A Woman's Crusade
Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot
By Mary Walton
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2010 Mary Walton
All rights reserved.
QUAKER, SOCIAL WORKER, SUFFRAGETTE!
I cannot understand how this all came about. Alice is such a mild- mannered girl.
—Tacie Paul, Alice Paul's mother New York Times, November 13, 1909
Alice Paul grew up in a Quaker cocoon. Born January 11, 1885, she was a member of the eighth generation of American Quakers descended from Philip Paul, who fled religious persecution in England in 1685 and settled in what is now Paulsboro, New Jersey. She attended Quaker schools and Quaker meetings in Moorestown, New Jersey, a town settled by Quakers. Late in life, she would tell an interviewer, "I never met anybody who wasn't a Quaker, and I never heard of anybody who wasn't a Quaker, except that the maids we had were always Irish Catholics."
It was those "gay maids," as she called them, whose flights from their third-floor lodgings on their free days to attend dances where music was played—music!—suggested suspect pleasures. Elsewhere, young people might gather round the piano in the parlor and croon "After the Ball" or "The Band Played On" or even "A Hot Time in the Old Town." But Alice's parents, William and Tacie Paul, were particularly devout members of the Society of Friends, as Quakers were formally known. They believed that time was more appropriately devoted to work or silence and that music was quite possibly dangerous.
William Paul's earnings as a bank president and the proceeds from Paulsdale, his modest 167-acre working farm, known to the family as the Home Farm, provided a comfortable life for Alice and her younger sister and two brothers—Helen, Bill, and Parry. At Paulsdale, the family's handsome white stucco home presided from a small knoll over a large, sloping front lawn, where the Paul children hit tennis balls amid grazing sheep. In summer Alice played checkers on the wrap-around verandah and prowled the family's fertile orchard in search of juicy peaches. She read, entranced, the household's leather-bound set of Dickens over and over again, along with every other book in the house and school library.
In a photograph taken with her brother Bill when she was six and he five, Alice is the image of a proper Quaker child. Her unruly black hair has been tamed into a tight bun with a center part in classic Quaker style, and she is simply dressed in a dark long-sleeved blouse under a white cotton jumper. But on mornings when other Quaker girls climbed into family carriages for the mile-long ride to the red-brick schoolhouse in Moorestown, Alice chose an unconventional mode of travel, riding her horse bareback.
In the Friends' school, she would have learned that in 1847 the founder of the faith, George Fox, a handsome twenty-eight-year-old shoemaker's apprentice, had discovered his religious calling while tending sheep with only a Bible as company. In a moment of despair, according to his journal, Fox heard a voice that told him, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." On hearing the message, Fox wrote, "my heart did leap for joy." He realized that everyone, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or pagan, carried within the "inner light" of Jesus Christ.
Fox's first followers called themselves "Children of the Light."
The Friends did not believe in violence, much less war, and they would not pay taxes to support a militia. Once, offered the post of army captain on his release from a prison term, Fox turned it down. He was jailed for an additional six months, one of eight imprisonments. Like Fox, thousands of Quakers went to prison, among them Alice's ancestor Philip Paul. Hundreds died behind bars.
From the outset, Quakers granted women more status than other denominations. Not only were they ministers, they went to jail for their activities just as men did. Fox's wife was the widow Margaret Fell, a Quaker convert who had been married to a judge. After her first husband died and she lost his legal protection, she served several prison terms for her Quaker activities.
In 1827, Quaker harmony was shattered by a bitter schism that divided the faith for more than a century and shaped Alice Paul's upbringing. Her maternal grandparents, William and Alice Parry, threw in with the sect led by a crusading Long Island farmer, Elias Hicks. A religious purist and powerful preacher, Hicks warned that the joys of fine living and elaborate displays of wealth were becoming too common among a thriving Quaker merchant class in cities such as Philadelphia and Baltimore. He found it necessary to remind people that "plainness and simplicity were the true marks of the Lord's people."
Even more alarming to Hicks and his followers—many of them "country" Quakers like the Pauls who lived on farms and in small towns—urban Quakers were strongly influenced by an evangelical movement imported from London. Though Quakerism was firmly rooted in Christianity, the early Friends downplayed biblical history and trusted the inner light to convey Christ's will. The urban revisionists, however, emphasized the primacy of the scriptures and Christ's personification as the Savior.
Quakers had been in the forefront of the Abolition movement. But the Bible-reading evangelicals, known as Orthodox Quakers, would sometimes deal with slaveholders in the course of doing business. For his part, Hicks would neither eat sugar nor rice nor wear cotton clothing, products cultivated by slaves. In Moorestown, the Hicksites had their school, the orthodox theirs, and children of the two sects kept to their respective sides of the street.
Alice's great-grandfather was Charles Stokes, a committed Hicksite, active in state politics. Among the visitors to the Stokes household was Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister, abolitionist, and pioneering suffragist, who helped Elizabeth Cady Stanton organize the 1848 Woman's Rights Convention and subsequently led 172 women in Vineland, New Jersey, in a doomed effort to cast votes in the 1868 presidential election.
The marriage of Stokes's daughter Alice to William Parry in 1843 merged two distinguished families. Parry, Alice Paul's maternal grandfather, was an illustrious nurseryman, engineer, surveyor, politician, and judge, who had also found time in his busy life to raise money to establish Swarthmore, a Hicksite college. On the northwestern rim of Philadelphia stood Haverford, an all-male Orthodox institution. The Hicksites were more inclined toward educating women than their Orthodox adversaries. Swarthmore was co-ed and Parry's daughter Tacie, Alice's mother, was among the first female students.
Even so, Hicksite Quakers viewed Swarthmore as an experiment "to prove what has never yet been fully proven ... that it is feasible and desirable to give to woman equal educational facilities with man." It was one thing to provide both sexes with an education, however, and another to trust them with each other. The administration took the in loco parentis role to heart and fired the first president for being too soft on issues of moral propriety. His successor, Edward Hicks Magill, was famous for his "100 Rules," of which perhaps the most famous of all was that "Students of the two sexes, except brothers and sisters, shall not walk together on the grounds of the College, nor in the neighborhood, nor to or from the railroad station or the skating grounds. They shall not coast upon the same sled."
Alice entered Swarthmore in 1901 at the age of sixteen. The Quakers at the college spoke the language of the plain people, as Quakers were also known—the "thee" and "thy" that Alice had grown up with and used with family members all her life. But she was free to wear colorful clothing, rather than the monotone dresses and white caps that hung in her mother's closet, and restrictions on music had been relaxed; she and her schoolmates danced, but not with boys.
That year, Alice felt almost giddy with her newfound freedom. On the first page of her freshman diary, housed in a crisp red cover, she wrote, "Had a reception in evening—Old girls to the new. Were presented to all the girls and each freshman received a tiny bouquet. Everyone wore names pinned on. The old girls sang the Swarthmore songs and then we went over to the gym to dance. Danced whole evening and had a glorious time." "Glorious" was a word she often used, sometimes to describe the ice cream and cake celebrations the college hosted. When boxes of food arrived from home, the girls shared in a "feast." Like generations of college girls to come, the slender Alice gained twelve pounds that first year.
In the spring of her freshman year, her father returned from a Florida vacation with a cold that developed into a fatal pneumonia. His death at fifty-two barely caused Alice to break stride. "I was too young for it to be much of a blow to me," she said years afterward. "Life went on just the same." Many teenagers, of course, are devastated by the death of a father. A more likely explanation is that she and her father simply weren't close. He was, she said, "extremely busy, terribly busy." It is easy to conclude that the terribly busy William Paul, both bank president and gentleman farmer, and the head of an orderly and disciplined Quaker household, was not an easy person for his daughter to approach. After William's death, things lightened up a bit around the Home Farm. Tacie Paul even bought a piano and allowed Helen to take lessons.
Well before graduation, Alice lost interest in her major, biology, which she had selected her freshman year only because she knew nothing about it, having studied all the other subjects in high school. Her classmates were mostly young men preparing to be engineers. As graduation loomed, a friendly professor pointed her toward a career in social work.
Until then, the field had largely been the province of volunteers, but in 1898 economist Edward T. Devine and other social work reformers had founded the New York School of Philanthropy to educate a corps of professionals. Armed with a scholarship, Alice moved her belongings into a room in the New York College Settlement on Manhattan's lower east side. A handsome building located at 95 Rivington Street next to a synagogue, it offered a full complement of classes and services for the poor, and also functioned as a place "where educated women might live in order to furnish a common meeting ground for all classes for their mutual benefit and education." By living in such proximity to their underprivileged constituents, the founders reasoned, educated young women would go on to serve them in some capacity.
Stepping out the front door of the settlement house, Alice encountered a foreign city. The surrounding streets were thronged with immigrants, the majority fresh-off-the-boat Jews who had been delivered "from the stench and throb of the steerage to the stench and throb of New York tenements," in the words of novelist Henry Roth. Children spilled from the crowded tenements where large families turned out clothing for the garment trade, living and working in dark three- and four-room apartments with babies underfoot.
On the streets, the noise alone—to Roth "an avalanche of sound"—was a far cry from the cushioned clip-clop of passing horses that had punctuated the quiet of Moorestown. "Countless children ... countless baby carriages ... countless mothers. And to the screams, rebukes and bickerings of these, a seemingly endless file of hucksters joined their bawling cries."
The air percolated with Yiddish voices. Signs were in Yiddish and so were the newspapers. The neighborhood was a tinderbox. "Tonight there was a fire opposite us—in the barber's shop," Alice wrote to her mother. "They have fires all the time around here."
On weekdays, Alice pinned on her big black velvet hat and maneuvered north to the relative calm of the School of Philanthropy on 22nd Street to study such courses as "Racial Traits in the Population," "Constructive Social Work" and "The State in Its Relation to Charity."
On evenings and weekends during the winter of 1905–1906, she visited poor families in buildings filled with the pungent odors of unfamiliar dishes. The most she could do for the needy was to steer them toward medical care or a temporary source of food. She also helped out at 95 Rivington, an oasis of order for staff and constituents alike. People trooped in and out of the settlement house all day long for meetings—there were thirty-seven social clubs alone, plus classes in cooking, manual training, dressmaking, and art. For youngsters there was a kindergarten and a popular playground. Small fees were charged so people wouldn't feel like charity cases.
During the summer of 1906, while those who could afford it fled to Newport, Atlantic City, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks, Alice remained behind with the less fortunate, collecting her first salary. The work offered little satisfaction. In those days, before government health care, if a person became ill, "you would try to call up the hospitals and so on that she might be eligible for and get her in and get it for her. Just all day long." By fall, Alice had concluded she didn't want to be a social worker. They "were not doing much good in the world.... You couldn't change the situation by social work." She spent the next year at the University of Pennsylvania earning her master's degree in what really interested her: sociology, with a minor in political science and economics.
Alice's academic enterprise earned the respect of local Quakers. In early 1907, the community awarded her a scholarship to Woodbrooke, a Friends study center in Birmingham, England, situated on a sculpted eleven-acre estate donated by Quaker candy maker George Cadbury. Before she started classes in the fall, she traveled to Berlin to learn German, a valuable language for the academic she now aspired to become.
Her letters home were filled with keenly observed details about the Germans: the women who smoked, the men, their faces gashed by duel scars, the disgusting table manners. "Most of them shovel their food in with their knives, make a frightful noise while they eat, soak their bread in coffee, etc. till one feels almost sick."
She frequently mentioned Frau Heick, her roommate in her inexpensive Lutheran boardinghouse, who taught her German, but whose life offered lessons as well in the plight of a self-supporting woman. At first, the youthful Alice found the forty-five-year-old frau irritating. She set the alarm for an hour and a half before rising "because she likes to lie in bed and think how nice it is to not have to get up at once. Her neighbors and I object but she snaps our heads off & pays no attention." As a result "she feels worn out all day—whines & complains without ceasing. She is most aggravating."
Heick had only three students, whom she charged just twelve cents for a lesson. Alice decided to pay twice that amount, for "she is exceedingly poverty stricken it seems.... She used to teach school but had to stop when she married & now that she is a widow she can not get back for they take only single women as teachers here.... Most peculiar."
Later in the summer, her "eccentric" roommate got a job teaching for a private family from 11 A.M. to 7 P.M. including Sundays for $16 a month. Alice was appalled. "Isn't that frightful pay?"
The frau also answered an advertisement placed by an American man who wanted a "German woman who would walk, drive, play tennis, ride horseback etc. with him. He would pay $15 a month & her expenses." Meanwhile he would be learning German. Alice couldn't imagine "such a ramrod" as the frau playing tennis. She did not have to. "When she went there the court yard was so jammed with women that she couldn't get anywhere near the steps—the steps all the way up to his floor were likewise crowded. Frau Heick said that there were about 600 women there. The poor American was terrified at the bombardment. He sent a servant out to say that he had decided to not engage anyone as it would be an overwhelming task & so the 600 finalists departed."
In England that fall, Alice's schedule was full. Not only was she taking classes at Woodbrooke, volunteering at a small settlement house, playing tennis, and bicycling country roads with new friends, but three times a week she peddled through the gritty coal fog exhaled by a forest of factory smokestacks to the University of Birmingham. She was the first female to enroll in its commerce department. It was there that she happened upon an announcement for a speech by a prominent suffragist.
As Alice Paul watched, entranced, Christabel Pankhurst stepped to the podium in a university hall one December day in 1907, and uttered the opening words of a speech demanding the ballot. Flanked by two other suffragists, Christabel was an English doll come to life, with round rosy cheeks and porcelain skin, a face framed by dark curls, and widely spaced blue eyes that gave her a dreamy look. She was twenty-eight, and had recently earned her law degree.
Her father, Richard Pankhurst, had written the first female enfranchisement bill, introduced in Parliament in 1870. After his death, her mother Emmeline founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) to carry on the struggle. Unlike other suffrage organizations, the WSPU did not beseech male legislators for the ballot. "Votes for Women" may have been the rallying cry. But the motto was "Deeds, not Words."
Two years before her father's death, Christabel and an accomplice had interrupted a speech at a Liberal Party gathering. When a police officer approached, Christabel deliberately spit in his face, hoping to trigger an arrest that would jolt the suffrage movement into higher gear. Events went as planned. After a week in jail, Christabel emerged a martyr. Suffragists had been going to jail ever since.
Her reputation as a firebrand ensured crowds whenever Christabel appeared, but they were not necessarily friendly. On this December day in 1907, with Alice in the audience, she had barely spoken a word to the predominantly male listeners before a chorus of deep-throated jeers drowned out her words. (Continues...)
Excerpted from A Woman's Crusade by Mary Walton. Copyright © 2010 Mary Walton. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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