The presidential election is right around the country and soon, men and women alike will be taking to the polls to cast a vote for their candidate of choice. It's hard to believe that less than 100 hundred years ago, women did not have the right to vote in any election. In honor of Women's Equality Day (August 26), a day set aside to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment and to call attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality, I'm sharing a brief history of one of my favorite historical figures: the suffragette Alice Paul. While Paul is only one of the many suffragettes who contributed to the cause for women's right to vote, she was a dynamic leader who motivated and empowered women around her to take hold of their own lives and to make a change.
After graduating with a degree in biology from Swarthmore College, Alice Paul traveled to England to study social work practices. Alice Paul joined the suffragette movement in England, believing that the English suffragettes had uncovered the key to equality that continued to elude American suffragettes. When Alice Paul returned to America in 1910, she was ready to re-energize the American campaign for women’s right to vote. Alice Paul and her two friends, Lucy Burns and Crystal Eastman, headed to Washington D.C to organize a publicity event that would gain national attention.They organized an elaborate parade of women to march up Pennsylvania Avenue and disrupt the presidential inauguration of Woodrow Wilson. Alice Paul wanted to hold President Wilson and his party responsible for the disenfranchisement of women.
In 1916, Paul and her followers formed the National Women’s Party. The National Women’s Party organized silent protests in which suffragettes would stand outside the white house holding banners with messages directed at President Wilson. At first, the public was more or less indifferent towards the silent protests. But after the United States entered World War I, the suffragettes were seen as unpatriotic and were attacked by angry mobs. Many suffragettes, including Alice Paul, were eventually arrested and imprisoned for their demonstrations.They were subjected to acts of brutality and poor living conditions while kept in prison.
In protest of their arrests, Paul and some of her followers staged hunger strikes.These hunger strikes were often met with brutal force feedings for the participating suffragettes. Prison officials later removed Alice Paul from the prison and sent her to an asylum in the hopes of getting her declared insane. Eventually, news of the hunger strikes and prison conditions reached the public and the public began to demand the release of the women.The general public began to sympathize with the prisoners and the fight for women’s suffrage quickly gained new support.In response to the public outcry of support for the suffragettes, President Wilson reversed his prior position and announced his support for a suffrage amendment. Alice Paul and her followers were released from prison and together, they anxiously awaited the ratification of the 19th amendment.
It's been 96 years. 96 years full of female voices fighting for their own rights, for the rights of others, for a fair and just government. If Alice Paul were still alive, she would want every citizen to know that every voice out there matters, and not to let anyone tell you otherwise. Paul once said,"I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated, But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality." Happy Women's Equality Day everyone, keep fighting the good fight.