- Historic Sites
“I Was Arrested, Of Course…”
An interview with the famed suffragette, Alice Paul
February 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 2
No. The national board members were at the head of it. I walked in the college section. We all felt very proud of ourselves, walking along in our caps and gowns. One of the largest and loveliest sections was made up of uniformed nurses. It was very impressive. Then we had a foreign section, and a men’s section, and a Negro women’s section from the National Association of Colored Women, led by Mary Church Terrell. She was the first colored woman to graduate from Oberlin, and her husband was a judge in Washington. Well, Mrs. Terrell got together a wonderful group to march, and then, suddenly, our members from the South said they wouldn’t march. Oh, the newspapers just thought this was a wonderful story and developed it to the utmost. I remember that that was when the men’s section came to the rescue. The leader, a Quaker I knew, suggested that the men march between the southern delegations and the colored women’s section, and that finally satisfied the southern women. That was the greatest hurdle we had..
If the parade didn’t cause any real trouble, why was there a subsequent congressional investigation that resulted in the ouster of the district police chief?
The principal investigation was launched at the request of our women delegates from Washington, which was a suffrage state. These women were so indignant about the remarks from the crowd. And I remember that Congressman Kent was very aroused at the things that were shouted at his daughter, Elizabeth, who was riding on the California float, and he was among the first in Congress to demand an investigation into why the police hadn’t been better prepared. As I said, the police just didn’t take our little procession seriously. I don’t think it was anything intentional. We didn’t testify against the police, because we felt it was just a miscalculation on their part.
What was your next move after the parade?
A few weeks after Mr. Wilson became President, four of us went to see him. And the President, of course, was polite and as much of a gentleman as he always was. He told of his own support, when he had been governor of New Jersey, of a state referendum on suffrage, which had failed. He said that he thought this was the way suffrage should come, through state referendums, not through Congress. That’s all we accomplished. We said we were going to try and get it through Congress, that we would like to have his help and needed his support very much. And then we sent him another delegation and another and another and another and another and another and another—every type of women’s group we could get. We did this until 1917, when the war started and the President said he couldn’t see any more delegations.
So you began picketing the White House?
We said we would have a perpetual delegation right in front of the White House, so he wouldn’t forget. Then they called it picketing. We didn’t know enough to know what picketing was, I guess.
How did you finance all this work?
Well, as I mentioned, we were instructed not to submit any bills to the National American. Anything we did, we had to raise the money for it ourselves. So to avoid any conflict with them we decided to form a group that would work exclusively on the Susan B. Anthony amendment. We called it the Congressional Union for Woman’s Suffrage. You see, the Congressional Committee was a tiny group, so the Congressional Union was set up to help with the lobbying, to help with the speechmaking, and especially to help in raising money. The first year we raised $27,000. It just came from anybody who wanted to help. Mostly small contributions. John McLean, the owner of the Washington Post, I think, gave us a thousand dollars. That was the first big gift we ever got.
The records indicate that you raised more than $750,000 over the first eight years. Did your amazing fund-raising efforts cause you any difficulties with the National American?
I know that at the end of our first year, at the annual convention of the National American, the treasurer got up—and I suppose this would be the same with any society in the world—she got up and made a speech, saying, “Well, this group of women has raised a tremendous sum of money, and none of it has come to my treasury,” and she was very displeased with this. Then I remember that Jane Addams stood up and reminded the convention that we had been instructed to pay our own debts, and so that was all there was to it. Incidentally, the Congressional Union paid all the bills of that national convention, which was held in Washington that year. I remember we paid a thousand dollars for the rent of the hall. If you spend a hard time raising the money, you remember about it.
Were you upset about not being reappointed chairman of the Congressional Committee?
No, because they asked me to continue. But they said if I were the committee chairman, I would have to drop the Congressional Union. I couldn’t be chairman of both. Some of the members on the National American board felt that all the work being put into the federal amendment wasn’t a good thing for the entire suffrage campaign. I told them I had formed this Congressional Union and that I wanted to keep on with it.
Was it true, as some historians of the movement maintain, that the National American’s president, Dr. Anna Shaw, was “suspicious” of unusual activity in the ranks?