Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign

By Straughan, Dulcie | Journalism History, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign


Straughan, Dulcie, Journalism History


Adams, Katherine H., and Michael L. Keene. Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. 274 pp. $25.

Scores of books and journal articles have been written about the woman's suffrage movement in the United States, but far less attention has been paid to Alice Paul, who, according to this book's authors, "created the first successful nonviolent campaign for social change in the United States." She was greatly influenced by her Quaker upbringing and by her time spent in London, England, from 1907 to 1910. During her stay, she participated in the growing suffrage movement there and was able to observe firsthand the tactics women activists used to fight for their rights. She became an active participant in some demonstrations, spending a month in jail for her activities and at one point being force-fed by prison officials.

The authors note that Paul was greatly influenced by Mohandas Gandhi's use of passive resistance as a means of protest. He also had stated publicly that he disagreed with the more violent protest methods used by a segment of the woman's suffrage movement in Great Britain.

When she returned to the United States, Paul began to work with NAWSA (National American Woman Suffrage Association). A few months later, she agreed to travel to Washington, D. C, and work full-time to secure a federal suffrage amendment, while NAWSA leaders focused their efforts on winning suffrage in individual states. This would become her only goal over the next six years.

The book's authors provide a thorough examination of two aspects of Paul's work for suffrage: her reliance on nonviolence as the foundation for her campaign and her use of "visual rhetoric" to advance the cause. She and her co-workers relied heavily on visual images to promote woman's suffrage, including the use of photographs, parades, boycotts, pickets, and hunger strikes. Most of their tactics were aimed at getting the most press coverage possible, thereby spreading their message even further.

Paul also employed visual rhetoric to appeal to people's emotions. She not only wanted to change the way people thought about women but how women thought of themselves. A number of tactics used by her, such as parades, also had been used by NAWSA members and others for years. But, as the authors show, some of her tactics, such as hunger strikes, picketing, and boycotts, were new in the sense that women in the United States had not utilized them before. …

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