Alice Paul was raised in a well-to-do Quaker family in New Jersey. Her father was a banker and her parents believed highly in the value of education. Paul graduated with a degree in biology from Swarthmore College (1905), an institution that her grandfather helped to found, earned graduate degrees in sociology at the University of
Pennsylvania (M.A., 1907; Ph.D., 1912), and also studied at the Woodbrooke Settlement for Social Work, the University of Birmingham, and the London School of Economics. She earned a bachelor's in law from Washington
College of Law in 1922, and master's and doctoral law degrees from American University in 1927 and 1928.
While studying and doing social work in England, Paul learned firsthand the confrontational tactics and civil disobedience used by the militant wing of the British suffrage movement. She participated in demonstrations and was jailed for her suffrage activity in London.
Upon her return to the United States in 1910, Paul pressed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to adopt approaches like those used in Britain and advocated activism focused on passing a federal amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote. Beginning with her appointment as chairman of NAWSA's Congressional Committee in 1912, Paul and a small
group of key supporters began a long campaign in Washington, D.C., to secure a national woman suffrage amendment. Central in her early organizing efforts was the famous counter-inaugural suffrage parade mounted on March 3, 1913, in which masses of suffragists from
many states filled the streets around the U.S. Capitol, White House, and Treasury Building.
Paul's belief in the need to attract publicity and keep suffrage visible in the public eye, as well as her determination not to shy away from confrontation and her dogged focus on a federal amendment, led to an irreconcilable break with NAWSA in February 1914. From that time on, Paul worked for suffrage through her own organization, the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU), which she
and Lucy Burns founded in April 1913 while still serving on NAWSA's Congressional Committee. The CU became the National Woman's Party, with which Paul was affiliated until her death.
Like her Quaker hero Susan B. Anthony, Paul single-mindedly pursued a woman suffrage amendment. In the same way that Anthony inspired her, Paul became a role model for other activists who were emboldened by her defiance of authority. In October 1917 she was sentenced to seven months in prison for her role in picketing the Wilson White House. Her subsequent hunger strike led prison officials to retaliate with psychiatric evaluation and force-feeding.
Paul was an ingenious strategist and inspiring leader who gave a public face to the NWP. After 1920 she turned her efforts to the Equal Rights Amendment, which she first proposed at a NWP convention in 1923. She lived to see the ERA passed by Congress in 1972.
Paul's most important contribution after winning suffrage was building effective international networks among women. She founded the World Woman's Party in 1938. After World War II, Paul worked to ensure that equal rights for men and women were part of the United Nations platform. She also sought to include sex discrimination as a category in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul
died at the age of 92 at a nursing care facility in Moorestown, New Jersey, endowed by her family.