Alice Paul: Biography, Quotes & Accomplishments

Instructor: Freda Bradley

Freda holds a Master's Degree in History and teaches a variety of college history courses.

Alice Paul was a political activist who fought for women's rights both in America and in Britain. She was instrumental in the passage of the 19th Amendment and authored the failed Equal Rights Amendment.

Alice Paul: An Introduction

Alice Paul was a 20th century political activist for women's rights. She spearheaded a militant movement that eventually led to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote. She also wrote the primary text of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Alice Paul

Social Work

In 1885, Alice Paul was born into a Quaker family. She was raised to believe in equality and often attended suffrage rallies with her mother. In 1905, she graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in biology. By 1907, she had attained a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania in part due to a fellowship in social work.

Although she continued to support herself through her social work, she became disenchanted with it saying that it was clear she 'couldn't change the situation by social work.' She went to England and found her passion in the British suffrage movement. She was jailed three times out of seven arrests. While in jail, Paul participated in hunger strikes. Her health was compromised when she was force fed by the guards, but she persevered.

Early Suffrage Work

In 1910, Paul returned to America fueled with this new passion for suffrage. It was at this time, she gained her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and began working with the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Paul found their strategy too passive and ineffective compared to her British experience, so by 1914, she and others had formed what would later become known as the National Woman's Party.

The National Woman's Party employed a strategy of continuous protests of a non-violent nature to publicly shame the government into acknowledging that their ideas for democracy clearly didn't include women. They believed it was disingenuous to encourage democracy abroad while denying half the population the vote at home. To garner as much publicity as possible, Paul organized a major suffrage parade to be held the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson.


The parade was disrupted with violence against the women sending many to the hospital. The police were of little help, some even participating in the violence. The Woman's Journal and Suffrage News called the violence a 'Striking Object Lesson' and Alice Paul used it as such. She was able to show the violence as symbolic of a government's inability to protect women in all spheres of their lives.

Silent Sentinels

Paul kept the non-violent message in the eyes of the President by organizing pickets at the White House. These Silent Sentinels held banners directed at the Wilson Administration with messages like, 'Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?' For two and a half years, they silently stood along the fence in all weather conditions despite the heckling and abuse they received. Many times, they were arrested despite the fact that they were exercising their Constitutional Rights to protest on a public street. The charge was usually obstructing traffic and included a choice of jail time or a fine.

Silent Sentinels

In 1917, Congress retaliated. Jail time was increased exponentially. Alice Paul and others were arrested in October and taken to the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia where they were severely abused, deprived of food and sleep, and forced to live in squalor. Paul was taken to a psychiatric hospital where she was force fed and her health quickly deteriorated. Yet, she and the others refused to submit.

Night of Terror

One November night, the Occoquan Workhouse superintendent authorized forty guards to torture and brutalize the women. Called the Night of Terror, the women endured the unthinkable for their beliefs. Lucy Burns was beaten and chained to her cell bars, while Dora Lewis was thrown against a concrete wall and left for dead causing her cellmate to suffer a heart attack.

Burns in Occoquan

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