We don’t’ hear about Alice Paul. When we think of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States we think of Susan B. Anthony or Carrie Catt. When I asked for books on Alice Paul I found only one and it was a little know history book long forgotten. She predated Martin Luther King by fifty years, but she was the first to use nonviolence in America as a means to augment social change.
Alice Paul, because of her extreme tactics of confrontation and the truths she revealed about our police, our penal system, and President Woodrow Wilson, was treated as a non-person after the nineteenth amendment passed giving women the right to vote in the United States. But the truth is Alice Paul forced President Woodrow Wilson and the United States government to pass the nineteenth amendment giving women the right to vote through demonstrations, hunger strikes, imprisonment, burnings, threats, and an unrelenting campaign that could only be termed as modern terrorism against a recalcitrant government.
Most people associate the suffragette movement with pictures of Victorian women marching in parades with banners across their shoulders. The reality is the government of the United States had no intention of giving women the right to vote when Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1912. The only way to make a world of men recognize the injustice of not giving women an equal say in a democracy was to put the issue of women’s suffrage front and center.
It was through the radical tactics of one woman, Alice Paul, that President Wilson and the government had to finally capitulate and pass the nineteenth amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote. But this came at a very high price and Alice Paul would be imprisoned, beaten, harassed, threatened, committed to an insane asylum, and force fed in a brutal manner after hunger strikes that left her unable to get out of her bed.
She would lay siege to the White House for four years with daily demonstrations outside the gates, chaining’s, burning of Wilson in effigy, arrests, beatings, and finally the unrelenting imprisonment and hunger strike that forced Wilson to pardon her and then her refusal to leave prison where the dreaded force feedings began again.
She understood that change only came through creating dis-ease in the powers that be. Something the Womens March will attempt to do on Saturday.