I was planning to wait to mention Alice Paul until later in this project, even though a desire to learn more about her was part of my impetus in starting the project, but I’m so in love with this video that I can’t wait.

I’ve mentioned a few of the early suffragists already, but two of them have something rather sad in common beyond being suffragists: Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton died before universal women’s suffrage was achieved in the United States. Susan B. Anthony, who I haven’t mentioned yet, also died before suffrage was achieved. Alice Paul led the next generation of women’s suffrage activists and, while she stood on the shoulders of those who came before, she was the one who saw the job done. Stanton and Anthony had written the text of what would become the Nineteenth Amendment and it was introduced in Congress in 1878. It languished in committee until it was voted on and rejected in 1887. It was not considered again until 1914, when it was rejected again.

After it was rejected again in 1915, Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party got serious. It had been hoped that Woodrow Wilson would support the amendment, but he had not been the strong advocate many had expected. Paul led a picket in front of the White House, calling out Wilson for his failure to provide strong public support for the amendment. The picketers were arrested for “blocking traffic” and sentenced to seven months in prison. In the prison these women, arrested merely for marching with signs, were treated worse than violent criminals. Prevented from having visitors and exercise and given substandard food, Paul began a hunger strike until all the women received adequate food. Paul was taken to the prison hospital where she was offered milk and eggs by officials concerned that she would die on their watch. Paul refused until her fellow prisoners were offered similar quality food for the duration of their imprisonment. She was removed from the prison and placed in an asylum, where she was eventually force fed. As disturbing as the scene in the video above illustrating this is,  it is tame compared to the reality, in which a tube was forced into her throat and raw eggs poured down it.

The protest, arrests, and hunger strike finally had the desired effect, and Wilson appealed to the House to pass the amendment. It failed again, by one vote, but Wilson called a special session to reconsider and in 1919 the Nineteenth Amendment finally passed. It was ratified in 1920 when Tennessee became the needed 36th state in approval.

Alice Paul is still an inspiration to many protest movements. She also drafted the original Equal Rights Amendment that was introduced in congress in 1923. It would not be passed until 1972, and was never ratified. Sadly, 36 state legislatures could not be found willing to agree that: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” And we wonder why we’re still debating birth control now. Alice Paul died at the age of 93 in 1977.

A brief note about the video: It was produced by an education publisher, and I’m not really sure if they had political intent, or were just covering an important historical topic, but it is incredibly timely. The short version of my review is that I am amazed by how well they have taken the original song and video by Lady Gaga and maintained its unusual look and feel while at the same time using every element of the production, from costumes to sets, as well as the lyrics, to tell this story in a powerful way. You should really watch it, and also check out the educational resources on the company’s website.

Advertisements