“What do you think Americans should know to be civically and culturally literate?”
Lesson’s from the Women’s Suffrage Movement
No matter what one’s political leanings, everyone can learn from the history of the women’s suffrage movement.
Although (Alice) Paul may not be as well-known as Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt or Martin Luther King, Jr., all owe her a debt as her tactics of civil disobedience would become the tools of the push for Civil Rights and other movements. Her championing of equal rights would help shape the United Nations Charter, alongside the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt. And Paul’s leadership also helped establish the permanent UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Alice Paul had cut her teeth in England, learning from activists how to get people’s attention for women’s rights by staging parades, street meetings, and protests, which led to her arrest and imprisonment. She put these lessons to work in the US, too. President Woodrow Wilson was appalled by Paul and her “unladylike” tactics, which she used in her public protests for women’s voting rights outside the White House and elsewhere in Washington.
In the same year, Paul spent seven months in prison for her civil disobedience, but she was not alone. Of her fellow demonstrators, about 500 were arrested, and 168 served prison sentences for their participation. While in jail, Paul led a hunger strike and was force-fed along with other women of the NWP, who demanded to be considered political prisoners rather than criminals.
Although they had sometimes been beaten by bystanders outside the White House, and called unpatriotic and worse during World War I, the NWP still fueled general outrage in the press and public. Under pressure from growing public support for women’s suffrage, Wilson finally relented in his opposition and offered his backing for an amendment. The Senate subsequently passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment for equal suffrage on June 4, 1919.
The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified by the required three-fourths of the states and became law just before the 1920 election.