Marlene Wagman-Geller

"As far back as I can remember, it was always on my bucket list, even before the term bucket list was coined,
to be a writer. It was a natural progression to want to go from reading books to writing one."

Deeds Not Words

Jul 09, 2024 by Marlene Wagman-Geller


Alice Paul


“The thing I think that was the most useful thing I ever did, was having

a part in getting the vote for all the women.”–Alice Paul


Alice Paul Institute (Paulsdale) (opened 2002)


Which historic figure ended up behind bars several times for acts of civil disobedience and protested through fasting? The answer is not only the dhoti-clad Hindu Mohandas Gandhi; it is also the Victorian-garbed Quaker Alice Paul. To experience the home of the firebrand, make your way to her former farm, Paulsdale. 

Alice Stokes Paul consecrated her life to the suffrage movement. While one can assume the derivative of suffrage is “suffering,” the word originated from the Latin suffregium, which translates to the right to vote, as well as a prayer of intercession. A pillar of the movement was born in 1885 to a well-to-do family in Moorestown, New Jersey, in the residence Alice always referred to as the home farm.  Her parents, Tacie and William, were Hicksite Quakers who taught their four children the principle of gender equality. Alice later remarked, “There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” Tacie took Alice along to suffrage meetings, surely never imaging the role her daughter would one day play in the movement. Their church, however, still labored under the precepts of the era: married women could not attend university, the reason why Tacie had quit Swarthmore College.

Alice attended the Moorestown Friends School; after graduating at the top of her class, she studied biology at Swarthmore, founded in 1864, by her grandfather, Judge William Parry. The college years were golden: Alice participated in sports, was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa, and received the title Ivy Poetess. Her college yearbook, Halcyon, described her as “an open-hearted maiden, true and pure.” A dedicated student, Alice spoke at her commencement ceremony. She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. In the 1920s, Alice obtained three law degrees; she preferred the title Miss rather than doctor.

In 1907 Alice left for the Lower East Side of New York to apprentice in the fledgling field of social work. The city’s slums opened her eyes to economic disparity, something she had been immune to in Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey. After receiving a scholarship from a Quaker group, Alice left for England with the aspiration of becoming a college professor.

Many Disney fans were introduced to the women’s movement through Winifred Banks who sang the lyrics of “Sister Suffragette”: “Political equality and equal rights with men! / Take heart! / For Missus Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!” The Missus Pankhurst referred to was Emmeline Pankhurst, regarded by her countrymen as a homegrown terrorist. In protest of Emmeline’s arrest-and disgusted by men ogling the nude goddess- Mary Richardson used a meat cleaver to slash Diego Velázquez’s “Rokeby Venus.” As she slashed the seventeenth century portrait, she stated, “I am a suffragette.  I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as protest against the government for destroying Miss Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history.”  Her action left a half-dozen cuts in the canvass and earned her the epithet “Slasher Mary.”

Alice transformed from unassuming Quaker to radical activist after meeting Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. The British mother and daughter subscribed to the ancient Greek oath of Hippocrates, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” While most women tried to effect change through letter-writing campaigns and speeches, the Pankhursts employed tactics that involved chaining themselves to lampposts and hurtling rocks through windows.  

In 1909 Alice crashed the Lord Mayor’s Banquet (Winston Churchill was in attendance), crying out, “How about votes for women?” Civil disobedience resulted in seven arrests and three incarcerations. In Holloway Prison, Alice embarked on a hunger strike that led to force-feeding through a nasal tube which she endured twice daily for four weeks. She recalled, “The largest wardress in Holloway sat astride my knees.” What made horror endurable was “the militant policy is bringing success. The agitation has brought England out of her lethargy.”

Physically weakened, but emotionally invigorated, Alice returned to the United States with the goal of advancing the clock for women’s rights. The Paul platform was to “terrify the men in Congress” to allow female access to the ballot box. President Woodrow Wilson did not share her perspective, saying, “The principal objection to giving women the ballot is that they are too logical.”

Alice founded and served as the head of the fifty-thousand-member National Woman’s Party. To force the president’s hand, Harriot Stanton Blatch (Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter), suggested picketing the White House as “silent sentinels,” by which she advocated for nonviolent protest. Dressed in white, they carried purple, white, and gold banners that bore slogans such as, “How Much Longer Must Women Wait?” Another referenced America’s involvement in World War I and attacked “Kaiser Wilson”; “An Autocrat at Home Is a Poor Champion of Democracy Abroad.” Alice scaled a White House fence and set a fire on its lawn.

During President Wilson’s 1923 inauguration, Alice, Helen Keller, along with thousands of suffragists, held their own Pennsylvania Avenue parade led by Inez Mulholland who rode in front mounted on a white horse. Infuriated men pushed into their ranks, and approximately one hundred female protestors needed hospitalization. The press covered the brutality, and the women’s march overshadowed the inauguration. Police arrested NWP members who languished in brutal conditions in Occoquan workhouse in Virginia where guards subjected them to force-feedings. The suffragists received the name “the iron-jawed angels” from their refusal to eat. Dr. William A. White of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital threatened that if Alice continued her shenanigans, he would have her committed. Amidst the inhumanity of Occoquan, from her cell, Alice heard the shouts of her fellow freedom fighters: “West Virginia greets you!” “Oklahoma is with you!” “New York salutes you!” In 1917 the Women’s Party held an event to honor the eighty-nine women who had spent time behind bars. Each received a silver pin, designed by Alice, in the shape of a cell door with a chain and a heart-shaped lock. The pin now resides on the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.

Realizing the thorn in his side would not go away, President Wilson ordered Congress to pass the 19th amendment. He encountered fierce opposition from the Southern states; Mississippi did not agree to its passing until 1984. The final vote for the amendment’s passage arrived when Tennessee legislator Harry T. Burn changed his mind after receiving a telegram from his mother to “be a good boy.” The winner of the election was Warren G. Harding—and the millions of women who voted. In her eighth decade, Alice reminisced that the adoption of the 19th amendment was the high point of her life.

With the actualization of her mission, Dr. Paul could have become a college professor, and accrued financial stability, thereby having avoided the destitution that dogged her twilight years. However, she still had hydra heads to slay. Indefatigable, she drafted the forerunner to the Equal Rights Amendment. If asked about her own “halcyon period,” she likely would have recalled the struggle for suffrage: “I never saw a day when I stopped working for women’s rights.” Alice Paul passed away at the Quaker Greenleaf Extension Home in Moorestown at age ninety-two. Her bank account was empty; her idealism overflowing.


Alice Paul Institute

A quaint 224-year-old brick farmhouse is set so far back from Hooton Road that a passerby may not know of its existence. That is unfortunate as a giant in the fight for equality started her life in its upstairs room in a home that was her North Star of constancy.

Of the original 173 acres, only six and a half remain. The property has an expansive view, one the family would have enjoyed from their broad, wrap-around porch. The interior still has its random-width floorboards, some twenty inches wide. The large parlor, the hand-carved banister of the entrance hall staircase, and the ornate front door are original. The Alice Paul Centennial Foundation purchased the twelve-room structure as a memorial to Alice. Some of the people responsible for fundraising were Gloria Steinem and Marlo Thomas. The foundation, formed in 1984 to celebrate the centennial of the activist’s birth, and to raise funds to buy Alice’s personal effects. They donated her letters and records to the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College; other memorabilia went to the Smithsonian. However, some artifacts remain. From her youth is a wooden pencil box with her initials and a pennant from Swarthmore College. Although the foundation used period colored paint and wallcoverings on the interior, they did not want the home to be a shrine to Alice—something of which she would have approved. Barbara Irvine, the president of the foundation stated, “It’s got to be a living, breathing place, perpetuating the things she stood for.” Paulsdale serves as a leadership training center for young people from across the country. The Alice Paul Institute website states, “The organization is a model of adaptive reuse of a historic site.” One wonders how Alice, who always deflected praise, would have felt if she had been present at the 1995 ceremony, conducted at Paulsdale, when the postal service honored her with a seventy-eight-cent stamp.

Alice Paul’s grave in the Westfield Friends Burial Ground in Burlington County, New Jersey, bears her name, date of birth, and death date. But her epitaph could have been that of the British suffragettes, “Deeds not Words.”


A View from Her Window

From her window Alice would have looked upon her vast lawns at a copper beech and a white polar, a placid scene that would have provided a sense of calm in her storm-tossed life.


Nearby Attractions: Jacob’s Chapel and the Colemantown Meeting House