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“I Was Arrested, Of Course…”
An interview with the famed suffragette, Alice Paul
February 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 2
I think he was a reporter at that time, but anyway he was a very great supporter of and, I guess, a personal friend of President Wilson’s. I didn’t know then what he was, except that he came in and said he had come to have an interview with me. Of course, a great many people thought that Lawrence, because of his close connection with the White House, had been encouraged to go and look into what the women were doing and why they were making all this trouble and so on.
You and all the other suffragist prisoners were released on November 27 and 28, just a few days after Lawrence’s visit. Could this action have been based on his report to the President?
I wouldn’t know about that. Of course, the only way we could be released would be by act of the President.
And on January 9, 1918, President Wilson formally declared for federal suffrage. The next day the House passed the amendment 274-136, and the really critical phase of the legislative struggle began.
Yes. Well, when we began, Maud Younger, our congressional chairman, got up this card catalogue, which is now on loan to the Library of Congress. We had little leaflets printed, and each person who interviewed a congressman would write a little report on where this or that man stood. We knew we had the task of winning them over, man by man, and it was important to know what our actual strength was in Congress at all times. These records showed how, with each Congress, we were getting stronger and stronger, until we finally thought we were at the point of putting the Anthony amendment to a vote. And of course this information was very helpful to our supporters in Congress.
Yet when the Senate finally voted on October 1, 1918, the amendment failed by two votes of the necessary two thirds. What happened?
We realized that we were going to lose a few days before the vote. We sat there in the Senate gallery, and they talked on and on and on, and finally Maud Younger and I went down to see what was going on, why they wouldn’t vote. People from all over the country had come. The galleries were filled with suffragists. We went to see Senator Curtis, the Republican whip, and the Republican leader, Senator Gallinger. It was then a Republican Senate. And there they stood, each with a tally list in their hands. So we said, why don’t you call the roll. And they said, well, Senator Borah has deserted us, he has decided to oppose the amendment, and there is no way on earth we can change his mind.
You thought Borah was on your side?
Oh, yes. He wanted our support for his re-election campaign that year out in Idaho, and our organizer out there, Margaret Whittemore, had a statement signed by him that he would vote for the suffrage amendment. But then he changed. He never gave any reason for changing.
Did you then oppose him in the November election?
We opposed him, yes. We cut his majority, but he was reelected, and from a suffrage state.
Was it about this time that your members began burning the President’s statements in public?
I’m not sure when it started. We had a sort of perpetual flame going in an urn outside our headquarters in Lafayette Square. I think we used rags soaked in kerosene. It was really very dramatic, because when President Wilson went to Paris for the peace conference, he was always issuing some wonderful, idealistic statement that was impossible to reconcile with what he was doing at home. And we had an enormous bell—I don’t recall how we ever got such an enormous bell—and every time Wilson would make one of these speeches, we would toll this great bell, and then somebody would go outside with the President’s speech and, with great dignity, burn it in our little caldron. I remember that Senator Medill McCormick lived just down the street from us, and we were constantly getting phone calls from him saying they couldn’t sleep or conduct social affairs because our bell was always tolling away.
You had better results from the next Congress, the Sixty-sixth, didn’t you?
Yes. President Wilson made a magnificent speech calling for the amendment as a war measure back in October, 1918, and on May 20, 1919, the House passed the amendment. Then on June 4 the Senate finally passed it.
Did you go to hear the President?
I don’t believe we were there, because when the President spoke, everybody wanted tickets, and the Woman’s Party has never asked for tickets, because we still don’t want to be in any way under any obligation. I know we were in the gallery when the Senate actually voted, because nobody wanted tickets then. Our main concern was that the Senate might try to reinstate the seven-year clause that had been defeated in the House.
The seven-year clause?
This clause required the amendment to be ratified by the states within seven years or else the amendment would be defeated. We got the clause eliminated on the suffrage amendment, but we were unable to stop Congress from attaching it to the present equal-rights amendment.
Were you relieved when the Anthony amendment finally passed?
Yes, for many reasons. But we still had to get it ratified. We went to work on that right away and worked continuously for the fourteen months it took. But that last state … we thought we never would get that last state. And, you know, President Wilson really got it for us. What happened was that Wilson went to the governor of Tennessee, who was a Democrat. The President asked him to call a special session of the state legislature so the amendment could be ratified in time for women to vote in the 1920 Presidential election.