A lifelong advocate and visionary for women’s rights, Alice Paul authored the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923, though it was not to be enacted as law until 1972. Imbued with the radicalism of the English suffrage movement following her studies at the London School of Economics, Paul joined the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) while studying for her Ph.D. in Sociology at University of Pennsylvania. She later broke ranks with that organization to form the National Women’s Party (NWP). She led them for half a century. Her active protests landed her repeatedly in prison, where she launched hunger strikes and was force fed raw eggs. She was later moved to a sanitarium, where officials hoped she could be declared insane. Of her treatment during that time, she said “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
Alice Paul in 1915

But Paul prevailed. She went on to get the 19th Amendment enacted in 1919 and earned a second PhD in Civil Law. For Paul, the right to vote was not enough, and she devoted the rest of her career to fighting for equal rights. Paul lived to see the ERA enacted and commented in 1972, “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.”

NWP Leaders
National Women’s Party leaders watch as Alice Paul sews a “ratification star” on a flag. From left to right: Mabel Vernon, Elizabeth Kolb, Alice Paul, Florence Brewer Boeckel, Anita Politzer, Sue Shelton White, and Vivian Pearce.

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