Alice Paul and the Fight for Women’s Rights

From the Vote to the Equal Rights Amendment

By Deborah Kops. Calkins Creek, 2017. 216 pages. $17.95/hardcover; $9.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 10–17.

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Deborah Kops provides an accessible and engaging telling of the life of Alice Paul (1885–1977) and the women’s rights crusades she led. Kops correctly observes that women who preceded Paul—many of them Quaker or with strong Quaker ties—are more widely known as women’s rights leaders. Paul is of a later generation than Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, and her experiences, influences, and actions are those of an early-twentieth-century radical reformer who remained engaged with her quest for women’s rights throughout her long life.

The influence of Quakerism on Paul’s life and work is present. Friends will recognize familiar places such as Moorestown (N.J.) Meeting and Moorestown Friends School and descriptions of Paul’s student days at Swarthmore College and at Britain’s Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. However, the coverage of Quakerism sometimes misses important subtleties. These are fairly minor criticisms but worth noting. Quakerism is presented through the limited lens of Paul’s known experiences and assumptions.

More context is given for Paul’s work as a women’s rights leader and feminist. The book is not a straightforward biography (in part due, the author acknowledges, to Paul’s private nature resulting in limited sources) and, as the title suggests, is also a history of the movement Paul led. The narrative is overwhelmingly positive about Paul and her work with the National Woman’s Party. However, careful reading shows times the group fell short in their treatment of women of color, and the author holds up key women of color, such as Ida B. Wells and Pauli Murray, as influential leaders crucial in the fight for women’s rights. Subtle recognition is given to Paul’s privilege as a white woman with financial means and connections. The book is marketed for ages 10 to 17, but should not be dismissed as kids-only. It is accessible for younger readers while still providing an engaging and informative read for all ages.

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