Interview of Alice Paul By Robert S. Gallagher
How did you begin?
I went down to Washington on the seventh of December, 1912. All I had at the start was a list of people who had supported the movement, but when I tried to see them, I found that almost all of them had died or moved, and nobody knew much about them. So we were left with a tiny handful of people.
With all these obstacles how did you manage to organize the tremendous parade that greeted President-elect Wilson three months later?
Well, it wasn’t such a tremendous parade. We called it a procession. I don’t know whether there were five thousand or ten thousand marchers, maybe, but it wasn’t a very big one. The idea for such a parade had been discussed at the 1912 suffrage convention, although some of the delegates thought it was too big an undertaking. It was unusual. There had never been a procession of women for any cause under the sun, so people did want to go and see it.
The press estimated the crowd at a half million. Whose idea was it to have the parade the day before Wilson’s inaugural?
That was the only day you could have it if you were trying to impress the new President. The marchers came from all over the country at their own expense. We just sent letters everywhere, to every name we could find. And then we had a hospitality committee headed by Mrs. Harvey Wiley, the wife of the man who put through the first pure-food law in America. Mrs. Wiley canvassed all her friends in Washington and came up with a tremendous list of people who were willing to entertain the visiting marchers for a day or two. I mention these names to show what a wonderful group of people we had on our little committee.
Did you have any trouble getting a police permit?
No, although in the beginning the police tried to get us to march on Sixteenth Street, past the embassies and all. But from our point of view Pennsylvania Avenue was the place. So Mrs. Ebenezer Hill, whose husband was a Connecticut congressman and whose daughter Elsie was on our committee, she went to see the police chief, and we got our permit. We marched from the Capitol to the White House, and then on to Constitution Hall, which was the hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which many of our people were members of.
Didn’t the parade start a riot?
The press reports said that the crowd was very hostile, but it wasn’t hostile at all. The spectators were practically all tourists who had come for Wilson’s inauguration. We knew there would be a large turnout for our procession, because the company that put up the grandstands was selling tickets and giving us a small percentage. The money we got—it was a gift from heaven—helped us pay for the procession. I suppose the police thought we were only going to have a couple of hundred people, so they made no preparations. We were worried about this, so another member of our committee, Mrs. John Rogers, went the night before to see her brother-in-law, Secretary of War [Henry L.] Stimson, and he promised to send over the cavalry from Fort Myer if there was any trouble.
Did you need his help?
Yes, but not because the crowd was hostile. There were just so many people that they poured into the street, and we were not able to walk very far. So we called Secretary Stimson, and he sent over the troops, and they cleared the way for us. I think it took us six hours to go from the Capitol to Constitution Hall. Of course, we did hear a lot of shouted insults, which we always expected. You know, the usual things about why aren’t you home in the kitchen where you belong. But it wasn’t anything violent. Later on, when we were actually picketing the White House, the people did become almost violent. They would tear our banners out of our hands and that sort of thing.
The national board members were at the head of it. I walked in the college section. We all felt very proud of ourselves, walking along in our caps and gowns. One of the largest and loveliest sections was made up of uniformed nurses. It was very impressive. Then we had a foreign section, and a men’s section, and a Negro women’s section from the National Association of Colored Women, led by Mary Church Terrell. She was the first colored woman to graduate from Oberlin, and her husband was a judge in Washington. Well, Mrs. Terrell got together a wonderful group to march, and then, suddenly, our members from the South said they wouldn’t march. Oh, the newspapers just thought this was a wonderful story and developed it to the utmost. I remember that that was when the men’s section came to the rescue. The leader, a Quaker I knew, suggested that the men march between the southern delegations and the colored women’s section, and that finally satisfied the southern women. That was the greatest hurdle we had..
If the parade didn’t cause any real trouble, why was there a subsequent congressional investigation that resulted in the ouster of the district police chief?
The principal investigation was launched at the request of our women delegates from Washington, which was a suffrage state. These women were so indignant about the remarks from the crowd. And I remember that Congressman Kent was very aroused at the things that were shouted at his daughter, Elizabeth, who was riding on the California float, and he was among the first in Congress to demand an investigation into why the police hadn’t been better prepared. As I said, the police just didn’t take our little procession seriously. I don’t think it was anything intentional. We didn’t testify against the police, because we felt it was just a miscalculation on their part.
To view the full interview, visit the American Heritage website.