Paul, Alice Stokes

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Paul, Alice Stokes

Alice Stokes Paul was a militant U.S. suffrage leader who is best remembered as the author in 1923 of the Equal Rights Amendment. Paul, who for decades played a major role in the National Woman's Party, also successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a ban against Sex Discrimination in title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq.).

Paul was born on January 11, 1885, in Moorestown, New Jersey. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 1905 and then went to England to do graduate work. While in England, Paul became involved with the British suffragettes and received three jail sentences for participating in militant actions. She returned to the United States in 1910 and continued her graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. She earned a Ph.D. in social work in 1912. In 1913 Paul formed the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, which later became the National Woman's Party (NWP). She advocated a more militant position to publicize the need for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Paul organized marches, rallies, and protests outside the White House. As in England, she was jailed three times for organizing and participating in suffrage protests. While in jail she waged hunger strikes, resulting in her hospitalization where she was force-fed.

"If the women of the world had not been excluded from world affairs things today might have been different."
—Alice Paul

With the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, which gave women the vote, Paul shifted her focus to the legal inequality of women. In 1923 she wrote the equal rights amendment, which she called the Lucretia Mott amendment, in honor of the nineteenth-century feminist leader. The proposed amendment stated that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex" and that "the Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article." Paul's proposed amendment was introduced to Congress in 1923, but it would not be approved until March 1972. However, the amendment failed to be ratified by the thirty-eight states required under the Constitution.

Paul continued to lead the NWP, and in 1938 she organized the World Party for Equal Rights for Women, known as the World Woman's Party. She played a key role in seeing that the preamble to the United Nations Charter included references to sex equality. During the debates over the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Paul and the NWP helped lobby for the inclusion of sex discrimination as illegal conduct.

Paul died on July 9, 1977, in Moorestown, New Jersey.

Further readings

Butler, Amy E. 2002. Two Paths to Equality: Alice Paul and Ethel M. Smith in the ERA Debate, 1921–1929. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

Lunardini, Christine A. 1986. From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, 1910–1928. New York: New York Univ. Press.