National Woman's Party, Picketing and Prison

Although both Carrie Chapman Catt, NAWSA president, and Alice Paul shared the goal of universal suffrage, their political strategies could not have been more different or incompatible. Where NAWSA concentrated a majority of its effort upon state campaigns, Paul wanted to focus all energy and funding upon a national amendment.  While NAWSA endorsed President Wilson and looked to members of the Democratic Party as allies, Alice Paul wanted to hold Wilson and his party responsible for women's continued disenfranchisement (a tactic of British Suffragettes). In 1914, after initially forming a semi-autonomous group called the Congressional Union, Paul and her followers severed all ties to NAWSA and, in 1916, formed the National Woman's Party (NWP). The NWP organized "Silent Sentinels" to stand outside the White House holding banners inscribed with incendiary phrases directed toward President Wilson.  The president initially treated the picketers with bemused condescension, tipping his hat to them as he passed by; however, his attitude changed when the United States entered World War I in 1917. Few believed that suffragists would dare picket a wartime president, let alone use the war in their written censures, calling him "Kaiser Wilson."  Many saw the suffragists' wartime protests as unpatriotic, and the sentinels, including Alice Paul, were attacked by angry mobs. The picketers began to be arrested on the trumped up charge of "obstructing traffic," and were jailed when they refused to pay the imposed fine. Despite the danger of bodily harm and imprisonment, the suffragists continued their demonstrations for freedom unabated.

The arrested suffragists were sent to Occoquan Workhouse, a prison in Virginia. Paul and her compatriots followed the English suffragette model and demanded to be treated as political prisoners and staged hunger strikes. Their demands were met with brutality as suffragists, including frail, older women, were beaten, pushed and thrown into cold,  unsanitary, and rat-infested cells.  Arrests continued and conditions at the prison deteriorated.  For staging hunger strikes, Paul and several other suffragists were forcibly fed in a tortuous method.  Prison officials removed Paul to a sanitarium in hopes of getting her declared insane.  When news of the prison conditions and hunger strikes became known, the press, some politicians, and the public began demanding the women’s release; sympathy for the prisoners brought many to support the cause of women's suffrage.  Upon her release from prison, Paul hoped to ride this surge of goodwill into victory. 

The Nineteenth Amendment

In 1917, in response to public outcry about the prison abuse of suffragists, President Wilson reversed his position and announced his support for a suffrage amendment, calling it a "war measure." In 1919, both the House and Senate passed the 19th Amendment and the battle for state ratification commenced. Three-fourths of the states were needed to ratify the amendment. The battle for ratification came down to the state of Tennessee in the summer of 1920; if a majority of the state legislature voted for the amendment, it would become law.  The deciding vote was cast twenty-four year-old Harry Burn, the youngest member of the Tennessee assembly.  Originally intending to vote “no,” Burn changed his vote after receiving a telegram from his mother asking him to support women’s suffrage. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment. Six days later, Secretary of State Colby certified the ratification, and, with the stroke of his pen, American women gained the right to vote after a seventy-two year battle.  August 26th is now celebrated as Women's Equality Day in the United States.

Alice Paul toasting (with grape juice) the passage of the 19th Amendment. August 26, 1920

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
-Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment

While many suffragists left public life and activism after the 19th Amendment was enacted, Alice Paul believed the true battle for equality had yet to be won.  In 1923, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, Paul announced that she would be working for a new constitutional amendment, one she authored and called the "Lucretia Mott Amendment."  This amendment called for absolute equality stating, "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction."  The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 until it passed in 1972.  During the 1940s, both the Republicans and Democrats added the ERA to their party platforms.  In 1943, the ERA was rewritten and dubbed the "Alice Paul Amendment."  The new amendment read, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Alice Paul worked tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States and for women's rights internationally. Following the passage of the 19th Amendment, Paul earned three law degrees (LL.B., LL.M. and D.C.L.).  She also traveled to South America and Europe during the 20's through the 50's.  She began the World Woman's Party (WWP), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1938. The WWP worked closely with the League of Nations for the inclusion of gender equality into the United Nations Charter and the establishment of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  Alice Paul moved back to the United States in 1941 and became active in American women’s issues.  She led a coalition that was successful in adding a sexual discrimination clause to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  The re-emergence of the women’s movement in the late sixties led to renewed interest in the ERA; in 1972, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the amendment and it went to the states for ratification.  Congress placed a deadline of seven years on the ratification process; the amendment needed 38 states to become law. Though the deadline was extended until 1982, the amendment fell short of ratification by three states. Since 1982, the ERA has come before every session of Congress and current efforts are underway to ratify the amendment.  If Congress repeals the time limit of the original bill and three states vote for ratification, the ERA could become law.  (For more information on the Equal Rights Amendment, visit

Alice Paul, c. 1930s

Alice Paul, 1965

"I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality."
                                                                                             - Alice Paul- Interview, 1972

Alice Paul died on July 9, 1977, in Moorestown, New Jersey, just a few miles from her
birthplace and family home of Paulsdale. Her life demonstrates that one person can make a difference. Her legacy lives on, bearing witness to the significance of her life and inspiring others who struggle for social justice. The Alice Paul Institute was founded in 1985 and is dedicated to creating a heritage and leadership development center at Paulsdale. The Institute works to educate and encourage women and girls to take leadership roles in their communities and to continue the long struggle for women's equality.  In her name, the API works to fulfill its mission to honor her legacy, preserve her home, and develop future leaders.

Alice Paul biography written and edited by Rebecca Carol (API Intern, 04), Kristina Myers (Program Associate), Dr. Janet Lindman (Chair, API Board).

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