Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Woman's Crusade

The feisty Quaker with violet eyes…

Alice Paul

History Book Club, Rockport Public Library
Rockport, MA 01966

Next monthly meeting, Wednesday, July 31, 2013
             Our History Book Club next meets Wednesday,  July 31. We’ll read and discuss BRIC ['Brazil, Russia, India And China’ ] BRIC is an acronym for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. The general consensus is that the term was first prominently used in a Goldman Sachs report from 2003, which speculated that by 2035 these four economies would be wealthier than most of the current major economic powers.  Read about any of the four countries, or all.  Recently, economists have speculated that other countries, like the Philippines, Colombia, Thailand and more may overtake the BRICs, so you're welcome to read and discuss any aspect of growing economies!          
            We invite you to prepare a review of your book, but this is not school.  If you’d rather come and simply brief us on the high points without the detailed reviews you see here, that’s fine!  And if you’d like to just sit in and share in the discussion, you are most welcome.
            In August (8/28) we’ll read and discuss Modern Capitalism—Capitalism Chinese Style, Capitalism in emerging economies, How Capitalism has evolved in the West—your choice.
            In September (9/25):  America and its wars or near wars with European powers viz.: France, Spain and England.  Starts with the French and Indian War.  Takes in the Monroe Doctrine.  Could go all the way to the Spanish American War.
            October, (10/30): History of the North Shore.  This opens the way to looking at the rich history of the Gloucester fishing industry, Essex boat building, the fashionable summer resorts in Manchester and Magnolia at the end of the nineteenth century, etc.
            November (11/27):  Labor Movement in America 1900-2013.
            There will be no meeting in December.

            We meet the last Wednesday of each month.  Contact me if you’d like more information.

Sam Coulbourn  978-546-7138

         At June's meeting, held June 26th, we discussed Women's Movements for Equality 1900-2013.  Here is the story of Alice Paul.....

Mary Walton, A Woman’s Crusade:  Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot, 2010. Palgrave, Macmillan: New York, NY. 284 pp.

            Imagine a country where only half the adults have the right to vote. 
            Alice Paul was a pretty, slender, frail, modest and shy young Quaker woman who came from a family of means.  Her leadership, against tremendous opposition, propelled women into the Twentieth Century.
            Her fierce determination and strong leadership led women all over the United States to fight for the right to vote, and provided a template for women and men to fight for causes right up to today. 

            Just last night, women in Texas staged a lengthy filibuster, fighting against legislation that would limit women’s access to abortion in the state. Reading the coverage of that event today reminds me so much of Mary Walton’s excellent account of Alice Paul’s superb leadership in the fight to obtain the vote for women. 

            Alice was the quintessential public relations genius.  She ranks with Gandhi in his fight for independence for India and Martin Luther King, in his fight for Civil Rights.
When Alice asked an associate to do something, she asked quietly, with those “violet eyes”… few could refuse.

            Author Walton has had a career as a journalist, with 20 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Her account of this Woman’s Crusade is fast-paced and filled with suspense.  You know that now women have the right to vote, but she shows the fierce, brutal opposition they faced from men, and often women.  It was a tough fight!

            Alice, born in 1885 in Paulsboro, NJ, grew up in a “Quaker cocoon”. She attended Quaker schools and graduated from Swarthmore College in 1905. A friendly professor pointed her in the direction of a career in social work, and she began working in settlement houses in New York City.  She experienced the struggles of the urban poor, the newly-arrived immigrants, the crime, and filth, and terrible living conditions in the Manhattan slums. Alice concluded that she was “not doing much good in the world—you couldn’t change the situation by social work.” 

            In 1907 Alice won a Quaker scholarship to a Friends study center in Birmingham, England.  There she encountered Christabel Pankhurst, as she led a drive to demand the ballot for women in England. Alice soon joined the cause of fighting for suffrage in England, marching to Parliament, joining in huge demonstrations, fighting in picket lines, getting arrested and jailed, starvation campaigns and force-feeding.  Alice, the Quaker from New Jersey met Lucy Burns, an Irish-American Catholic from Brooklyn, and a Vassar graduate there, and the two began their friendship and struggle for women’s right to vote.
            In early 1910, Alice returned to America and at once got involved with the cause of American women’s suffrage.  In April of that year, President William Howard Taft agreed to deliver the welcoming speech before the nation’s largest suffrage organization. He said “The theory that Hottentots or any other uneducated, altogether unintelligent class is fitted for self-government is a theory that I wholly dissent from.”  The President continued to declaim about his expectation that suffrage would be embraced by the class of women “less desirable” rather than those who are intelligent and patriotic.

            His remarks were met with a huge “hisssssss” by the women.
            Alice began to grow first in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NASWSA), and then established her own. For much of the next decade there was a running gun battle between these two organizations, NAWSA working to obtain suffrage in each state, and Alice’s focusing on a federal amendment to the Constitution. 

            Alice’s big public relations event was set for the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in March 1913.  Nearly 28 years old, Alice obtained permission from the Washington, DC chief of police for her parade, right down Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1913 the concept of “marching on Washington” was almost unknown.  But Alice and her organization pulled women from suffrage organizations all over the United States.

            What a parade it was!  Floats that showed the progress in American womanhood; females breaking the barriers of discrimination, fighting for their places in a man’s world; How it was here in 1840; women farmers, military nurses, college women, teachers, librarians, and on and on, and everyone wearing purple, white and green.  There was a beautiful, famous socialite (Inez Milholland) riding an elegant horse, and trumpeters and drum and bugle bands. 

            Women in New York staged a separate march of women from New York to Washington to join the parade.

            The police, who shared the attitude of many American males toward suffrage, did a particularly miserable job of controlling the crowds at the parade, many of whom were roaring drunk. Fortunately Alice had arranged with the Secretary of War to provide a company of Army cavalry, and they cleared the path for the thousands of women marchers.  When it was all over, the poor showing by police and drunks somehow worked to the advantage of the suffrage organizers, as it aroused public outrage and sympathy.

            Alice organized rail trips of women organizers all across the United States to form stronger suffrage organizations, particularly in states that had already granted women the right to vote.  There were cross-country trips by automobile, no small feat in those days.

            Alice and her growing entourage next went directly after President Wilson, staged “silent sentinel” pickets along the gates in front of the White House.  Alice, ever the lady and the Quaker, ruled her demonstrators with an iron hand, cautioning them never to argue or fight with hecklers or officials. 

            In 1917, Wilson, who had labored to keep the country out of war, found that we had to fight and, with Congress, ordered troops to France to fight the Germans.

            The banners came and grew in number, as they chided the President, using his own words against him; chiding him and America because Russia, now the budding Soviet country, allowed women the vote; calling the President “Kaiser Wilson” because he was sending men to fight for freedom, but women in America had not the freedom to vote.

            On the fight went, with Alice increasing her attacks on Wilson.  Finally, women picketers were arrested and thrown into the D.C. jail, and down to the new D.C. prison at Occoquan, Virginia, where they encountered unbelievable conditions.  Here these women, many from very comfortable family settings, found themselves assigned a cot next to a syphilitic black woman with one leg amputated and the other crawling with maggots.  They ate oatmeal with worms and maggots in it, and drank water from a bucket used by all the prisoners.  Toilets filled up and were rarely flushed.  Alice was put into what would now be called a psychiatric section for a time. 

            The women went on hunger strikes and were force fed; if they kept their mouths shut, tubes were stuffed down their noses. 

            Author Walton paints a graphic picture of this stage in the women’s fight for the right to vote.

            Eventually, on June 4, 1919, Congress passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, named after the originator of America’s fight for women’s suffrage, who had died in 1906. 

            On August 17, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the Amendment, making it a part of the Constitution. 

            Alice shortly afterward introduced a new cause, the Equal Rights Amendment, which she presented to Congress in 1923. In 1972 it passed both houses of Congress and went to the states for ratification, but failed to receive the requisite number before the deadline mandated by Congress.
             Alice died at 93 on July 9th, 1977.

--Sam Coulbourn   

Here is a fascinating video commentary on Alice Paul by Mary Walton:

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