Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, encouraging participation, and networking.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Alice Paul: Claiming Power, by J. D. Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry

Unless you have done a little study in the area of Women's Right to Vote, or Quaker Activists, or historic houses in South Jersey, you may be unaware of Alice Paul and her legacy.

For a year or two, I did a little volunteer work for the Alice Paul Foundation, located in the old Paul farmstead in Mount Laurel.  I became acquainted with this Institute through my dearest friend from high school and our old neighborhood, Roland Avenue, Maple Shade, NJ, Christine Borget.

After Alice Paul's death in July 1977, her nephew, apparently a disrespectful man, was disinclined to allow researchers access to her papers, and in addition, was prepared to sell the historic family homestead and beautiful property to developers to become condominiums.  A group of far-seeing activists who had met through their affiliation in NOW, pooled their resources and saved the farmstead for all of us.  The governing board decided that Alice Paul's commitment to activism and her humility would be better served by creating an active Institute rather than a museum.

Eventually, her personal papers were also bought from the nephew, and work began on a good biography.  Several books have been written on Alice Paul, but I believe the one I am reading right now is the BEST, the most well researched and most definitive.  Moreover, it is one of those rare works of history that manages to be both scholarly, personal and interesting at the same time.  Last night, I kept putting a marker at the end of a chapter and then finding myself going on to another chapter and another.  How many history books can you say that about?

Alice Paul grew up a Quaker girl in the Mount Laurel, Morristown area and after college and graduate work in the emerging social work arena, she traveled to Great Britain where she met and was inspired by the fiery group of devoted Suffragettes struggling for the right to vote for women.  She came home with their zeal and stout-hearted courage and worked for the rest of her life to achieve the right to vote for American women, and later, the Equal Rights Amendment.

It is astonishing to think that when my grandmother's were 21, they were American citizens, one of them a working widow supporting her own three sons and a niece, and paying taxes, and yet neither of them could vote.  They were expected to give their sons to the nation in war, and to pay taxes and abide by the laws yet they were denied any voice in making the laws and any representation in the governing of the people.  My grandmothers were not suffragettes, to my knowledge.  One, Lavinia Lyons, was far too busy raising her own three children and the orphaned daughters of her sister who died young.  My other grandmother, Mabel Wright, was working alongside her own widowed mother, sewing uniforms for the Schuylkill arsenal to cloth our soldiers, and raising her own four dependents.  Mabel, did, however, take an active part in the political world as a member of the Democratic Party and the Democratic Women's Club of Ocean City.  As soon as the law allowed, they did both vote and they did both have party affiliations and political opinions.

Alice Paul was one of the many women protestors and activists who were thrown into prison, and when they went on hunger strikes over being treated as criminal rather than political prisoners, they were thrown down, had metal funnels and rubber hoses forced down their throats and scalding liquid poured into the funnels.  It was certainly torture and punishment meted out to American citizens fighting for a just cause, the right to vote.  

Alice Paul was brave, unceasing in her efforts on behalf of half of the nation, and well worth remembering as an American hero.  I am glad her book is so good.

It was given to me by that dear childhood friend who was instrumental in the group that saved Alice Paul's family farmstead, which is now on the American Historical Register and the Women's History Trail.  They have a collection of posters, and a good film, and you can take a tour and learn more by calling for an appointment.  They also have programs during the year.  I gave a presentation once on Women's Diaries and their Help with History, in a summer program of Lectures on the Porch.

The book also offers a fascinating look at Quaker life at the turn of the century and reminds us of the vast Quaker influence on our state and our nation.  We need a book on that subject!

Address 128 Hooten Road, Mt. Laurel, NJ 856-231-1885.

Happy Trails!  Jo Ann

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