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“I Was Arrested, Of Course…”
An interview with the famed suffragette, Alice Paul
February 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 2
She was entirely in favor of our approach to the problem. She wanted to be immediately put on our national board, so she could have some direction. And then, after suffrage was won, she became the president of the Woman’s Party, and at that time she gave us most of the money to buy the house in Washington that is still the party’s headquarters. Over the years Mrs. Belmont did an enormous amount for the cause of women’s equality. She was just one of those people who were born with the feeling of independence for herself and for women.
Did Mrs. Belmont have something to do with the decision to campaign against the Democrats in the November, 1914, elections?
Yes. You see, here we had an extremely powerful and wonderful man—I thought Woodrow Wilson was a very wonderful man—the leader of his party, in complete control of Congress. But when the Democrats in Congress caucused, they voted against suffrage. You just naturally felt that the Democratic Party was responsible. Of course, in England they were up against the same thing. They couldn’t get this measure through Parliament without getting the support of the party that was in complete control.
Didn’t this new policy of holding the party in power responsible represent a drastic change in the strategy of the suffrage movement?
Up to this point the suffrage movement in the United States had regarded each congressman, each senator, as a friend or a foe. It hadn’t linked them together. And maybe these men were individual friends or foes in the past. But we deliberately asked the Democrats to bring it up in their caucus, and they did caucus against us. So you couldn’t regard them as your allies anymore. I reported all this to the National American convention in 1913, and I said that it seemed to us that we must begin to hold this party responsible. And nobody objected to my report. But when we began to put it into operation, there was tremendous opposition, because people said that this or that man has been our great friend, and here you are campaigning against him.
Would you have taken the same position against the Republicans if that party had been in power in 1914?
Of course. You see, we tried very hard in 1916—wasn’t it [Charles Evans] Hughes running against Wilson that year?—to get the Republicans to put federal suffrage in their platform, and we failed. We also failed with the Democrats. Then we tried to get the support of Mr. Hughes himself. Our New York State committee worked very hard on Mr. Hughes, and they couldn’t budge him. So we went to see former President [Theodore] Roosevelt at his home at Oyster Bay to see if he could influence Mr. Hughes. And I remember so vividly what Mr. Roosevelt said. He said, “You know, in political life you must always remember that you not only must be on the right side of a measure, but you must be on the right side at the right time.” He told us that that was the great trouble with Mr. Hughes, that Mr. Hughes is certainly for suffrage, but he can’t seem to know that he must do it in time. So Mr. Hughes started on his campaign around the country, and when he came to Wyoming, where women were already voting, he wouldn’t say he was for the suffrage amendment. And he went on and on, all around the country. Finally, when he came to make his final speech of the campaign in New York, he had made up his mind, and he came out strongly for the federal suffrage amendment. So it was true what Mr. Roosevelt had said about him.
Do you think Hughes might have beaten Wilson in 1916 if he had come out for suffrage at the beginning of his campaign?
Oh, I don’t know about that. I was just trying to show you that we were always trying to get the support of both parties.
Well, this decision to politically attack the party in power, could this be attributed to the influence of Mrs. Pankhurst and your experience in England?
Maybe, although I didn’t ever really think about it as being that. The key was really the two million women who were already enfranchised voters in the eight western suffrage states. One fifth of the Senate, one seventh of the House, and one sixth of the electoral votes came from the suffrage states, and it was really a question of making the two political parties aware of the political power of women. This was also part of my report to the 1913 National American convention. I said that this was a weapon we could use—taking away votes in the suffrage states from the party in power—to bring both parties around to the federal amendment more quickly.
In the 1914 elections women voted for forty-five members of Congress, and the Democrats won only nineteen of these races, often by drastically reduced pluralities. Weren’t you at all concerned about defeating some of your strongest Democratic supporters in Congress?
Not really. Whoever was elected from a suffrage state was going to be prosuffrage in Congress anyway, whether he was Republican or Democrat. But how else were we going to demonstrate that women could be influential, independent voters? One of the men we campaigned against was Representative—later Senator—Carl Hayden of Arizona, and he finally became a very good friend of the movement, I thought. But it is true that most of them really did resent it very much.
You mean like Representative Taggart of Kansas?
Who? I don’t remember him.