Alice Paul (1885 – 1977)

Image of Alice Paul
Alice Paul (1885-1977), militant American Suffragette leader and feminist at her desk in 1915.
© Mary Evans / Everett Collection

Alice Paul was born on 11th January 1885 at Paulsdale, New Jersey, the eldest of four children in a Quaker family. From a young age she joined her mother at meetings of the National American Women Suffrage Association.

Alice was educated at Swatchmore College and graduated in 1905 with a bachelor's degree in biology. She continued her studies in Birmingham, England, where she heard Emmeline Pankhurst speak and joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She met Lucy Burns, a fellow American activist in London.

Alice and fellow suffragettes protested a speech by the Minister of Affairs, Sir Edward Grey. Alice's subsequent arrest promoted sympathy for the cause as people saw it as a public silencing of legitimate protest.

In September 1909 Alice, English suffragette Edith New and Lucy Burns were arrested for disturbing a meeting in Kinnaird Hall, Dundee. When brought to the police station, the women smashed the windows with stones from their pockets.

Alice was charged with breach of the peace and breaking four panes of glass in the police office. She admitted the charge and said they had 'no qualms of conscience in breaking the laws, because they had not helped to make them. They did not want to justify what they had done, but in the circumstances they delighted to break the law.' The Magistrates said 'insanity consisted of delusions, and Suffragettes should get rid of the delusion of promoting political purposes by measures of this kind.' Sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment, she was released after 3 days of hunger striking.

Before Alice returned to America in 1910, she helped to organise an Edinburgh suffrage procession on 9th October 1909 and a month later, disguised as a cleaning woman, gained access to a meeting in London's Guildhall. She was sentenced to one month's hard labour after refusing to pay fines and damages.

Alice was arrested 7 times and imprisoned 3 times while associated with WSPU. During her third sentence she suffered twice daily force-feeding to ensure she was strong enough to finish her one month sentence. She described the process as torturous and had developed a severe inflammation of the stomach lining. Her health was permanently affected.

In America, she continued campaigning for women's equality. Her efforts included initiating and organizing the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington the day before President Wilson's inauguration. Thousands marched and over half a million people came to view the parade.

Alice died on 9th July 1977, aged 92, at the Greenleaf Extension Home, a Quaker facility in Morrestown, New Jersey. She is buried at Westfield Friends Burial Ground, New Jersey.