Alice Paul Stamp

Alice Paul was honored with a postage stamp issued by the United States Post office alicepaulstamp2in 1995. Part of the Great American Series, it commemorated her work toward securing the vote for women. It was released on the 75th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the American Constitution. The stamp was bright violet, and its cost was 78 cents. Chris Calle designed it; the Banknote Corporation of America engraved it. The portrait is somewhat unflattering. (It is pictured to the right).

Great Britain also released a stamp for Paul in 1981. The 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels featured her. A United States $10 half-ounce gold coin with her image, part of the Presidential Coin Program, appeared in 2012.

Alice Paul (1885-1977) was an American organizer for women’s rights. In 1908, in England, she heard Christabel Pankhurst speak and was drawn into the Women’s Social and Political Union’s efforts to get the vote for British women. She was jailed three times and force-fed during the campaign. In 1910, returning to the United States, she became affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1913 she organized the Woman Suffrage Procession, a march of several thousand women in Washington DC the day before President Wilson’s inauguration. She led a delegation to lobby Wilson about women’s suffrage the next day. After the President stated that his position was undecided, she launched a campaign to educate him.

In 1916 Paul and her friend Lucy Burns broke away from NAWSA and formed the National Woman’s Party. They focused on getting President Wilson to back suffrage and included public protest and civil disobedience in their tactics. In 1917, after the President refused to meet with any more of their delegations, Paul organized the Silent Sentinels, a group of women standing in front of the White House protesting the denial of the vote for women. Initially tolerated, if ignored, with the American entrance to the First World War, arrests began. Paul and several other women were sentenced to seven months in the Occoquan Workhouse jail in October 1917. Held in solitary confinement and denied legal counsel, on November 17, during the “Night of Terror”, the women were savagely beaten. Paul began a hunger strike and was placed in a mental ward, sleep-deprived and force-fed. (A doctor at the jail commented, “She has a spirit like Joan of Arc, and it is useless to try to change it. She will die but she will never give up.”) Newspapers publicized the women’s ordeal. They were released at the end of November, and Wilson announced his support of women’s suffrage the following January. Paul organized for women’s rights during the rest of her life. In 1923 she wrote and began to lobby for the Equal Rights Amendment. She was also instrumental in including equal rights for women in the U.N Human Rights Charter and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Alice Paul was a member of Moorestown (NJ) Meeting. She came from a long line of English and New Jersey Quakers, William Penn and John Bowne being among her ancestors. Growing up, all the people she knew were Friends, and her home was traditionally Quaker. (Music and dancing were prohibited, for example). Gender equality was also part of Quaker belief and culture. When she was a child, Paul’s mother took her to suffragette meetings in Quaker homes. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, of which her Meeting was part, had had a committee to work for women’s votes since the 19th century. (“When the Quakers were founded, one of their principles was and is equality of the sexes. So I never had any other idea, the principle was always there”, she observed). Paul attended Moorestown Friends School, graduated from Swarthmore College and studied at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. She died at the Greenleaf Extension Home, a Quaker facility, and is buried at Westfield Friends Burial Ground.

Alice Paul was well within the tradition of strong Quaker women: Elizabeth Hooton, Margaret Fell, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Watson, Elise Boulding, et. al. And I still see them in Friends Meeting today.

December 2017

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