Alice Paul

Suffragists picket the White House in 1917 to remind President Woodrow Wilson of his wartime pledge to fight for democratic principles. (Library of Congress)
Suffragists picket the White House in 1917 to remind President Woodrow Wilson of his wartime pledge to fight for democratic principles. (Library of Congress)

The National Woman Suffrage Procession of 1913 was the brainchild of New Jersey Quaker Alice Paul, fresh from years of study in England. Beyond schooling, Paul’s time in England introduced her to the aggressive and militant tactics of the British suffrage movement. The escapades of women like Christabel Pankhurst were both infamous and rightly terrifying—one British suffragette threw herself in front of galloping horses and died in the name of votes for women. American women were so averse to parallels with their sisters across the sea that they called themselves suffragists, and emphatically rejected the term suffragette.

In turn, Alice Paul rejected the methods used by Carrie Chapman Catt and her National Woman Suffrage Association, which was engaged in a campaign to enfranchise women state by state. Paul made clear that women would never fully obtain the vote by meekly asking for it from state governments. Instead, she believed that women had to demand their God-given right in the form of an amendment to the Constitution. Paul led her crusade with military efficiency, taking nothing for granted and demanding nothing short of total enfranchisement for all women. The 1913 parade was just the beginning. Paul split from NAWSA and formed the National Women’s Party, a group that staged the first-ever picketing of the White House in 1917. With the nation now at war, women carried banners that cried, “Kaiser Wilson…how long must women wait for liberty?” Paul and many other demonstrators were arrested on bogus charges, imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, straitjacketed and force-fed when Paul led an in-prison hunger strike.

Heralded by many as courageous, and by others as reckless, Paul’s tactics garnered the national attention and backing necessary to finally ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920, nearly 150 years after Abigail Adams asked her husband, John, to “Remember the Ladies” when he and the other Founding Fathers laid out the government for the newly formed United States of America.

Supporters of suffragists arrested for picketing in 1917 demand political prisoner status for leader Alice Paul. (Library of Congress)
Supporters of suffragists arrested for picketing in 1917 demand political prisoner status for leader Alice Paul. (Library of Congress)

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