OP-ED: A Call to Honor Alice Paul, NJ’s Overlooked Women’s Rights Crusader

Michael T. Bedard | May 15, 2019 | Opinion
Activist from South Jersey should be among those from the Garden State enshrined at the US Capitol

Michael T. Bedard
Quaker suffragist Alice Paul was born in Mt. Laurel in 1885 and died in Moorestown in 1977. The South Jersey native is less known than Susan B. Anthony, who briefly graced the dollar coin. Yet Friend Paul fought hard for the 19th Amendment, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 and added gender equality to the United Nations charter and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman will eventually be on the $20 bill. An Alice Paul statue in the U.S. Capitol would be a more direct way to honor the August 26, 1920 milestone, when these words were added to the Constitution: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Reflecting back on her Society of Friends upbringing and activism, Ms. Paul noted, “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.” And so was her commitment.

Currently two males, Continental Congressman Richard Stockton and General Philip Kearny, represent the Garden State in Statuary Hall. Arkansas is changing its Capitol Hill collection to musician Johnny Cash and Little Rock Nine mentor Daisy Bates. Declaration of Independence signer Stockton and Paul could be another male/female state pair: New Jersey revolutionaries — one from during the early republic, the other, the 20th century. Montana donated a statue of Jeannette Rankin, the first female member of Congress; Citizen Paul could join her in the Capitol as another embodier of equality under law.

“There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it,” Alice Paul said. She realized “The struggle of today, is not altogether for today — it is for a vast future also,” a phrase from a Lincoln State of the Union message.

An effective force for change

Like her ancestor William Penn, protester Paul went to prison several times for her Quaker beliefs. “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God,” the self-described “political prisoner” declared during her British and American jail terms, hunger strikes and forced feedings.

In 2018, 117 women were elected to Congress. One female governor and two female lieutenant governors have served the Garden State. Two women are in New Jersey’s U.S. House delegation.

Alice Paul — bachelor of arts, master of arts, doctor of philosophy, doctor of law — pioneered their paths, by agitating in Britain’s suffrage movement, by mobilizing a woman’s march at the 1913 presidential inauguration, by picketing the White House over 18 months, by being prosecuted (or persecuted) for obstructing traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue, by mounting a Virginia-workhouse hunger strike, by creating the National Woman’s Party, by founding the World Woman’s Party.

Yet today few people know her name.

“We The People” embodies the spirit of the Constitution; Alice Paul believed We The People includes She The People. Her “more perfect union” was based on equal justice for both genders and she exercised free speech, frequent assemblies and forceful petitions to disrupt domestic tranquility in order to promote the welfare and secure the liberty of female citizens of America’s democratic republic.

“Education, Empowerment, Equality” is the motto of the Alice Paul Institute. The lyrics of “I Am Woman” describe her lifelong, heartfelt crusading: “Yes, I’ve paid the price, but look how much I gained … You can bend but never break me … it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goal … I come back even stronger …’cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul.”

Today, nine Statuary Hall honorees are women, including Sacagawea and Helen Keller. Florida’s Mary McLeod Bethune and Arkansas’s Daisy Bates will become the 10th and 11th. New Jersey’s Alice Paul should be the 12th.