Alice Paul was born in 1885 to a prominent Quaker family in New Jersey. Well-educated, Paul spent 1907-1910 studying abroad in England where she was enlisted by England’s militant suffragists Emmeline and Christobel Pankhurst.
Her education as an activist was acquired through a series of arrests, imprisonments, hunger strikes, and forced feedings. She learned how to generate publicity for the suffragists’ cause and how to capitalize on that publicity.
Upon her return to the United States, Paul earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and began to situate herself in the American suffrage movement. Frustrated with the conservative tactics of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, in 1914 she and her friend Lucy Burns cofounded the Congressional Union, dedicated to seeking a federal constitutional amendment for woman suffrage. In 1916, they founded the National Woman’s party.
Paul and her colleagues were arrested and imprisoned; they engaged in hunger strikes and endured forced feedings at the hands of authorities. Ultimately her tactics, as well as persuasion from Carrie Chapman Catt, induced President Woodrow Wilson to make a federal suffrage amendment a war measures priority, a stand he had previously refused to take. Paul was a pivotal force in the passage and ratification in 1920 of the Nineteenth Amendment.