Mr. President how long must women wait to get their liberty? Let us have the rights we deserve

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Alice Paul

January 11, 1885 - July 9, 1977
Mr. President how long must women wait to get their liberty? Let us have the rights we deserve.

Facts on Alice Paul

  1. She was born in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.

  1. She studied at Swarthmore College.

  1. She worked on her graduate work in England.

  1. While in England, she became involved in the suffragette movement.

  1. “Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the British suffrage movement, who advocated “taking the woman’s movement to the streets.”

  1. In 1912, she earned her PH.D from the University of Pennsylvania.

  1. In 1917, She did not like the direction that National American Woman Suffrage Association was going, and she formed Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage with Lucy Burns. They were the first to protest at the White House.

  1. She was arrested and went on a 22 day hunger strike. The doctors forced fed her.

  1. The 19th Amendment was passed in 1920.

  1. Later, she fought for the Equal Rights Amendment. It did not pass.

Women in History Narrative


Alice was placed in solitary confinement for two weeks and immediately began a hunger strike. Unable to walk on her release from there, she was taken to the prison hospital. Others joined the hunger strike. "It was the strongest weapon left with which to continue ... our battle ...," she later said. Then the prison officials put Alice in the "psychopathic" ward, hoping to discredit her as insane. They deprived her of sleep -- she had an electric light, directed at her face, turned on briefly every hour, every night. And they continually threatened to transfer her to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a notorious asylum in Washington, D.C., as suffering a "mania of persecution." But she still refused to eat. During the last week of her 22-day hunger strike, the doctors brutally forced a tube into her nose and down her throat, pouring liquids into her stomach, three times a day for three weeks. Despite the pain and illness this caused, Alice refused to end the hunger strike. One physician reported:

"[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."

Hundreds of women were arrested, with 33 women convicted and thrown into Occoquan Workhouse (now the Lorton Correctional Complex). This was the first of actual violence perpetrated on women: forced feeding, rough handling, worm-infested food, and no contact with the outside world. Blankets were only washed once a year. The open toilets could only be flushed by a guard, who decided when to flush. Doris Stevens, one of the prisoners, later wrote in The Suffragist:

"No woman there will ever forget the shock and the hot resentment that rushed over her when she was told to undress before the entire company ... We silenced our impulse to resist this indignity, which grew more poignant as each woman nakedly walked across the great vacant space to the doorless shower ..."

Viginia Bovee, an officer at the Workhouse, stated in an affidavit after her discharge:

"The beans, hominy, rice, corn meal ... and cereal have all had worms in them. Sometimes the worms float to the top of the soup. Often they are found in the corn bread."

November 15, 1917, became known as the Night of Terror at the Workhouse:

"Under orders from W.H. Whittaker, superintendent of the Occoquan Workhouse, as many as forty guards with clubs went on a rampage, brutalizing thirty-three jailed suffragists. They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head, and left her there for the night. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed, and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, who believed Mrs. Lewis to be dead, suffered a heart attack. According to affidavits, other women were grabbed, dragged, beaten, choked, slammed, pinched, twisted, and kicked." [Barbara Leaming, Katherine Hepburn. New York: Crown Publishers, 1995. Page 182.]

Newspapers across the country ran articles about the suffragists' jail terms and forced feedings -- which angered many Americans and created more support. With mounting public pressure, the government released all the suffragists on November 27 and 28, 1917. Alice served five weeks. Later, the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals overturned all the convictions.

Congress convened a week after the women were released, and the House set January 10 as the date to vote on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. On January 9, 1918, President Wilson announced his support of the women's suffrage amendment. The next day, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the amendment (274-136). The Senate didn't vote until October, and it failed by two votes. From January through October, the NWP kept pressure on the politicians with front-page news -- burning President Wilson's speeches at public monuments, and burning "watchfires" in front of the White House, Senate and other federal sites. Hundreds more women were arrested, conducting hunger strikes while incarcerated. The NWP urged women voters and male supporters to vote against anti-suffrage senators up for election that fall.

The 1918 election left Congress with mostly pro-suffrage members. The House reaffirmed its vote (304-89). On June 4, 1919, the Senate passed the amendment by one vote. On August 26, 1920, the last state (of 36 states needed) to ratify it was Tennessee. Women voted for the first time in the 1920 presidential election -- including Florence Harding, the next First Lady. The fight took 72 years -- spanning two centuries, 18 presidencies, and three wars. Source:

Women Protesting at the White House with Alice Paul

Quotes by Alice Paul

  • 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.

  • There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it.

This world crisis came about without women having anything to do with it. If the women of the world had not been excluded from world affairs, things today might have been different.

  • We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote.

  • 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.

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