In November of 1912, twenty-seven year old Alice Paul accepted what the NAWSA Board (National American Women Suffrage Association) viewed as an inconsequential position -- chairmanship of their Congressional Committee. The only thing required of Alice would be to move to Washington and get the Susan B. Anthony Suffrage Amendment introduced in Congress each year. The Board members did not know that Alice Paul wanted this chairmanship and had, in fact, enlisted Jane Addams’ help to get it. She would use this position to launch a political campaign to get the Susan B. Anthony Amendment passed.
Her campaign tactics would revolve around visual images that would promote logical arguments relating to the rights of citizens. These images, referred to as visual rhetoric by the authors, were intended to convince the public of the need for equality for women. Women would be portrayed as independent, intelligent, responsible, and entitled to full citizenship. Paul’s campaign would be inspired by the tactics of England’s militant suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, tempered by Thoreau’s and Tolstoy’s justifications for civil disobedience, and guided by Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance.
Within three months of her arrival in Washington, Alice Paul staged her first spectacular display of visual rhetoric – a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Expecting to be greeted by thousands when he arrived in Washington, Wilson’s supporters were, instead, at the Women’s Suffrage parade. Between December, 1912 and May, 1919, Alice Paul ran an essentially flawless political campaign, and by mid May, 1919, both Houses of Congress passed the suffrage amendment.
Katherine Adams and Michael Keene’s Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign is a fascinating analysis of this pivotal political period in American history. Organized topically, the authors first discuss the significance of Paul’s Quaker Hicksite background, her impressive education (B.A. in Biology from Swarthmore in 1905, M.A. in Sociology in 1907, Ph.D. in Economics in 1912 from the University of Pennsylvania), and her anti government actions with the Pankhursts in England.
The longest chapter discusses The Suffragist, Paul’s weekly political journal that indicated its limited focus in the first issue: passage of a federal women’s suffrage amendment. The Suffragist’s visual rhetoric was evident throughout. It started with an editorial cartoon on the cover. The well spaced articles within projected forward progress, and the accompanying photos showed smiling dynamic women engaged in planning or protest. The Suffragist reported and explained the political actions to the journal’s subscribers, and its articles were then usually picked up by the media.
The authors go on to analyze the dramatic parades, demonstrations, deputations to the White House, and daring transcontinental car and train trips. Five years into her campaign, Paul turns to more aggressive tactics and the authors give riveting details of picketing the president in front of the White House, jail sentences, demands for political prisoner status, hunger strikes, forced feeding, and finally the burning of Wilson’s cardboard effigy as well as his written expressions of liberty in urns in Lafayette Park.
Post event spin was an essential component of the suffrage campaign, and Alice Paul demonstrated her mastery at the very beginning. In a series of interviews discussing the chaos during the March 3rd parade, Paul told reporters that the crowd was pro suffrage, but rioters dominated because the police encouraged disorder. She then followed up with press releases providing harrowing details experienced by the marchers and added that the events of the parade were symbolic of ongoing government mistreatment. Alice Paul followed this pattern of framing the events for the visual rhetoric that was employed at a protest action. The press would always have her take on what had transpired and it always was expressed in a way to promote women’s suffrage.
This is an exceptionally well written book revealing Alice Paul’s critical contribution to passage of the 19th Amendment. Her tactics place her a century ahead of her time, but the crusader in her evokes daring and fearless women from a distant past. Perhaps that’s the reason why three very different individuals would take turns popping into my head as I read this very excellent book: Joan of Arc, Karl Rove, and David Plouffe!