Alice Paul finally gets her due

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Jean Perry (from left), founding board member of the Alice Paul Institute; Margaux Vellucci, a member of the institute's Girls Advisory Council; Barbara Irvine, another institute founder, and Lucienne Beard, executive director, at Westfield Friends Cemetery in Cinnaminson, where the women's suffrage champion was laid to rest.

She was left in a Washington waiting room while others were invited to watch the secretary of state sign the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote.

History books also excluded Alice Paul.

Then, for more than a decade, her body lay in an unmarked grave behind a Friends meetinghouse after she died in Moorestown in 1977.

Alice who, you ask?

Soon, you will only need to consult your wallet to see her face and an image of the 1913 suffrage parade she organized in Washington to win equality. It drew 5,000 marchers.

Paul's fame was fleeting. But her anonymity is ending, especially after U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced in April that she and four others will represent the women's suffrage movement on a new $10 bill.

"A few short years ago it would have been unfathomable that she would be anywhere near being placed on a bill," said Lucienne Beard, executive director of the Alice Paul Institute, a nonprofit that preserved Paulsdale, the suffragist's Mount Laurel birthplace. Paul helped "make access to democracy possible for half our population."

The institute and a grassroots group that campaigned to get women on currency worked together behind the scenes last year to keep Paul from being forgotten during the selection process.

The $10 bill, with a circulation of 1.9 billion, will be redesigned in 2020 along with other bills to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment.

Barbara Ortiz Howard, founder of the grassroots group Women on 20s, said she was so shaken by Iron Jawed Angels, an HBO movie released in 2004 about Paul, starring Hilary Swank, that it reinvigorated her interest in working for women's equality.

"I was absolutely shocked that I didn't know who this person was and what she went through to get the right to vote," she said.

Paul is "easily the most overlooked civil rights leader of the 20th century," said Mary Walton, who wrote A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot, in 2010. "Alice was to women's rights what Gandhi was to Indian independence and Martin Luther King was to civil rights."

Paul was often arrested during protests and organized hunger strikes in prison. Doctors had shoved feeding tubes into her nostrils when she refused to open her mouth and news of her torture helped win public empathy, Walton said.

Susan Ades Stone, the strategist for Women on 20s, said Paul was the inspiration behind their currency campaign. "Putting [women] on our money, the pocket monuments we carry around every day, is the fastest way to give women everyday attention" after years of neglect, she said.

More than 600,000 voted in the group's online poll to decide which woman should go on the front of the $20 bill, and Harriet Tubman, an Underground Railroad conductor, won.

The Treasury Department later selected her for that bill.

Stone said that she and Howard were pleased but also were concerned that the suffragist leaders, including Paul, might have "canceled each other out" in the vote. Last July, they met with U.S. Treasurer Rosa Rios and staff to ask them to consider putting a vignette of suffragists on the back of the $20 bill.

The following month, when Treasury was still weighing its options, Howard contacted Beard at the Alice Paul Institute to inform her Rios was planning a "listening tour" to gather input. Howard said Paulsdale, which holds leadership classes for young women, would be a good stop.

A private meeting between Rios and about 30 women and girls at Paulsdale was held Aug. 26, the anniversary of the day the 19th Amendment was ratified, also known as Women's Equality Day.

Margaux Vellucci, 17, of Hainesport, recalled how they "sat in the parlor, in a circle and talked." At that time, Rios said the Treasury was planning only for a new $10 bill.

Vellucci pushed for Paul. "I said it would be a very great thank you to Alice Paul," she said. Paul "stands for courage, resilience, and determination."

Beard said Rios was enthused about the feedback and the old photos. "I think the visit had an impact on her," Beard said.

A Treasury spokesman said "dozens of visits like this were part of the listening tour and part of the decision-making process." He would not elaborate but referred to Lew's message that said the reverse of the $10 bill will bear "an image of the historic march for suffrage that ended on the steps of the Treasury Department" and suffragist leaders Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, and Paul.

Alexander Hamilton will retain his place on the front of the $10 bill, after lobbying by his supporters and fans of the Broadway smash hit Hamilton.

Paul is less known than Stanton, the first to propose giving women the right to vote in, 1848, and Anthony, who appeared on the $1 coin. Paul was not their contemporary and is the only one of the five women who was alive when women finally tasted victory.

Walton, a former Inquirer reporter who wrote the Paul biography, said Paul was obscure for years partly because she was modest. Paul also broke with the traditional women's party, which saw her as too aggressive and downplayed her role, keeping her out of the amendment-signing ceremony, Walton said. Yet Paul was the first to use the strategy of picketing the White House.

After the vote was won, "Alice Paul essentially disappears" from public view, Walton said.

Barbara Irvine and Jean Perry, founders of the Alice Paul Institute, said few people had heard of Paul in the 1980s when they began raising money to acquire her possessions and her birthplace. "For her 100th birthday we thought we would put up a plaque in the library," Perry said.

Irvine said they offered to pay for a marker for Paul when she was buried at the Westfield Friends Cemetery in Cinnaminson but her sole surviving relative, a nephew, declined. After he died, a simple stone was installed.

But 2016 is the year of Alice Paul. Google created a birthday doodle for her. There's a new Paulsdale exhibit.

Then, last month, President Obama designated the Washington headquarters of the National Women's Party, which Paul founded, a national monument. He called her brilliant. A week later, Treasury did its part.

Walton summed up the new flurry around Paul: "With her inclusion on the $10 bill, the designation of NWP headquarters as a national monument (and Obama actually mentioned her by name), and her appearance as a Google doodle, Alice Paul's time, perhaps, has come!"

jhefler@phillynews.com

856-779-3224 @JanHefler

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