By Maddie Orton
She was a suffragist, the mind behind the Equal Rights Amendment and a rebel. Mount Laurel’s own Alice Paul would have been 131 this year. And through the Alice Paul Institute, she continues to inspire new generations of young women.
“We didn’t really want to create a museum as much as we wanted to do a living legacy to Alice Paul’s work. To keep her work for equality going,” said Executive Director Lucienne Beard.
The Institute is located in Paul’s old farmhouse, called Paulsdale. Programs there and in local schools focus on teaching kids from second through 12th grades about leadership using female role models as examples. They also educate students about the women’s rights movement and civics more broadly.
“In a typical field trip, we’ll go through several voting exercises where it really comes home to them what it is to not have a voice,” said Beard.
But the most intensive programs are with middle and high school-aged girls.
“At the end of a workshop, it’s always a sign of success when a girl has a new definition of a leader,” Beard said. “Someone who sets a goal and works to meet it to change something for the better. And that’s where Alice Paul is a great example.”
“‘Well-behaved women seldom make history,” quotes Kristina Myers.
Myers is the Institute’s director of programs and an Alice Paul scholar. She said with White House protests, parades and numerous arrests under her belt, Paul was considered a radical.
“She’s known as a militant suffragist. She’s doing things that are going to get her arrested,” said Myers. “So she definitely stands outside of the sphere of what is acceptable for women.”
Not least of these reasons is her authoring the Equal Rights Amendment when many suffragists were dissolving efforts after women got the vote.
“That’s considered the most radical — that women were capable of doing everything that men did, and should be legally recognized equally,” said Myers.
Paul studied law – -earning three of her six degrees in the subject — to better advocate for the ERA, and her efforts were legendary.
“Any time a reporter would call that wants to talk to her, she would say: ‘First call three of your representatives and get them to support the ERA,’ and then she’ll talk to them,” explained Myers.
Despite gaining a large amount of support over the last century, the ERA was never signed into law.
“That’s one of the biggest misconceptions among Americans — that we already have an Equal Rights Amendment, that it passed in the ’70s,” said Myers.
According to Myers, Alice Paul fought for passage of the ERA until her death in the 1970s. And, through education and advocacy, the Institute picks up where Paul left off.
“One of our core missions is to advocate for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, so all of the girls in all of our programs learn about the Equal Rights Amendment,” said Beard. “That’s what she would want us to be working on.”
The Alice Paul Institute will celebrate its namesake at the organization’s annual Birthday Bash on Feb. 21.