Thank You Alice Paul

By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association


Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the 2016 presidential race has got to be frustrated by now. At least once a day and sometimes more, my blood pressure rises to a level that cannot be healthy.

But can you imagine the level of frustration you would feel hearing what the candidates are saying and seeing how they are conducting themselves if you didn’t have a voice in the election? Not even a hundred years ago, half of the population would not have been allowed to cast a ballot for the candidate they felt would best lead the country.

So today, less than a week away from Ohio’s primary, in spite of the frustration I feel I am thinking of Alice Paul and feeling very grateful.

Did you just Google Alice Paul? Think of a suffragist and I’m sure Susan B. Anthony came to mind, or perhaps Carrie Chapman Catt. Those women deserve recognition to be sure, but somehow, even though she was a total bad-ass, Alice Paul often gets overlooked in the history of the women’s suffrage movement.

By the early 1900s, several states had given women the right to vote. However, Alice Paul and her contemporaries were not content with the state-by-state progress. They were tired of being told to be patient. They wanted a federal amendment and they wanted it badly enough to suffer and sacrifice to get it.

One of Alice’s Paul’s first actions in her quest for suffrage was to organize a parade in Washington D.C in March of 1913, the same day President Wilson arrived for his inauguration. The women who marched in that parade were verbally harassed and physically assaulted while the police did nothing.[1] One of the women Alice Paul worked closely with was Inez Milholland, one of this year’s National Women’s History Month honorees, who famously rode a white horse while dressed in white garb leading the parade. After Inez Milholland’s death, which came a month after she collapsed while giving a speech, she became the first woman for which a memorial was held at the U.S. Capitol. Her last public words were “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”[2]

Those words were used on banners just a few months later when Alice Paul and other members of the National Women’s Party began their most audacious protest; they picketed the White House daily, for months on end, in all kinds of weather. They were the first group ever to picket the White House gates, an unpopular move during WWI. In an especially pointed insult, Alice Paul and other women picketers began holding a banner that read “Kaiser Wilson, Have you forgotten your sympathy with the poor Germans because they were not self-governed? 20,000,000 American women are not self-governed. Take the beam out of your own eye.”[3]

After six months of nonviolent picketing, the women were arrested for obstructing sidewalk traffic. As women were arrested each day, others took their place on the picket line the next. The arrested women, including Alice Paul, refused to pay the court-ordered fine since they maintained they had done nothing wrong. Thrown into Occoquan Workhouse, the women were handcuffed to the bars of rat-infested cells and beaten. The food was terrible, and the sanitary conditions deplorable. Alice Paul started a hunger strike and was forcibly fed raw eggs with a tube shoved down her throat until she vomited blood. Hoping he would declare her insane, prison officials ordered the prison doctor to examine Paul, but when asked if she was insane, he commented, “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”[4] Senator J. Hamilton Lewis of Illinois heard rumors of the conditions and went to Occoquan to see for himself. He was appalled, and commented that in all his years of criminal practice, he had “never seen prisoners so badly treated, either before or after conviction.”[5] Soon the public became aware of the situation and eventually the prisoners were released. President Wilson quit telling the women to be patient and began supporting the amendment. After a close vote, Congress ratified the 19th amendment on August 18, 1920.

Alice Paul never quit fighting for women’s rights. She obtained three law degrees, believing knowledge of the law would help her in her quest for women’s rights and equality; she went on to draft the text of the Equal Rights Amendment. She died in 1977 at the age of 91.[6] I can’t help but wonder if she were alive today what she would think about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, about the issues surrounding women’s reproductive healthcare, and the well-documented gender pay gap that exists in many professions.

March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Women in Public Service and Government. There are many women worthy of remembering and honoring; for me, Alice Paul stands at the top of the list. Women have been teachers throughout history, but without Alice Paul and her fellow suffragists’ willingness to endure harassment at best and near torture at worst, I would not have a voice in the government that affects my profession so acutely. Politics can be frustrating, especially for teachers who are at the mercy of elected officials whose actions often harm education and hurt students. But I can’t imagine how much more frustrating the state of education in Ohio would be if I didn’t have a voice.

Don’t take lightly the privilege you have next Tuesday and next November. When you vote, no matter which candidate gets your support, save a thought for Alice Paul, a woman to whom all American women owe a great debt of gratitude.

[1] “American Women: MARCHING FOR THE VOTE …” 2015. 5 Mar. 2016 <>

[2] “2016 Theme and 2016 Honorees | National Women’s …” 2016. 5 Mar. 2016 <>

[3] “Alice Paul: Champion of Woman Suffrage | National …” 2014. 5 Mar. 2016 <>

[4] “Alice Paul – Herstory Network.” 2010. 5 Mar. 2016 <>

[5] “Jailed for Freedom by Doris Stevens – Free Ebook.” 2008. 5 Mar. 2016 <>

[6] “Alice Paul: Champion of Woman Suffrage | National …” 2014. 5 Mar. 2016 <>



Leave a Reply