A message from Alice Paul to the women of the future

Dear Women of the Future,

Wake up girls! There is too much at risk to be napping or resting on our laurels!! Do you not realize how much we who went before you have sacrificed? Do you not realize how long and hard we labored to build the foundations for women’s rights upon which you now stand?

But wait, this is not the tone I intended to take. I do not mean to be a shrew or a nagging elder, but to shine a light on the wealth of opportunities within which you bask. I mean to encourage you to invest in those opportunities, to develop them, to see them grow and multiply.

To those whom much is given, from them much is expected. I know this. I was a child of wealth and opportunity, born in Mount Lauren Township, New Jersey in 1885. I was able to attend Swarthmore College and then I completed my postgraduate studies at the New York School of Social Work. I was even able to study social work further in England where I participated in the women’s suffrage movement. Oh how that shaped and sharpened my skills on protesting tactics. When I returned to the US, I earned a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, rounding out my credentials. But more importantly, I soon joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association and eventually started my own organization, the National Woman’s Party.

All in all, I have devoted my life to the cause of women’s equality. There are goals yet to be achieved, but our achievements warrant celebration. In 1878 we introduced an amendment to the United States constitution to grant women suffrage, which is to give women the right to vote. In 1878, we women of America proclaimed that America was not a democracy, not when twenty million women are denied the right to vote.

We worked long and hard to gain attention and support for our cause. We organized protests outside the White House, which had never been done before. Our group became known as the Silent Sentinels. We continued our protests continued even when the country was preparing for World War I. After all, when you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row. Many of us were jailed multiple times during the protests, we went on hunger strike, and some of us were force fed via a tube. But our determination for equality eventually gained public and political support.

We kept at our work until the amendment was passed by the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, by the Senate on June 4, 1919. Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin ratified the amendment within days.  By March 1920 35 states had ratified the amendment, but a core of southern states rejected it. It came down to Tennessee. And the outlook was not good. The vote in the state legislature was 48 to 48. A tie. One representative was yet to vote – Harry T. Burn, a 23 year old Republican, who was known to oppose the amendment. But, his mother wrote to him:  “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt (Carried Chapman Catt) put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” He honored his mother’s wish, voted yes, and the 19th Amendment was ratified by the required 36 states on August 18, 1920, and certified on August 26, 1920.

The Nineteenth Amendment simply says: “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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

I have long believed that there really is nothing complicated about ordinary equality. So, once the vote was secured, we took up the work for a women’s Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution. I could not help but take the next step in our journey to equality out of a feeling of loyalty to our own sex and an enthusiasm to have every degradation that was put upon our sex removed.  I know if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it. It is not for me to judge the choices of other women, after all, courage in women is often mistaken for insanity. 

Dear women of the future, it is time for you to put your hearts, minds and hands to the plow, to take up the work of women’s equality.  How much longer must women wait to get their liberty? Let us have the rights we deserve.

(the above includes a number of quotes from Alice Paul, woven together and elaborated with words from my heart.)

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