because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Alice Paul

By 1910, Alice Paul (second from the right) was a young college-educated woman with an ax to grind: she didn't appreciate being seen and treated as a second class citizen just because she was born a woman. And she knew that, as long as men alone decided women's fate, women would be seen and treated just that way. So she committed herself to do something about it.

Her first major effort was to organize a full scale march in Washington, D.C., the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in 1913. Standing in front of the White House with banners reading: "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?" and "Mr. President, what will you do for women's suffrage?" got them arrested.

Before women forced the government to acknowledge their right to vote seven years later, many in-your-face women -- including Paul -- had been beaten, incarcerated in prisons and jails, spat upon, burned by lit cigars thrown at them, and force-fed using metal frames to hold their lips apart while liquids were pumped into their stomachs through a hose. Ultimately, things got so bad that the banners began to read: "To ask freedom for women is not a crime. Suffrage prisoners should not be treated as criminals." and "Alice Paul got seven months because she opposed a political party. We demand that she be treated as a political offender."

Immediately after the vote was secured, Paul began working to get an Equal Rights Amendment added to the U.S. Constitution to protect women's rights in general in the future, just as the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were added after the abolition of slavery to ensure the rights of people of color. Today, though nearly half the states in the U.S. have added such an amendment to their state constitutions, Alice Paul's dream is still not yet a reality. Sometimes it takes generations of in-your-face women to accomplish the goal at hand.

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