Alice Paul

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Alice Paul in 1915

Alice Stokes Paul (January 11, 1885 – July 9, 1977) was an American Quaker, suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist, and one of the main leaders and strategists of the campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits sex discrimination in the right to vote. Paul initiated, and along with Lucy Burns and others, strategized events such as the Woman Suffrage Procession and the Silent Sentinels, which were part of the successful campaign that resulted in the amendment's passage in 1920.


  • The militant policy is bringing success. . . . the agitation has brought England out of her lethargy, and women of England are now talking of the time when they will vote, instead of the time when their children would vote, as was the custom a year or two back.
  • When the Quakers were founded…one of their principles was and is equality of the sexes. So I never had any other idea…the principle was always there.”
  • if women who are Republicans simply help the Republican Party, and if women who are Democrats help the Democratic Party, women’s votes will not count for much. But if the political Parties see before them a group of independent women voters who are standing together to use their vote to promote Suffrage, it will make Suffrage an issue — the women voters at once become a group which counts; whose votes are wanted.

Interview (1974)[edit]

  • (When did you actually become involved in suffrage work?) AP: Well, after I got my master’s in 1907, my doctoral studies took me to the School of Economics in London. The English women were struggling hard to get the vote, and everyone was urged to come in and help. So I did. That’s all there was to it. It was the same with Lucy Burns.
  • to me it was shocking that a government of men could look with such extreme contempt on a movement that was asking nothing except such a simple little thing as the right to vote. Seems almost unthinkable now, doesn’t it? With all these millions and millions of women going out happily to work today, and nobody, as far as I can see, thinking there’s anything unusual about it. But, of course, in some countries woman suffrage is still something that has to be won
  • we did hear a lot of shouted insults, which we always expected. You know, the usual things about why aren’t you home in the kitchen where you belong. But it wasn’t anything violent. Later on, when we were actually picketing the White House, the people did become almost violent. They would tear our banners out of our hands and that sort of thing.
  • (You were once quoted to the effect that in picking volunteers you preferred enthusiasm to experience.) AP: Yes. Well, wouldn’t you? I think everybody would. I think every reform movement needs people who are full of enthusiasm. It’s the first thing you need. I was full of enthusiasm, and I didn’t want any lukewarm person around. I still am, of course
  • if we had universal suffrage throughout the world, we might not even have wars.
  • during that time we opened—and by “we” I mean the whole women’s movement—we opened a great many doors to women with the power of the vote, things like getting women into the diplomatic service. And don’t forget we were successful in getting equality for women written into the charter of the United Nations in 1945.
  • I feel very strongly that if you are going to do anything, you have to take one thing and do it.
  • (how would you describe your contribution to the struggle for women’s rights?) I always feel ... the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.

Quotes about Alice Paul[edit]

  • NAWSA opposed Paul's tactics, but many historians concur in the opinion that these militant actions helped to spur the urgency of the moment.
    • Bettina Aptheker Woman's Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History (1982)
  • Woman suffrage is an almost forgotten issue today, and yet the battle is not won. Despite the capitulation of Congress last June, nearly three-fourths of the women of these States will be denied the right to vote in the Presidential Campaign of 1920, unless a miracle is accomplished in the next two months. The miracle will not fall from Heaven. If it occurs, it will be the result of hard work on the part of those same good fighters who picketed the White House and went to jail and finally wrung the Federal Amendment out of a distressed and embarrassed government,-Alice Paul's gallant band of militants.
  • Alice Paul is a leader of action, not of thought. She is a general, a supreme tactician, not an abstract thinker. Her joy is in the fight itself, in each specific drawn battle, not in debating with five hundred delegates the fundamental nature of the fight. "The Executive Committee have provided a good enough phrase-To remove all the remaining forms of the subjection of women.' Let the delegates with the least possible debate adopt this phrase to serve for purpose, program and constitution." Of course she said nothing, but that, I believe, was Alice Paul's notion of what the Convention's action should be. "I will let you know what the first step is to be, how to act and when. Go home now and don't worry." These words were not printed in the program, but they seemed to be written between the lines...Is Alice Paul a radical? Is she even a liberal? Is she really a reactionary? These vague reformist terms are inappropriate in describing Alice Paul. Let us use the definite terms of the revolution. She is not a communist, she is not a socialist; if she is class-conscious at all her instincts are probably with the class into which she was born. But I do not think she is class-conscious. I think she is sex-conscious; she has given herself, body and mind and soul, to the women's movement. The world war meant no moment's wavering in her purpose, in fact she used the war with serene audacity to further her purpose. I imagine she could even go through a proletarian revolution without taking sides and be found waiting on the doorstep of the Extraordinary Commission the next morning to see that the revolution's promises to women were not forgotten! Alice Paul does not belong to the revolution, but her leadership has had a quality that only the revolution can understand.
  • Alice Paul comes of Quaker stock and there is in her bearing that powerful serenity so characteristic of the successful Quaker. Like many another famous general she is well under five foot six, a slender, dark woman with a pale, often haggard face, and great earnest childlike eyes that seem to seize you to her purpose and hold you despite your own desires and intentions. During that seven year suffrage campaign she worked so continuously, ate so little and slept so little that she always seemed to be wasting away before our eyes... Indifference is harder to fight than hostility, and there is nothing that kills an agitation like having everybody admit that it is fundamentally right. If you can so frame your issue or so choose your method of attack as to precipitate discussion and difference of opinion among honest men, so that all your followers become passionate explainers, you have put life into a movement. Alice Paul knows this and she is a master at framing a meaty issue. As I look back over that seven-year struggle I sometimes suspect that many bold strategies were employed more to revive the followers than to confound the enemy...Alice Paul's active leadership in the American feminist movement was almost an accident. She was a student at an English university intending to pursue the career of a scholar when she was caught up in the English militant movement and served a brief apprenticeship in jail. It was during this experience that she began to plan what she would do for women suffrage in America. American women owe much to the English militants, but this above all.
  • I may add that Alice Paul's visit to London has brightened the lives of such Woman's Party exiles as Hazel Hunkins, Betty Gram and myself. To see this wonder-worker-so quiet, so indefatigable, so sure, once more beginning to move mountains, revives one's faith in the future.
    • Equal Rights article (9 May 1925) in Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution
  • Other evidences of changes in women’s status were more immediately apparent. The legendary ‘‘flapper’’ made her debut in the postwar decade, signaling with studied theatrical flourishes a new ethos of feminine freedom and sexual parity. The Nineteenth Amendment, enacted just in time for the 1920 presidential election, gave women at least formal political equality. The Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed by Alice Paul of the National Women’s Party in 1923, sought to guarantee full social and economic participation to women. An organized movement for the promotion of birth control, founded by Margaret Sanger in 1921 as the American Birth Control League, heralded a growing feminine focus on reproductive control and erotic liberation. Countless women, especially if they were urban, white, and affluent, now used the new technologies of spermicidal jelly and the Mensinga-type diaphragm, both first manufactured in quantity in the United States in the 1920s, to limit the size of their families. This development worried the authors of Recent Social Trends, who feared that the old-stock, white, urban middle class would be demographically swamped by the proliferation of the rural and immigrant poor, as well as blacks.
  • I have no creative use for guilt, yours or my own. Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees. If I speak to you in anger, at least I have spoken to you: I have not put a gun to your head and shot you down in the street; I have not looked at your bleeding sister’s body and asked, “What did she do to deserve it?” This was the reaction of two white women to Mary Church Terrell’s telling of the lynching of a pregnant Black woman whose baby was then torn from her body. That was in 1921, and Alice Paul had just refused to publicly endorse the enforcement of the Nineteenth Amendment for all women — by refusing to endorse the inclusion of women of Color, although we had worked to help bring about that amendment.
  • In 1940, at the World's Fair held in New York City, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, addressing a receptive audience, declared that it is woman's main task to stop war...Though more militant than Mrs. Catt as a leader in the suffrage movement, Alice Paul was no less certain that war sprang from men's nature and that women were under obligation to put a stop to wars. When, in April, 1941, she was interviewed on her return from Geneva, where she had spent two years directing the organization of an international movement for equal rights for women, she declared, relative to the war in Europe: "Women's instincts are constructive and tend to build and create, not to tear down." The guilt of war she laid wholly on men, saying: "This war was brought about without the women having anything to say or do about it, and now they are the greatest sufferers."

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