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“I Was Arrested, Of Course…”
An interview with the famed suffragette, Alice Paul
February 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 2
Taggart was the man who attacked you personally at the Judiciary Committee hearings on December 16, 1914. His election majority had been cut from 3,000 in 1912 to 300 in 1914, and when you appeared before the committee to testify on the federal amendment, he said, “Are you here to report the progress of your efforts to defeat Democratic candidates?” He was very upset.
Evidently. But I really don’t remember that, although I know that that feeling was fairly general among the men we had campaigned against. You see, we had so many, many of these hearings. I don’t try to remember them. I sort of wiped them all out of my mind because all of that is past.
I mentioned this particular hearing because the man who came to your defense that day was Representative Volstead, the author of Prohibition, which had a great impact on woman suffrage by removing one of your most vigorous enemies, the liquor lobby.
Oh? I wouldn’t know what you call the liquor lobby, but certainly the liquor interests in the country were represented at the hearings against us. They had some nice dignified name, but they were always there, and I suppose they are still in opposition to our equal-rights amendment. People have the idea that women are the more temperate half of the world, and I hope they are, although I don’t know for sure. The prohibitionists supported our efforts, but I didn’t have any contact with them. And I wasn’t a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union at that time. I’ve since become a member.
By the way, what was the significance of the movement’s official colors?
The purple, white, and gold? I remember the person who chose those colors for us, Mrs. John J. White. She noticed that we didn’t have a banner at the 1913 procession, so she said, “I am going to have a banner made for you, a beautiful banner that will be identified with the women’s movement.” So she had a banner made with these colors, and we agreed to it. There wasn’t any special significance to the choice of colors. They were just beautiful. It may be an instinct, it is with me anyway, when you’re presenting something to the world, to make it as beautiful as you can.
You were once quoted to the effect that in picking volunteers you preferred enthusiasm to experience.
Yes. Well, wouldn’t you? I think everybody would. I think every reform movement needs people who are full of enthusiasm. It’s the first thing you need. I was full of enthusiasm, and I didn’t want any lukewarm person around. I still am, of course.
One of your most enthusiastic volunteers was Inez Milholland Boissevain, wasn’t she?
Inez Milholland actually gave her life for the women’s movement. I think Inez was our most beautiful member. We always had her on horseback at the head of our processions. You’ve probably read about this, but when Inez was a student at Vassar, she tried to get up a suffrage meeting, and the college president refused to let her hold the meeting. So she organized a little group, and they jumped over a wall at the edge of the college and held the first suffrage meeting at Vassar in a cemetery. Imagine such a thing happening at a women’s college so short a time ago. You can hardly believe such things occurred. But they did.
How did Miss Milholland give her life for the movement?
After college Inez wanted to study law, but every prominent law school refused to admit a girl. She finally went to New York University, which wasn’t considered much of a university then, and got her law degree. Then she threw her whole soul into the suffrage movement and really did nothing else but that. Well, in 1916, when we were trying to prevent the re-election of Woodrow Wilson, we sent speakers to all the suffrage states, asking people not to vote for Wilson, because he was opposing the suffrage which they already had. Inez and her sister, Vita, who was a beautiful singer, toured the suffrage states as a team. Vita would sing songs about the women’s movement, and then Inez would speak. Their father, John Milholland, paid all the expenses for their tour, which began in Wyoming. Well, when they got to Los Angeles, Inez had just started to make her speech when she suddenly collapsed and fell to the floor, just from complete exhaustion. Her last words were “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” We used her words on picket banners outside the White House. I think she was about twenty-eight or twenty-nine.
What happened then?
She was brought back and buried near her family home in New York State. We decided to have a memorial service for her in Statuary Hall in the Capitol on Christmas Day. So I asked Maud Younger, who was our congressional chairman and a great speaker, if she would make the principal speech at the ceremony. Maud said she had never made this kind of speech before and asked me how to do it. I remember telling her, “You just go and read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and then you will know just how.” Maud made a wonderful speech, as she always did.
Did you have any difficulties getting permission to hold the Milholland service in Statuary Hall?
When you have a small movement without much support, you sometimes run into difficulties. I don’t remember any particular difficulty, but we always had them. You just take things in your stride, don’t you think? If you come up against all these obstacles, well, you’ve got to do something about them if you want to get through to the end you have in view. In this case we wanted to show our gratitude to Inez Milholland, and we wanted the world to realize—and I think they did—the importance of her contribution by holding it in the Capitol and having so many people of national importance attend.