By Kaylah Janis
“We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote.”
Women obtained the right to vote in 1920. The 19th amendment which guaranteed American women the right to vote was passed by Congress on June 19, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920. Accomplishing this feat took decades of struggling and protesting. For almost a century, Women fought for their right to vote by writing speeches, signing petitions, marching, and stressing the idea that women deserved all the rights and responsibilities that men had. Many prominent women of the suffrage movement included Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Ida B. Wells.
Alice Paul was a notable leader of the women’s suffrage movement. During her life, she advocated and helped pass the 19th Amendment. Alice was born on January 11, 1885, to a wealthy Quaker family in New Jersey. She was brought up in a family that stressed and embraced gender equality, even Alice’s mother was a suffragist and brought her to the women’s suffrage movement. Therefore, Alice’s suffrage ideas were planted in her early in life.
In 1905, graduated with a biology degree from Swarthmore College. She attended the New York School of Philanthropy (now Columbia University) and received a Master of Arts degree in sociology in 1907. In 1910, she got a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.
In England, Alice became active with the country’s radical suffragists where she learned militant protest tactics, including picketing and hunger strikes. When she returned to the United States, she brought these militant tactics to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She began to agitate for the passage of a federal suffrage amendment to the Constitution. However, the NAWSA mostly focused on the state-by-state campaigns while Paul favored lobbying congress for an amendment. These differences led her and others to later split with NAWSA and form the National Woman’s Party.
Paul and her colleagues coordinated parades and marches in support of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. On March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, she organized a big suffrage parade to distract from this event. It was her first and largest organized parade. Many more parades, pickets, and marches followed. Many women at NAWSA soon grew frustrated with publicity stunts like these, and in 1914 Paul left the organization and started her own, the Congressional Union (which soon became the National Woman’s Party).
The National Woman’s Party kept up its flamboyant protests, even staging a seven-month picket of the White House. For these acts, Paul and the rest of the NWP suffragists were arrested and imprisoned. Paul and other suffragists were placed in solitary confinement and when they went on a hunger strike to protest this unfair treatment, the women were force-fed for as long as three weeks. These abuses caused public sympathy to swing to the side of the imprisoned activists and were released.
By 1918, Wilson announced his support for suffrage and It took two more years for the Senate, House, and the required 36 states to approve the amendment. After this, Paul and the National Women’s Party focused on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to assure women constitutional protection from discrimination. Paul spent her life advocating for this and other women’s issues. The ERA has yet to be ratified.
Alice Paul dedicated her life to securing equal rights for all women. She fought endlessly, enduring harassment, imprisonment, and abuse. Paul was a pivotal force in the passage and ratification in 1920 of the Nineteenth Amendment. Few people have had as much impact and importance in American history as Alice. Her life represents the long struggle for justice in the United States and around the world. Her vision and ideas are helping people understand the notion that women and men should be equal partners in society. She continues to provide inspiration to new generations of women’s rights activists and people seeking justice.