Ever since it was announced that the New Dorm would be renamed after Alice Paul, Swarthmore Class of 1905, students have wondered exactly who this mysterious alumna was. Why did it take so long for a buliding to be named after her? In fact, why has it taken so long for any Swarthmore building to be named after a woman?
Actually, this is not the first time a builidng on campus has been named after Paul. The Women’s Resource Center (WRC) was first named after her in 1975, but the name was dropped in the early 1990s amid accusations that Paul had made anti-semitic and racist remarks. It is hard to know whether these accusations are correct or not. But what is known is that Paul made a good many contributions to the feminist movement.
Raised a Hicskite Quaker in New Jersey, Alice grew up with a strong belief in gender equality. She attended Swarthmore (which her grandfather helped found) and then went on to attend graduate school in New York, England, and the University of Pennsyvlania. While in England she was introduced to the more militant aspects of the feminist movement, advocated by the Pankhurst family, including hunger strikes and jail time. She brought these tactics back to the states with her, where she became a major figure of the National Women’s Party. Though the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) preferred to work state by state to try and gain the vote for women, Paul and the rest of the National Women’s Party wanted to gain a federal amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. To that end, the Party picketed the White House, campaigned against Democrats who didn’t support women’s suffrage, and led a huge suffrage parade during Wilson’s presidential inauguration. Women were finally guaranteed the right to vote in 1920, thanks to the 19th Amendment. Without Paul, it might not have happened.
After the 19th Amendment passed, Paul continued her efforts in trying to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This amendment has still not passed, despite lobbying efforts in both the 1920s and the 1970s (which Paul led, even though she was in her 90s). The attempts in the ’70s of course coincinded with WRC being named after the alum. Now that Alice Paul is finally being recognized in a Swarthmore builiding, perhaps the Equal Rights Amendment will once again become a political force.