Tag Archives: Alice Paul

In which I answer the question, “What’s next?”, part 2: the suffrage ladies and me

Seeing Suffrage

Seeing Suffrage

The suffrage ladies may not be done with me.

Those were the women who, between 1910 and 1920, affected the most profound change in the make-up of the electorate in the history of the Republic.

In 2013, Seeing Suffrage was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The book was about the 1913 Washington suffrage parade, the visual nature of the event, and the profound effect that it had on the suffrage movement, photojournalism, and American politics. At the time I wrote it, I planned for it to be the first of a trilogy.

Alice Paul

Alice Paul

The second book would be the Silent Sentinels, which would tell the story of Alice Paul and her cohorts in the National Woman’s Party who, in 1917, stood silently outside of Woodrow Wilson’s White House asking that he support a suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What happened to those women, particularly when World War I began and their protests were viewed as treasonous, does not reflect well on the history of the nation, but it’s an important, interesting and instructive story.

The Silent Sentinels are important for more than just their suffrage work. They invented our modern forms of public protest. Labor unions, anti-war protestors, civil rights activists and many others have drawn on the work and ways of the Silent Sentinels.

But I digress.

The Silent Sentinels outside the White House, 1917

The Silent Sentinels outside the White House, 1917

The third volume would be Securing Suffrage, the story of the final battle over women’s suffrage that took place in the summer of 1920 in Nashville.

Alas, life, work and many other things got in the way, and those projects have not been completed.

So, maybe part of the answer to “What’s next?” will be mixing it up with the suffrage ladies again. If they will have me.

And that’s only part of the answer.

* * *

Note: For some background on why this posts exists, see In which I answer the question, “What’s next?”, part 1.

Seeing Suffrage: Starting the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade


Jane Burleson, grand marshal of the 1913  Washington Suffrage Parade, halts at the beginning of the parade to see that the participants are following her.

Jane Burleson, grand marshal of the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, halts at the beginning of the parade to see that the participants are following her.

Sometime around 3:20 p.m. on March 3, 1913, Jane Burleson gave the signal, and the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade commenced on Pennsylvania Avenue

The Avenue, as it was sometimes referred to then, had not been cleared of spectators, as the Washington police had promised. That was apparent to anyone who was at the Peace Monument, particularly to anyone who was on a horse and could see up the Avenue.

But the marchers and the crowd could not wait any longer. They had to start, despite the uncertainty of what lay ahead.

The head of the parade had formed on the west side of the U.S. Capitol Building, and as it moved forward, it turned left onto Pennsylvania Avenue.

Jane Burleson, the grand marshal of the parade, and her attendants were first, followed by the herald, Inez Mulholland (the white figure at the base of the Peace Monument). A sign stating a demand for a federal suffrage amendment (behind the flag-bearer on the right) was mounted on a wagon behind Mulholland. Then came the light-colored mounted marshals.

Burleson moved up the Avenue for a few yards and then stopped to see that everyone was moving behind her. A photographer on the right is taking a picture of this moment. Two more photographers stand between the streetcar tracks closer to Milholland. Note the policeman on the left side of the picture.

Find out more about the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade and its importance to the suffrage movement and to American journalism.

Seeing Suffrage: Planning the 1913 Washington Woman’s Suffrage Parade


Lucy Burns

Alice Paul

Alice Paul

March: Women’s History Month

Plans for a gigantic suffrage parade along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 1913 began as soon as Alice Paul and Lucy Burns convince the National American Woman Suffrage Association to put them in charge of its Congressional Committee in late November 1912.

Paul and Burns, who had been friends since their work with the British suffragette movement, set about immediately contacting friends and anyone sympathetic to the idea. If they were going to pull this off on the day they intended — March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson was to be inaugurated president — they had only three months.

Find out more about the parade and its importance to the suffrage movement in Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Photographs, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape.

Seeing Suffrage: The Washington Suffrage Parade of 1913, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape

Seeing Suffrage: The Washington Suffrage Parade of 1913, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape is a book about one of the most significant single events in the history of the women’s suffrage debate.

Seeing Suffrage

Seeing Suffrage

The book chronicles the Washington suffrage parade of 1913, which took place on March 3, the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as president of the United States. On that Monday afternoon, more than 5,000 suffragists (mostly women but also a few men) marched up Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol Building to the U.S. Treasury Building in a dazzling and colorful display of their support for a Constitutional amendment that would allow women to vote.

The parade was organized by Alice Paul, a 28-year-old Quaker from New Jersey who had been introduced to the suffrage movement several years before in Great Britain where she was doing graduate studies in social work. Paul represent a new type of suffragist, unafraid to confront and demand.

The events of March 3, 1913 — and the surprises they held — changed the tone and direct of the suffrage debate profoundly, and they set the nation on the road to accepting the most far-reaching change in the electorate, the Nineteenth Amendment, seven years later.

Seeing Suffrage: The Washington Suffrage Parade of 1913, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape is in production at the University of Tennessee Press and will be available early in 2013.

The book can be purchased at this location on Amazon.

The iPad edition of the book is on the iBookstore at this location.

Seeing Suffrage: The iPad edition is on its way

[vimeo width=”600″ height=”450″]https://vimeo.com/51379619[/vimeo]

The video above is the opening video for the iPad edition of Seeing Suffrage.

The print edition of Seeing Suffrage will not be out until sometime in 2013, but readers with an iPad won’t have to wait that long — fortunately.

The iPad edition of the book is nearly complete, and plans now are to have it available on the iBookstore by the first week in November.

The iPad edition, because it is electronic and multimedia, will offer much more (and at a significantly lower price) than the print edition. For instance, included in the iPad edition are:

  • All of the photographs included in the book, plus some of the photographs of the parade that were eliminated from the print edition;
  • Videos featuring the author and other historians and commentators familiar with the parade and the events surrounding it. Michael Keene, a University of Tennessee English professor who co-authored a study of Alice Paul’s protest techniques, appears in a number of these videos;
  • Essays and commentary by the author of Seeing Suffrage;
  • Additional in formation on the British suffrage movement, including videos, and the British suffragettes;
  • A bonus chapter on the meaning an history of the First Amendment, which protects the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

The iPad edition of Seeing Suffrage is produced in conjunction with First Inning Press, the publishing arm of the Intercollegiate Online News Network (ICONN).

Below are some screen shots of pages from the iPad edition:

The education of 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.

Parker’s column concerns documentary about women

Kathleen Parker’s current column in the Washington Post recounts a meeting launching a documentary about women in America:

The purpose of the Thursday-evening gathering in a private home was to celebrate “Makers: The Women Who Make America,” a multiplatform video production from PBS, AOL and Makers.com that launched in February.

One of the stories that should be told — and probably will be if this documentary is any good — is that of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who in one afternoon, changed the tenor and trajectory of the women’s suffrage debate that eventually led to the 19th Amendment that allowed women to vote.

Paul and Burns organized a giant women’s suffrage parade that had more than 5,000 women (and some men) march up Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the U.S. Treasury building on March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as President. More than 250,000 spectators watched.

The events of that day and their aftermath — too numerous and complex to be recounted here — took the issue of suffrage from one of ridicule to one of serious political consideration. It was an extraordinary achievement for the two young women and their cohorts.

Let’s hope we hear more about them.


Alice Paul and the final stages of the suffrage debate

If you are a historian or just someone interested in the debate over women’s suffrage, it’s easy to fall in love with Alice Paul.

Paul is by far the most colorful and vibrant character of the final decade of that debate, and she has come in for a lot of attention from historians and biographers in the past 20 years. Here are a few of the books devoted to Alice Paul:

  • A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot. Mary Walton, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2010 1st ed..
  • Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign. Katherine H. Adams, Michael L Keene. Urbana : University of Illinois Press c2008
  • From Equal Suffrage to Equal rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1912-1928. Christine A. Lunardini. New York: New York University Press 1986

And there’s even one about her post-suffrage activities:

  • Two paths to equality : Alice Paul and Ethel M. Smith in the ERA debate, 1921-1929. Amy E. Butler 1965. Albany : State University of New York Press c2002

Paul was the central character in the 2004 HBO movie Iron Jawed Angels, starring Hiliary Swank and Frances O’Connor. Paul was not as beautiful as Hiliary Swank, but she could certainly look good in a photograph (right).

And set against her antagonist within the suffrage movement, Carrie Chapman Catt, Paul wins on almost every count. Catt comes off as stuffy, disapproving, middle-aged and establishment. Paul is vivacious, single-minded, courageous and just plain interesting. The comparison is not a fair one. Catt devoted most of her adult life to the cause of suffrage and must be given great credit for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Catt took the tact of persuading and not upsetting those in power in those final years of the debate.

Paul, on the other hand, challenged the norms and assumptions of her society. She took on the biggest political tigers of her time — Woodrow Wilson and Democratic Party — but she did it with an unassuming Quaker grace, logic and style that made her a winner from the outset. You have to love her for that.

Paul’s courage is unquestionable. She knew what she was in for when she got herself arrested for picketing the White House in 1917. She had been through the same drill — picketing, arrest, hunger strike, forced-feeding — less than a decade earlier in England. She faced the same set of tortures by her American jailers, but she didn’t back down.

Then there’s the idea that Paul has been “forgotten” in the early post-1920 histories of the suffrage movement, that she had not been given enough credit for what she had done, and that she has since been “rediscovered” by feminist historians. All of these things have added to Paul’s allure. As I said, she’s almost irresistible.

Paul grew up in a Quaker home in New Jersey as the 19th century turned into the 20th, the daughter of a wealthy businessman and banker. It was a home that valued peace, social consciousness, education, equality of the sexes and ideas. Paul absorbed all of those values. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Swarthmore College in 1905 and a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907.

She went to England to study social work at a settlement house in Birmingham in 1908 and there came in contact with England’s leading suffragists, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel. Paul absorbed their arguments and methods, which included publicity-gathering acts of defiance and holding the party in power directly responsible for women not having the vote. Paul joined their protests, was arrested and participated in hunger strikes while in jail. Along with other hunger strikers, she was force fed and achieved her own notoriety back in the United States. She also met fellow American Lucy Burns.

When Paul and Burns returned to the U. S., they joined Crystal Eastman as head of the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1912. NAWSA had been pursuing a state-by-state strategy for gaining the vote for women, but Paul, Burns and Eastman represented a new generation of suffragists who looked upon that strategy as one of continuing failure. They concentrated their efforts of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, something NAWSA supported nominally.

With almost no support from NAWSA, Paul and her allies conceived and executed the idea of a massive parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D. C., on March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration as president. The parade involved thousands of marchers (most estimates fall between 5,000 and 10,000, and most commentators describe it as about 8,000) and was counted as a huge success because of the melee it provoked and the publicity it garnered.

Paul proved herself to be an expert at garnering publicity. Over the next eight years, she broke from the NAWSA and formed the National Woman’s Party, organized parades, speakers, lobbying efforts, pickets and demonstrations — all of which kept the idea of women’s suffrage in the news and on the minds of politicians. She held the Democratic Party and Woodrow Wilson directly responsible for the absence of suffrage and worked without wavering for a constitutional amendment that would give women the right to vote.

NAWSA leaders resented Paul for the publicity that came her way. Catt and others had been working day and night for years with their state-level activities and lobbying efforts. And yet they also saw the value, eventually, of what Paul and her allies were doing.

In truth, they didn’t know what to make of her. She was single-minded in her quest for suffrage, in the discipline of non-violence, and in her courage to confront authorities even at the cost of her personal freedom and her life. These qualities lifted her above much of the criticism she received.

Did Paul’s activities and attitudes advance or hinder (as many argued at the time) the progress of the Nineteenth Amendment? The debate on that question goes on, and the answer is unattainable, of course. Paul represented an a new attitude that many women had developed toward their right to vote — an attitude of demanding rather than asking. It was an attitude not of gentle persuasion but of exacting costs from those who denied it.

From a journalist’s point of view, Paul made a great story. Many historians (including this humble one) have also adapted that view.


Much information about Alice Paul can be found here:

The Alice Paul Institute. <http://www.alicepaul.org/api.htm> Site index page: “The Alice Paul Institute is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 corporation based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. It was founded in 1984 by a group of dedicated volunteers to commemorate the centennial of Alice Paul’s 1885 birth and to further her legacy. The organization was operated by volunteers for more than a decade. Today, four staff members, as well as volunteers, oversee the daily business and special events at Paulsdale.” The website contains a great deal of biographical and other information about Alice Paul.

The Washington suffrage march: Premiering a national strategy

America needed to see suffrage.

Alice Paul had decided that this was what the women’s suffrage movement needed. Americans — particularly journalists — needed a picture of suffrage implanted in their heads. She decided to get it with an audacious, radical and stunning idea: a suffrage parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as president.

The nation, the world even, would pay attention.

The spectacle of such a parade at such a time would vault the issue of women’s suffrage onto the national political as nothing else could. Maybe it would even spur the new president and Congress to take up the issue and add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.

That was a long shot. But, at the very least, people would “see” suffrage and would begin to understand that the suffragists were playing a new ballgame.

In that, Paul succeeded beyond her very vivid imagination.


The idea of a parade was, in some ways, a compromise (Lunardini, 1986).

Paul, who had already gathered a measure of fame by being an American jailed in the suffrage battles in Great Britain, had come to the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1912 ready to lead a charge for a Constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. What she and Lucy Burns, someone she had met in England who was also involved in the suffrage demonstrations there, found was an organization that wanted little to do with any new ideas and nothing to do with anything that smacked of “militancy.”

Paul and Burns had made a pitch to take over the NAWSA’s Congressional Committee, which officially was charged with lobbying for the amendment, and begin putting pressure on the in-coming Wilson administration to support their cause. NAWSA’s leaders were committed to their state-by-state plan and wanted no part of a federal effort. Paul and Burns were dismissed almost immediately.

They then appealed to Jane Addams, whose reputation as a suffrage supporter was unassailable and whose accomplishments in Chicago far outshown most of the suffrage leaders. Addams agreed to support them on one condition. Rather than asking for NAWSA to back a new political strategy, Paul and Burns should simply ask to head the Congressional Committee and plan a parade. For the two young women, that was enough. With Addams’ backing, they got their committee and the backing, insubstantial as it was, of the association.

Yes, they were told, they could plan a parade. No, they couldn’t have any money. They would have to raise it themselves.

That they did.

Even before money, they needed a committee of people willing to devote themselves quickly and wholly to the job at hand. Burns contacted Crystal Eastman, a committed feminist whom she had known at Vassar. They also recruited Mary Ritter Beard, a member of the Woman Suffrage Party of New York, and Dora Kelly Lewis, a member of Philadelphia’s social elite who five years hence would find herself near death in prison because of her suffragist activities. Each of these women had contacts and resources, and they would need to exploit them all. It was January 1913. They had only two months.


Paul’s idea for a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on the day before Wilson’s inauguration was undoubtedly brilliant, but it would not have come off if there had not been a vast reservoir of potential support for it. All over the country, women were getting educated and getting jobs. They were increasingly involved in public life, but movement toward getting the vote had stagnated.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association provided little hope and less inspiration. NAWSA was committed to winning suffrage state by state, and their successes had been sparse. NAWSA’s state organization were entrenched and insular, often devoting more time to infighting than to fighting for suffrage.

The biggest problem with NAWSA was that it did not want to offend or upset anyone, particularly politicians. Getting the vote, NAWSA seemed to argue, would not really change anything or anyone. It was just the right thing to do. The argument also carried the stricture that women would not step outside the bounds of appropriate behavior.

To many women, and more than a few men, these were lame arguments that produced lame results. They were ready for something different.

Alice Paul’s idea of a parade gave them something different.


The response to the Congressional Committee’s call for participants and support was almost overwhelming. Women from all over the country were waiting for a chance to express themselves definitely and forcefully. They were tired and frustrated with the infighting of NAWSA and its policy of not making waves, not doing anything that would take away from the image of femininity imposed upon them. They wanted to show how they felt.

They wanted to march. And march they did.