"A Woman's Crusade" is a recently published book by Mary Walton. It tells the story of Alice Paul and her leadership of the National Woman's Pary in the fight for women's voting rights in the United States.
This is a well-written, readable book, accessible to the general reader. There has never before been such a book about Alice Paul, and Mary Walton deserves praise for according Paul the recognition in book form that was missing for such a long time.
Most of the book is taken up with details of the work of Paul and her allies in the period of 1913 to 1920, when the struggle for a federal suffrage amendment was at its height. For a suffrage buff like me, it was fascinating to learn about specific problems that Paul faced in organizing the great suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. in March 1913. The parade itself and the near-riot that ensued brought immense publicity to the suffrage cause.
Paul was remarkably adept at generating constant newspaper coverage and public attention for the campaign to adopt what became the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Paul understood that ever-greater spectacle and sensation were needed to keep the suffrage issue in the forefront of the public's mind. Her tactics escalated to fierce criticism of President Woodrow Wilson, picketing of the White House, unjust arrest and imprisonment of Paul and her allies, hunger strikes, forced feedings and harsh mistreatment in prison of the militant suffragists.
Walton's account can be read as implying that Paul's militant tactics, single-minded leadership, the personal martyrdom through mistreatment of Paul and the other militants, and the resulting crescendo of publicity, were the key factors in bringing about the ultimate victory of the suffrage forces.
There is, however, a competing and more complicated narrative.
Both Alice Paul's supporters in the National Woman's Party and the adherents of Carrie Chapman Catt's NAWSA (National American Woman Suffrage Association) wrote histories of the suffrage victory. In these histories, each camp slighted and minimized the contributions made by the other group. Many more recent accounts of the suffrage movement tend to adopt the preferred narrative of one camp or the other and thus fail to present a complete picture. This is not the case, however, in the classic "Century of Struggle" by Eleanor Flexner, which is still--more than 50 years after its original publication--the one essential book about the suffrage movement in the U.S.
Flexner's account gives high marks to Alice Paul for breathing life into the federal amendment campaign and for the personal sacrifices and the persecution that Paul and her followers suffered for what now are recognized as lawful protest tactics. But Flexner also accords great praise to the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, and suggests that she and her organization, with its hundreds of thousands of "feet on the street", were even more vital in harvesting the pro-suffrage sentiment that the militants did so much to generate.
I could write at length about particular topics in the suffrage fight that are told quite differently in Flexner's account than in Walton's. But in any case, Walton's book deserves a wide readership and tells a stirring version of the suffrage battle, as seen from the militants' point of view. At long last there is now a good biography of Alice Paul, and that is something to be glad about, for all lovers of women's history.