By Community Affairs Reporter Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A local movement is brewing to award a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor for a civilian, to one of the nation’s leaders in the woman’s suffrage movement.
Born in 1885 in Mount Laurel, Alice Paul was a warrior for women’s rights. A graduate of Swathmore, Paul had a Ph.D. from Penn, as well as a law degree, which was unusual for a woman during her time. She studied in the UK and when she returned to the U.S., she brought a new way of attacking equal rights. Paul founded the National Women’s Party in 1917 and helped secure the 19th Amendment using a new form of protest.
“They picketed in front of the White House; first time that was every done,” says Lucy Beard, executive director of the Alice Paul Institute. “They went to jail for that picketing and then they went on hunger strikes.”
Beard says Paul fought vigorously for gender equality until her death in 1977. She was instrumental in getting gender inserted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“To this day it’s the number one law in employment, for instance, to ensure that you are not discriminated against in the workplace,” says Beard.
Paul’s most prized piece of legislation was the Equal Rights Amendment. She worked for five decades, lobbying its passage.
“She lobbied Congress in 1923 to introduce it and it was introduced in every session of congress until it passed Congress and the Senate in 1972,” says Beard. “It did not get ratified in the required 10 years.”
Listen to Cherri’s entire interview with Lucienne Beard:
New Jersey Congressman Jon Runyon (3d Dist) introduced the Alice Paul Congressional Medal Act in the House of Representatives for a second time earlier this month. New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez did the same in the U.S. Senate. The hope is that Paul’s legacy will be rewarded with the nation’s highest honor.
“Getting the women the right to vote with the 19th Amendment, she was a huge, huge part of that and she was born and raised right here in New Jersey,” says Runyan. “All that she has done puts her up there with other people who have received the medal like George Washington, Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Neal Armstrong. When you talk about lifetime achievement, she’s there with all of them.”
Runyon says two-thirds of members of both the U.S. House and Senate must sign on to pass the Paul bill.
“The key to getting this passed is truly education,” says Runyan. “Educating the public and educating Congress.”
Mary Brennan-Taylor of the YWCA of New York says they are supporting the quest to get Paul the high honor with a letter writing campaign. But for Taylor, its personal; she met Paul 37 years ago, just a year before she died.
“She has been my role model since I was 17-years-old,” says Brennan-Taylor. “I looked at what she achieved and how she would never stop. Ms. Paul truly changed the face of American Society.”
Runyon says the public can help the cause by contacting their public officials about Paul’s legacy.
For more info on Alice Paul, go to www.alicepaul.org.