The education of Alice Paul

October 9, 2012 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: Alice Paul.

Alice Paul, the woman who organized the Washington suffrage parade of 1913, was one of the most educated women of her time. Here’s a list of her degrees:

  • B.A. in Biology from Swarthmore College, 1905
  • M.A. in Sociology from University of Pennsylvania, 1907
  • PhD. in Economics from University of Pennsylvania, 1912
  • LL.B. from Washington College of Law, 1922
  • LL.M. from American University, 1927
  • D.C.L. from American University, 1928

Why so many?

No one really knows the definitive answer to that question. Paul turned out to be quite good about concealing her motivations, usually arguing that whatever she was doing wasn’t about her and she wasn’t very important. Still, the question must be asked, and there are answers that are at least reasonable to assume.

The three law degrees that she earned in the 1920s, after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, could probably be justified by her new crusade for equal rights that she shouldered for the rest of her life. Paul believed that there should be no barriers preventing women from doing the same things as men. There were no free games to practice typing at that time. Embedded in the laws of states, the federal government, and governments worldwide were laws that she felt discriminated against women. To fight them, she had to know them and understand them.

Paul probably enjoyed being a student. Some people simply like the environment and stimulation of the classroom and tend to thrive there.

And Paul certainly had many opportunities for formal education. She grew up in a family where education was valued, and members of her extended family were involved in education. After completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree, she received support from her local Quaker community to extend her sociological and economic studies in England in 1907. There she received a different kind of education indeed — one from the Pankhurst family and the British suffragettes. (That’s another story we’ll explore later.)

The best picture of Alice Paul that we have included in Seeing Suffrage is of her in her academic robes (shown on this apge). Very fitting.

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