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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Press On Regardless

Inspirational Message from the Life of Alice Paul

Press On Regardless

Who is Alice Paul?

Alice Paul Worked for the Rights of Women — All Women, All Rights

Being born into wealth is enough for many women — especially around the turn of the 20th century. It meant no worries — no need to find a wealthy husband — no life burdens.

But not Alice Paul.

She was born in 1885 — 37 years after Seneca Falls. That might seem like Alice had missed all the important, formative years of the suffrage movement. But not really.

Her father was a businessman and wealthy. She could have had an easy life. Both of her parents were Quakers and believed that women could be educated and should be treated the same as males. As a little girl, Alice attended suffrage meetings with her mother. Her mother never got to vote. But Alice continued the fight for suffrage...and beyond.

But First a Bit About Alice’s Education


As I mentioned, Alice was raised in a household that thought women should have educational and employment opportunities. And did she ever get the message about education.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Alice attended Swarthmore College. I’m sure it was chosen because her grandfather had co-founded it. Her interests developed over the years. But her first degree was in biology. She realized she had no interest in teaching and there were not many (any?) jobs for women in the field of biology.

So she began social work in a New York City settlement house. But she soon realized that was not for her. She wanted to create change, to make the world better, and felt the role of a social worker was too restricted.

More Education

Going back to school seemed to offer her time to find what she would do with her life. She took coursework in political science, sociology, and economics and earned a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. An opportunity to attend school in England led to her taking economics classes at the University of Birmingham and then at the London School of Economics.

And Still More Education

Once back in the US (in 1910), Alice returned to the University of Pennsylvania where she earned a Ph.D. in sociology. Her dissertation was “The Legal Position of Women in Pennsylvania,” a topic that was influenced by her mother's suffrage work, but also by her time in England.

And Still More and More Education

Later, she attended both day classes and evening classes in order to get her law degree more quickly (a degree she received in 1922). Later she again returned to college to get a master of law degree (in 1927) followed by a doctorate in civil law (in 1928).

Meanwhile, Back in London

While Alice was in England studying economics, she became active in the suffrage movement — specifically the Women’s Social and Political Union. That organization was a militant group and Paul brought their tactics back to the US when she returned in 1910. While in England, her participation in protests led to three arrests and imprisonments that included forced feedings.

And Once Back in the US in 1912 and 1913

Alice Paul initially joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association where she quickly became head of its Washington, D.C. chapter. That organization believed in the strategy in win women’s right to vote by working on state level campaigns.

Alice Paul, however, felt that a better strategy was to work toward a constitutional amendment. So she left NAWSA, with others, and created the National Woman’s Party that focused on petitioning Congress and picketing the White House.


Alice organized marches and pickets. Her largest parade was on March 3, 1913 in Washington, D.C. This was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Although the exact number of participants is not known, it is thought that about 8,000 women marched with banners as well as floats. The parade route went from the Capitol to the White House. In many ways this was a brilliant maneuver in that it brought suffrage to the forefront for many — about 500,000 people watched the women walk past.

Fourteen days later, Paul and other suffrage leaders met with President Wilson to petition for an amendment in support of women's right to vote. He told them, that it was not the right time for an amendment to the Constitution.

But those words did not slow down or stop Alice Paul.

A Woman with Incredible Strength and Determination

About three weeks after the meeting with Wilson, Alice Paul founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage to focus specifically on lobbying Congress.

Silent Sentinels

Because lobbying and other efforts had not brought about the success on an amendment for woman’s suffrage, Alice Paul organized approximately 2000 Silent Sentinels. These women, beginning January 10, 1917, picketed the White House every day. They silently held signs such as:

Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?

They continued their silent sentinels until June 4, 1919 when both houses of Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment.

It would be nice to think that the police protected these women's right to free speech and peaceful assembly. But no. Once the US joined WWI, the tide of public sentiment turned against these women. However, Paul’s arrest and seven month sentence and dreadful treatment during a hunger strike, and the ensuing force feeding via a tube, brought public sentiment back to support for suffrage.


And by 1918, President Wilson agreed to support a Constitutional amendment for woman’s suffrage. Women like Alice Paul helped change his mind. And the role women played during WWI was a second important factor. Wilson even went to Congress to urge the passage of an amendment for woman's suffrage. The following year, the House and the Senate approved the amendment, and, as you know, in 1920 the needed 36 state legislatures had ratified the 19th Amendment.

What’s Next? It’s Now 1923…

Alice Paul and her friend Crystal Eastman thought securing the right to vote for women was just one step, the first step. They rather quickly moved on to an amendment that would secure equal rights in all domains — not just in voting. The two of them wrote and took to Congress the text of an Equal Rights Amendment. They called it the Lucretia Mott Amendment to honor the previous generation who fought for suffrage. The text read:

Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

In 1943, 20 years after the ERA was written and proposed, it was renamed the Alice Paul Amendment. The wording was slightly changed to:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

That amendment was proposed in EVERY Congress from 1923 until 1972 when there were finally enough votes in the House and Senate for it to be sent to the states for ratification. (Which, as you know, still has not received enough ratifications from state legislatures.)

My (Flimsy) Link to Alice Paul

I have two small links to Alice Paul.

  1. My friend, who is a Federal judge, has always had dogs--dogs that usually go to work with her. For many years, her dog was named Alice. And yes, her full name was Alice Paul. She has always named her dogs after suffragists. I've though that was a wonderful way to regularly honor all the work that suffragists did to secure a right for us.

  2. For five years, in the late 1970s (ouch, that sounds like a long time ago), I was director of the Women’s Educational Equity Communication Network (WEECN). I spent a lot of time on the road giving presentations about our mission. Along the way, I settled on two little stories I told at the beginning of each talk. One of them focused on Alice Paul. She died in 1977 at the age of 92--just about the time I was speaking about women and education. And my story was cast in 1972 just before Congress passed the ERA. As I recall the story, a group of ERA supporters came and were put up in her home. They arrived late at night and the story went that Alice ran through her house shouting, “They’re here. They’re here. They’re going to take the ERA across the finish line.” The story always got a chuckle and loosened up the audience. Unfortunately, ERA never did get across the finish line.

But none of that stopped — nor would have stopped — Alice Paul. That’s why we find this inspirational message in her life:

Press On Regardless

We hope the story of Alice Paul will inspire you to PRESS ON REGARDLESS as you strive to achieve your life goals.

Alice Paul Quotes

Following are a few Alice Paul quotes. Find one that provides you with both inspiration and a challenge to live the life you want. Substitute your own goals into the quote(s) and make at least one of these your own. Write it down. Put it on your desk. Carry it with you. No matter what -- Press On Regardless.

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. -Alice Paul

To me, it was shocking that a government of men could look with such extreme contempt on a movement that was asking nothing except such a simple little thing as the right to vote. Alice Paul

When you put your hand to the plow, you can't put it down until you get to the end of the row. -Alice Paul

To me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality. Alice Paul

I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end. Alice Paul

I think if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it. -Alice Paul


All the suffragists, including Alice Paul, wore sashes and rosettes and many had a gold button with the words VOTES FOR WOMEN.

Perhaps this Halloween, you'd enjoy dressing as a suffragette. For the next week, we're offering our well-researched 3-Item Suffrage Costume Accessory Kit at a 15% discount. (The colors, the message, the font, and even the stars are all authentic from the 1910s.

Just click on the button below that takes you to our Etsy store. Put the item in your cart. Then when you check out, use the discount code: ALICE15.

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Aug 29, 2022

Alice Paul, her strength and determination is an inspiration.

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