First Wave Feminists- Alice Paul

Alice Paul (1885-1977) was inspired by the fiery Pankhurst sisters to join the militant Women’s Social and Political Union. She first became known as an agitator in England, where she was repeatedly jailed, only to be released after hunger-striking. Paul later partnered with Lucy Burns to form the National Women’s Party; members marched on Washington in 1913. From 1917 to 1920, Paul and dozens of “Silent Sentinels” held daily vigil at the White House, braving accusations of treason, physical attacks, and false imprisonment, until the Nineteenth Amendment finally enfranchised women. Having earned advanced degrees in sociology, economics, and law, Paul devised the original Equal Rights Amendment in 1923; it failed passage by three votes. She was dismayed when, decades later, NOW made abortion on demand an ERA agenda item.

“How can one protect and help women by killing them as babies? … Abortion is the ultimate in the exploitation of women.”

– Quoted by long-time friend Evelyn K. Samras Judge , 1960s (in letters to Mary Krane Derr, September 12 and 21, 1989)

On June 27, 1917, six “Silent Sentinels” were sentenced to three days in jail; they were the first women to serve prison time for suffrage activities in the United States. Before the Sentinels’ arrest, angry men tore their banners down. A sailor knocked pro-life feminist Alice Paul to the ground and dragged her down the street. Another man tore a woman’s blouse off along with her purple and yellow suffrage sash; the police looked on.

A few months later on November 5, 1917—thirty-five years to the day after Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women voted illegally in Rochester, New York—Alice Paul was placed in solitary confinement for two weeks with nothing to eat but bread and water. Too weak to walk, Paul was then taken to the prison hospital; she began a hunger strike. When doctors feared she might die, they forced a feeding tube down her throat. Prison guards tried to break her spirit with sleep deprivation—flashing the lights in her cell on and off, every hour, every night. One doctor remarked that Paul had “a spirit like Joan of Arc, and it is useless to try to change it. She will die but she will never give up.”