Alice Paul (1885-1977) was a suffragist, women’s rights activist and political strategist. She brought a more militant fight for the vote to the U.S. and steered the movement for an Equal Rights Amendment.
Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.
Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins.
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Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.
If you’re just tuning in for the first time, here’s the deal. We’re telling the stories of women from throughout history and around the world who you may not know about but definitely should. Each month is themed and in honor of Women’s History Month, March is all about feminists, women who fought for gender equity.
Our feminist today was a suffragist, women’s rights activist and political strategist. She brought a more militant fight for the vote to the U.S. and steered the movement for an Equal Rights Amendment. Let’s talk about the one and only Alice Paul.
Alice Paul was born on January 11, 1885, in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey to William and Tacie Paul. Alice was the eldest of four children, and was raised in very comfortable surroundings. The Paul family practiced the Quaker faith. Alice later cited the Quaker belief in gender equity as formative in her strong drive towards promoting women’s equality. Her mother, Tacie, also had a major impact on Alice’s later work. Tacie was a suffragist and a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association herself.
Alice attended Swarthmore College and graduated with a degree in Biology. While there, she participated in a variety of extracurricular activities. She was a member of student government and she played field hockey, tennis, and basketball. She was also a celebrated poet and was her class’ commencement speaker.
In 1907, Alice traveled to England to work at the Woodbrooke Settlement. While there, she met Christabel Pankhurst, who we talked about last week. Christabel introduced Alice to England’s suffrage movement. It was more militant than what Alice had seen in the U.S. The British women fought under the motto, “Deeds, not words” and took the words to heart. They smashed windows and went on hunger strikes, among other tactics. Alice joined the cause, later saying she broke more than 48 windows and was imprisoned multiple times.
Alice returned to the U.S. in 1910 and got to work pushing the more radical suffrage agenda she brought back from across the Atlantic.
In 1913, Alice organized a suffrage parade. Woodrow Wilson had just been elected and Alice planned her march for the day before his inauguration, purposefully stealing attention away from the president. She succeeded in making the suffrage movement front page news. But she also made the very problematic decision to ask Black women to march at the back of the parade. She failed to appreciate the importance of the diverse movement, instead focusing primarily on white women.
In 1914, Alice founded the National Woman’s Party. She was incredibly good at rousing attention for her cause. Members of the National Woman’s party were the first people to ever picket in front of the White House. During 1917, they picketed 6 days a week.
After women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, the National Woman’s Party had to decide what to focus on next. Alice was lobbied to work on expanding voting rights more broadly. Instead, Alice turned her attention to expanding women’s rights outside of the electoral sphere.
In 1923, Alice wrote the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to guarantee equal rights to all American women. She actually went to law school in order to be qualified to write its language. The ERA was introduced in Congress continually until it finally passed in 1972. Still, the Amendment hasn’t been officially added to the U.S. Constitution because, until recently, it lacked ratification from the required number of states. Today, it’s actually the closest it’s ever been. The ERA’s tale is a long and wild story that warrants its own whole podcast. In fact, we’ve made one! It’s called Ordinary Equality and it’s available wherever you listen. There’s a whole episode about the complicated Alice Paul.
Alice passed away on July 9, 1977. She was 92 years old.
Alice Paul fought tirelessly for women’s legal progress and equity in the U.S. She is not a perfect hero. Rather, she’s a historical leader who changed the course of our country’s history while also having her fair share of flaws. For more, I really do recommend you check out Episode 3 of Ordinary Equality.
All month we’re talking about feminists. We’ve covered feminists in every theme so far. What differentiates this month is that we will be looking at women who were particularly important to the women’s rights movement, the suffrage movement, and/or modern feminism and feminist theory. On Saturdays, we’re talking about modern feminists brought to you by this month’s sponsor, Fiverr. On Sundays, we’re highlighting favorite feminists from past months chosen by other podcast hosts we love. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our new Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.
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Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.
Talk to you tomorrow!