degrees from American University (Washington, D.C.) in 1927 and 1928.

In the late 1920s, Alice broadened NWP's activities internationally; then founded the World Woman's Party (WWP) in 1938, later renamed the World Woman's Party for Equal Rights, and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Through this group, particularly from 1938 through 1953, Alice worked closely with the League of Nations and later with the United Nations, trying to achieve equality and the rights of women around the world. The WWP was responsible for establishing the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in 1946.

When World War II broke out, in September 1939 in Europe, the WWP headquarters became a refuge for people escaping the Nazi terror. The group and Alice also helped them find American sponsors, get passports and travel safely to the U.S. However, in the spring of 1941, with Nazi restrictions imposed, the WWP relocated to Washington, D.C. Alice said that if women had helped to end the first World War, the second one would not have been necessary.

From the mid-1950s on, Alice re-focused on women's issues in the U.S., trying to have prohibition of sex discrimination included in the pending civil rights bill. She was not successful until the next decade. At 79 years of age, Alice ran the NWP's lobbying campaign to add a sex discrimination category to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The NWP was the only women's organization to fight for this inclusion.

Alice never married, committing herself to a life of causes. When she returned to the U.S. in 1941, she lived with her sister Helen, after that she lived with activist Elsie Hill, her closest friend. After Elsie died in the late 1960s, Alice lived alone in reduced circumstances in the Alta Craig Nursing Home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. But she still protested in rallies for women's rights and against the Vietnam War -- while in her 80s.

A woman named Alice Muller, who had met Alice through the WWP and had stayed with her family at the Swiss headquarters through Alice's help, found out about her mentor and friend living in Connecticut. She had her attorney son contact a Quaker judge in New Jersey about looking into providing assistance. Alice was moved to the Greenleaf Extension Home in Moorestown, New Jersey -- an institution her family had endowed many years earlier. The Mullers visited her there. In 1974, she suffered a stroke that left her disabled. On July 9, 1977, Alice died of heart failure. She was 92 years old.

Still active, the NWP continues to fight for ratification of the ERA and other women's rights issues. On June 26, 1997 -- after 75 years, a Congressional Resolution, and $75,000 raised by the National Museum of Women's History -- the statue of the suffrage leaders was returned to the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

DATE OF DEATH: July 9, 1977

PLACE OF DEATH: Moorestown, New Jersey

PORTRAYED BY: Georgia Swanson


Commire, Anne, editor. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Waterford, Conn.: Yorkin Publications, 1999-2000.

Evans, Sara M. Born for Liberty. The Free Press: Macmillan, N.Y. 1989.

Gallagher, Robert S. "'I Was Arrested Of Course...': An Interview with Miss Alice Paul," in American Heritage. Vol. 25. February 1974. Pages 16-24, 92-94.

Irwin, Inez Hayes. The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party. Denlinger’s Pub., LTD: Fairfax,VA. 1977.

Irwin, Inez Hayes. Up Hill With Banners Flying. The National Woman's Party: Washington, D.C. 1964.

Lunardini, Christine A. From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, 1910-1928. New York University Press: NY. 1986.

Reed, Phyllis J. and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Books of Women’s Firsts. Random House. 1992.

Scott, Anne Firor and Andrew MacKay Scott. One Half the People: The Fight for Woman Suffrage. Lippincott: Philadelphia, PA. 1975.

Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, editor. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. NewSage Press: Troutdale, OR. 1995.


The Alice Paul Institute

Alice Paul's Fight For Suffrage -- PBSKids: WayBack. Stand Up For Your Rights. Features: Women and the Vote

Alice Paul -- Moondance: Three Legendary Feminists, by Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Alice Paul -- Encyclopedia Britannica: Women in American History

Suffragist Alice Paul in the Spotlight -- Miami Herald

Suffragists Oral History Project -- Full Transcript of Interviews with Alice Paul, 1972-73. The Bancroft Library: U.C. Berkeley, Regional Oral History Department

Alice Paul -- American Association of University Women: Women's History Spotlight

Alice Paul -- Women's History

National Woman's Party -- Also headquarters for the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum (of women's history)

National Woman's Party Papers -- LexisNexis, Academic & Library Solutions


"Each of us puts in a little stone and then you get a great mosaic at the end." 


Alice Paul unfurling the ratification banner over the railing of the National Woman's Party headquarters on August 26, 1920 -- the day the 19th Amendment was ratified. The banner was one of the most important to the NWP. For every state that ratified suffrage, the members sewed on a star. When Tennessee ratified the amendment, the final star was sewn on. [Courtesy of the National Woman's Party]


This information was provided courtesy of Women in History from Lakewood Public Library.


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