Insights and Impact

Alice Paul and the Petticoat Army


Illustra­tion by
Emily Lui

Alice Paul and the Petticoat Army: the suffragettes' march to victory

Written by Adrienne Frank

Illustrated by Emily Lui

Born in New Jersey in 1885 to a Quaker family, Alice attended women's suffrage meetings with her mother, Tacie.

Taice Paul: “We believe that all people are equal in God's eyes.�

The oldest of four children, Alice played basketball and hockey and was elected to student government at Swarthmore College, stoking her activist spirit.

Young Alice runs with a hockey stick in her hand.
Alice shakes Woodrow Wilson's hand during college graduation.

A ravenous scholar, she earned four degrees from 1905 to 1907-including a master's from Penn, where she shook university president Woodrow Wilson's hand. Their paths would soon cross again.

In 1907, Alice met British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, who were famous for their unladylike tactics: spitting at police and breaking windows.

Suffragettes mill about the streets of London.

She became more involved with the Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union, selling the group's newspaper, Votes for Women, in London.

Alice: “There will never be a new world order until women are part of it.�

Alice was promoted to speaking-atop a soapbox-on the streets and at Underground stations. She wrote to Tacie: "I've joined the suffragettes, the militant party."

Alice served three jail terms in London. She refused to eat and endured brutal, twice-daily force-feedings.

Alice looks defiant in her jail cell.

In 1910, Alice returned to the US, where the women's movement, led by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), was languishing.

An ocean liner steams across the Atlantic to the US.

In the wake of the deaths of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, activists were only focused on state suffrage.

After a rally, Alice proposed campaigning for a federal amendment that would guarantee women the right to vote.

Alice gives a fiery speech at a suffrage rally.

NAWSA leadership laughed at the "absurd" suggestion.

Alice: “I always feel the movement is sort of a mosaic.�

On the eve of President Wilson's inauguration in 1913, Alice and Lucy Burns organized the Woman Suffrage Procession in DC. About 8,000 women from across the US marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, past half a million agitated spectators. Police did nothing to protect the women from rioters.

Alice's militant tactics were creating friction with NAWSA. They parted ways in 1916 and she and Lucy formed a new organization: the National Woman's Party (NWP).

Alice: “The Woman's Party is made up of women of all races, creeds, and nationalities who are united on ... working to raise the status of women.�

In January 1917, the NWP began picketing in front of the white House.

Protest signs in front of the White House.

For six days a week over the next two years, 2,000 women-the Silent Sentinels-paced the sidewalk, letting their handsewn banners do the talking.

When the US entered World War I four months later, public opinion turned against the women, who often used Wilson's words against him.

Silent Sentinels paces on the sidewalk in front of the White House.

The protestors were taunted and beaten by men.

Men tussle with the female protestors.

And yet, it was the women who were arrested, charged with obstructing traffic, and incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia and the DC Jail.

Alice: “We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote.

In October 1917, Alice began a seven-month sentence at the District Jail, where she was subjected to poor sanitation, infested food, and deplorable conditions.

Alice is force-fed in jail.

To protest the inhumane conditions, she went on another hunger strike. Alice was moved to the psychiatric ward and force-fed raw eggs through a feeding tube.

On November 14, 1917-what history has dubbed the Night of Terror-40 guards were ordered by the prison superintendent to brutalize the suffragettes. They beat, dragged, choked, and kicked the women, one of whom suffered a heart attack.

Prison guards line up on the Night of Terror.

The NWP went to court to protest the treatment of the suffragettes, all of whom were released later that month.

Wilson finally announced his support for women's voting rights in January 1918, tying the amendment to the role women had played in the war efforts. While it narrowly passed in the House, it fell two votes short in the Senate.

Suffragettes burn President Woodrow Wilson in effigy.

Alice and the NWP kept the pressure on, burning Wilson in effigy in front of the White House. It worked: a wave of pro-suffrage candidates was elected to Congress that year.

More than a year after it was passed in the House and Senate, the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was officially ratified on August 26, 1920.

Alice unfurls the NWP banner at the Sewall-Belmont House in DC.

After raising a glass of grape juice to victory, Alice got back to work, reorganizing the NWP. Her goal: eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

Women and girls celebrate after the 19th Amendment is ratified.

She also returned to school, earning a law degree in 1922 from the Washington College of Law-the first institution of its kind founded by women. Over the next six years, she graduated from AU with a master of laws and a doctorate in civil law.

Alice: “I read just endlessly, ceaselessly, almost every book, it seems.� Alice: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex.�

In 1923, Alice authored the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), launching a lifelong campaign to win full equality for women.

A young Alice poses before a floral background.

Five years after Congress finally passed the ERA in 1972, Alice died at age 92, just a mile from her childhood home. In January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, setting the stage for a legal battle over whether too much time has passed to add what some have dubbed the Alice Paul Amendment to the US Constitution.