Alice Paul: Suffragist and Agitator

by Roberta McCutcheon

Background

The American women’s suffrage movement has always been identified with its two founders, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, whose strong, enthusiastic leadership defined the movement. When they retired from active participation in the cause, the loss of that personal connection naturally affected the movement’s future. The transition was not an easy one. As the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the organization that Stanton and Anthony had led, headed into the twentieth century, it lost the dynamism and direction of the nineteenth-century association. Successors had difficulty measuring up to Stanton and Anthony, and the organization was unable to develop a focused plan for its difficult campaign.

Alice Paul joined the fray in 1910. Did she pick up where Stanton and Anthony left off? The answer to that question is not obvious. Almost anyone familiar with the suffrage movement has a notion of Stanton and Anthony’s leadership, but most people know far less about Alice Paul, whose contributions are not often remembered in the movement’s history. Investigation into Paul’s life and contributions reveals that she had a very different approach to the battle for the vote; that she was a radical compared to the NAWSA leaders who succeeded Stanton and Anthony; and that she devoted her life to winning the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and, later, to the effort to secure the enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment. Any history of the women’s suffrage movement that fails to take into account Alice Paul and her organization, the National Woman’s Party, is incomplete.

Using the classroom as a historical laboratory, students can use primary and secondary sources to research the history of Alice Paul, her associates, and the NWP. The students can be historians; they can discover the history of Alice Paul and her fight for women’s suffrage.

Objectives

  • Students will be able to create a model to evaluate the validity of historical evidence.
  • Students will examine primary documents and factual references to analyze the history of the suffrage movement through the life and work of Alice Paul.
  • Students will be able to identify the strategies of both the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman’s Party.
  • Students will be engaged in historical research and critical analysis. They will be able to consider the historical context of the suffrage movement.
  • Students will be able to examine how US entry into World War I affected the campaign for women’s suffrage.

Lesson Activities

Activity One

Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group one aspect of Paul’s life and work to research for the biography:

a. Birth through her departure to England

b. Work with the suffragists in England

c. NAWSA and the Congressional Union

d. The Congressional Union and the NWP

e. Equal Rights Amendment

f. Historical context of Paul’s life and work

When considering how to write the biography of Alice Paul, students should think about:

a. The era in which Paul lived.

b. The impact of major events of the first half of the twentieth century on the women’s movement.

c. The extent to which Paul’s work defined her life.

The following websites provide biographical and other useful information:

Students should look at the close associates of Alice Paul: the Pankhursts (from England), Lucy Burns, Chrystal Eastman, Inez Milholland (Boisevain), and the leaders of NAWSA.

Books 

  • Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle
  • Aileen Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement
  • Christine Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights

Activity Two

Rewrite the chapter or section of the classroom textbook on the women’s suffrage movement to include Alice Paul and the NWP, or to expand on the information provided about them:

  • Using the same groups and group-research approach, have the class select the appropriate information for this expanded coverage of the campaign for woman’s suffrage.
  • Include visual representations such as photographs and posters.

Activity Three

Alice Paul was arrested for obstructing traffic while picketing the White House. Write diary entries describing her time in jail.

Activity Four

Divide the class into four groups. Assign each group one of the following topics:

1. NAWSA’s support of Woodrow Wilson
2. NAWSA’s “Winning Plan”
3. NWP’s focus solely on a federal amendment for women’s suffrage
4. NWP’s decision to picket the White House

Have each group share its research on the assigned topic with the class.

Extension

  • To what extent was the strategy of the NWP successful in bringing about the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment?
  • To what extent did the United States’ entry into World War I affect the women’s suffrage movement?
     

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Discussion

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