Alice Paul’s Early Birthday Present

Alice Paul, creator of the Equal Rights Amendment, was born on this day, January 11, 1885.

(Alice Paul Institute)

She was raised as a Quaker on a small farm in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She graduated from Swarthmore in 1905, then went to England to continue her studies. While there, Paul became involved with the British women’s suffrage movement. Inspired by its political strategies and use of public demonstrations, she returned to the United States and began working on securing a constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage.

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the launch of the perpetual delegation at the White House gates. Considering the timing, I’ve always thought of that as Alice Paul’s early birthday present to herself. She heated up the public drama of the suffrage movement at the beginning of a new year, probably hoping that by its close, her goal would be achieved.

It wasn’t. But the perpetual delegation ensured that the topic of women’s suffrage was never out of the public eye. President Wilson and members of Congress had to confront it, and eventually they embraced it.

As much as I admire Alice Paul–and I do, very much, especially for her willingness to endure force feedings–I have to remember her spectacular fail on racial equality. Paul didn’t treat white and African American suffrage supporters equally. She viewed the fight for racial equality as one for African Americans. Like many reformers of her time, race limited her vision.