Listen: Author Jamie Stiehm ’82 on the Swarthmore Arc of Woman's Suffrage

In this talk, Jamie Stiehm '82 traces the shared Quaker heritage of suffragists Lucretia Mott, one of the College's founders, and Alice Paul, Class of 1905. She argues that Alice Paul's fight for the ratification of the 19th Amendment represents the culmination of the efforts of College founder Lucretia Mott and others, which began with the founding of the women's right movement at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Stiehm also details Paul's strategic brilliance demonstrated by her march on Washington during the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, an insistence that the fight for women's suffrage would be waged in the public eye. Later in her life, Paul named the proposed Equal Rights Amendment after Mott in recognition of the spiritual debt owed to her predecessor.

At Swarthmore, Stiehm double-majored in government and history. She is currently an opinion columnist for Creators Syndicate and previously contributed to a variety of publications such as  The New York Times and The Washington Post. Stiehm previously wrote about Paul for The Bulletin and appeared in The Women of Philadelphia: A Documentary.

Audio Transcript

Speaker 1: Hi, everyone. We're going to start the event now. Our wonderful speaker today is Jamie Stiehm. She is a fantastic writer for great publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and other creator syndicates. Please give a warm welcome to her as she begins her presentation for the Swarthmore Arc of Women's Suffrage.

Jamie Stiehm '82: Thank you very much for inviting me. I'm really happy to be here among you. Lucretia Mott started what Alice Paul finished. These two women are very linked by that arc of women's suffrage, although Lucretia Mott died five years before Alice Paul was born, yet Alice Paul was very conscious of the legacy that women owed a debt of gratitude to Lucretia Mott.

Now you may know the names Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Those two women were in the middle of these two women. They were second and third, but these two women were first and last. From 1848 to 1920. That's a long time. Seventy-two years was the journey or the voyage from Seneca Falls which is where the first Women's Rights Convention was held, all the way to 1920 which is when Alice Paul led the whole movement to victory, as she was the last relay runner in the race. Because she was the main speaker at Seneca Falls, Lucretia Mott is considered the founder of the Women's Rights Movement. Along with that she was leading abolitionist. That's how she first got to be famous, as a voice that spoke truth to power, truth to Southern slaveholders, who actually came to listen to her because she was so compelling and so charismatic. She got to be famous for her voice, not her pen. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the pen of the movement, and Lucretia Mott mentored her. Susan B. Anthony was the organizer of the movement. She too was a Quaker.

None of them lived to see the day that women voted, because the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1920, and we're coming right on the century mark of that. I'm going to say it was a rocky 72-year journey. It took three generations, and also almost sank after the Civil War. Are you familiar with the dispute, to put it nicely? There was a terrible breach after the Civil War when black men were enfranchised and women were not. Women like Lucretia Mott who had worked for abolition, who were on the front lines of it, expected that they too would take the ride to citizenship after the Civil War. In the political settlement of the Civil War they were told, "Ladies, it's the Negros' hour. Wait your turn." They knew that the train of justice, of equality, doesn't come along every so often but that was their great opening. How many of you are history majors? Do we have any history majors in the house? And you, uh huh. Elizabeth, good. This is one of the ... It was a tragic chapter for women, because they felt like they were being, and they were being, left behind. It would take another lifetime or two for women to reach that goal. Sometimes I say that women suffered for suffrage. No accident that it's suffer and rage equals suffrage.

The suffrage movement invented marching on Washington. Alice Paul, she looks like this studious young woman, very demure perhaps, but she is the one who took it to the streets. Lucretia Mott was an indoor speaker; Alice Paul was an outdoor activist. But she was more than an activist, she was the general of the entire army, the nonviolent army of women who said, "No more will we just go to conventions in Cleveland or gather signatures for petitions. We are going to change the game." It was Alice Paul who was the master strategist.

Now you may know that they paid a price, their own flesh and blood. The chief antagonist was the President of the United States, who was, can anyone tell me? 1913, who was about to be sworn in? Woodrow Wilson, yes. Poor Woodrow. He did not know what to do with these ladies out in the streets chained to the gates of the White House, making scenes under the summer and winter suns every day, in and out. They never let up. Alice Paul, as I said, was the general of the last campaign.

Never say that women were given the vote. They were not given the vote, they took it. It was taken. Not even the brilliant president that we love to love, that would be Theodore Roosevelt, he was no friend to women's suffrage. He once sent flowers and congratulations to a Women's Rights Convention in Baltimore, Ohio, and his effort to charm the ladies did not go over well.

What binds these two together is that Alice Paul and Lucretia Mott were born and bred in Quaker enclaves. They're what you call birthright Quakers. Here in this room we have a guest who's a friend, Sidney Wilkinson, who knows a lot about Lucretia Mott, and she's an editorial cartoonist, Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for the, not the Baltimore Sun, that's where I used to work, Philadelphia Daily News and the Inquirer. She and I met through Lucretia Mott, isn't that fair to say, that she introduced us?

Boys and girls were educated together. Women and men were empowered to speak. It's called silent worship. Quakers meet in silent worship, and anyone and everyone is empowered to stand and speak. That structure, very simple structure, empowered women to be equal voices and leaders in Quaker meetings. They don't call them churches, they're meetinghouses. Have any of you been to a meeting here? The meetinghouse is on the other end of campus. I would recommend that you go because that's a very special part of Swarthmore that has influenced you probably more than you know.

The Friends, the Society of Friends, were the first religion to oppose slavery. As pacifists, they were practitioners of nonviolent resistance, first against the English king in London. As they made themselves known by refusing to doff their hats to a magistrate, they refused to bear arms in the King's Army, they were troublemakers, agitators. They were radical. The king promised a land across the ocean. Call it Pennsylvania. He had a great tract of willingness for Quakers to go to. Many Friends boarded ships only to find a rub in the New World, and that was that the Puritans hated them. They banned Quakers in Boston. The Puritans even hanged a Quaker woman for being in Boston to exercise her freedom of religion. She was hanged on Boston Common or nearby. There's a little statue of Mary Dyer, right next to a bust of JFK. She is considered to be the first American martyr for religious freedom and conscious. Quaker women were already beginning to change the New World.

Let's look Lucretia Coffin a little more closely, the girl. Her name was Lucretia Coffin, born on Nantucket Island in 1793. Her independence of thought was surely shaped by living far from the mainland on the sandy, windswept island. How many of you knew the gray shingles of Nantucket were originally Quaker? Anyone been to Nantucket? Well there's a lot of remnants of the Quaker community that lived there. Her father Thomas was a sea captain. The New England whaling industry was at its peak about 1800 and took men and older boys away for stretches of time, not months, years. Nantucket prospered with resilient women running the daily life of the island. When a ship came in, seen by the Brant Point Lighthouse, children ran all over the island to spread the word, "They're coming home," but they didn't know who was on that ship.

This very complete world predisposed little Lucretia to brim with light, to freely speak her mind. Nobody censored her, like young America itself. She was a gem of a girl, knowing her way down to the wharves, to the cranberry bogs, to the sheep shearing festival. She loved Nantucket the rest of her life, which she spent in Philadelphia. Note also she was born in the first generation of Americans. The Revolutionary generation had high ideals for the early republic, eager to shape the clay in work in progress, very conscious that slavery was the major flaw, could be its undoing.

The 1790s Enlightenment touched her too, the stories of Nantucket. She learned about Mary Wollstonecraft, who was the first feminist thinker. She wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1976 in Paris during the Revolution. She was English, but she lived in Paris, and was self-educated, a governess who had an incredible flourish with the pen. She laid down a gauntlet and took Enlightenment ideology of human rights and just applied them to women and explained why women had been so mistreated, abused, but never cultivated, not treated ... From the very first of their childhood they weren't educated the same as boys were. That was where Quakers were very different. She lived on School Street on Nantucket Island, and the school was right across from her house, and it was a Quaker school. Did any of you go to Friends schools? No? Okay. Well you do now, right.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a fiery English woman who died young. Her vivid polemic made a deep impression on Lucretia, who read it as a young woman in Philadelphia. She kept it on her coffee table the rest of her life and would show it to her guests. She was married to a merchant, James Mott, who was also ahead of his time because he recognized what a extraordinary talent she was, his wife. He traveled all over with her when she went to give anti-slaver speeches or went up to Seneca Falls to be the main speaker. He was the chair of the convention at Seneca Falls. He was fully supportive of all her groundbreaking social justice ideas. For her they weren't just ideas, they had to be practiced. She was very practical. She was interested in, not in theory, she was interested in results. As I said earlier, don't be fooled by the bonnet. The bonnet might lead you to think she was just a sweet soul. No, she was tart, outspoken, and afraid of no man, not even the midnight mob that was on the way to her house to burn it down. She was ready and waiting for them. It's lucky for the mob they were misdirected. They got lost along the way. They never found it on North [inaudible 00:15:22] Street, where she and James lived at the time.

Let me underscore that she was a radical even among most Philadelphia Quakers, with a greater sense of urgency about abolishing slavery. The Underground Railroad, boycotting cotton and sugar which were slave products. Lucretia and James were founding members of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia in 1833. They held the first social event at their house. She in fact gave young William Lloyd Garrison some tips on public speaking. In fact, the Society of Friends has long recognized her as a speaker of rare distinction. The reason she's not as famous now as she was in antebellum America is because we can't hear her voice. She had a breathtaking voice that rose and fell and sounded like a summer storm. She spoke in the Quaker manner which means that she didn't have notes like I do, she spoke from here, and it was moved by the Spirit to speak.

Just keep in mind that she was not a writer, she was a speaker, and she lived in the age of the spoken word. When Webster and Clay held Senate listeners spellbound, well so did Lucretia Mott, so did she. Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson heard her and wrote about it the very next day, how she was bearing a message of light and love. Emerson said, "She is the flower of Quakerism." She said things that no man could say and stay alive, because she was speaking out to Southern slave owners in the Congress, telling them to emancipate their slaves. It's remarkable that they even came at all to hear her, but she had a certain moral charisma. John Quincy Adams invited her to the People's House to address his enemies. He thought that she might move them toward emancipation. So she did, she came, she spoke, she melted the sectional divide on slavery for one winter night. She stilled the noise in the capital. That was in 1843, and think about it, 20 years before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Lucretia Mott moved the public mind. The Quakers actively resisted slavery by the Underground Railroad, safe houses, and their petitions and their constant campaign of nonviolent persuasion. I can tell you that Abraham Lincoln knew that. He knew that the Quakers, especially the Quakers, also the Unitarians and the Transcendentalists, a whole slew of reformers but especially the Quakers, had made it possible for him to sign that document and free four million slaves. He couldn't have done it without them.

Lucretia Mott was present at the creation of the two great human rights movements of the 19th century, anti-slavery in 1833 and women's rights in 1848. To her they were one and the same, they were like brother/sister movements. Very few people championed both, they chose one or the other, but she stood for both. In her 40s she was poised to launch from speaking within the walls of her faith and to take her spoken words on social justice to the wider world. She was the main speaker, the reason they rounded up so many people in the small town in upstate New York, Seneca Falls, July of 1848. Her talent was her gorgeous voice that rose like a river and finished like a summer storm. You have to imagine that. That's what I learned about Lucretia Mott, that she leaves a lot to your imagination.

Let me say a personal word about discussing her portrait in Parrish Parlor at the time. I'm a sophomore. There she is, this beautiful countenance. Who is this woman? I need to know. She just had this arresting gaze to me. I found out, following a trail to a trove in the Friends Historical Library, that this was Lucretia Mott. She was a founder of Swarthmore. She and James Mott were among the Philadelphia Quakers who during the Civil War did not have that much to do because they were pacifists, and their cause was done, so we are the manufacturers of that. She loved the thought of having a higher education with young men, young women learning side by side. Where's Mark? Mark, yes, you know that little saying that I sent you?

Mark: I don't have my phone right now.

Speaker 2: Oh, okay. Well, that's okay. She wrote in her letters that she had planted an oak tree on the day that Swarthmore opened in 1869. It was a clear, she said bright clear day, 11th month. What does that mean, 11th month? That means November. Quakers used first day, second day, third day, fourth day, and they didn't say the names of months. Oh, you have it? What does she write about that?

Mark: A bright clear day, November 1869, 11th month. She says, "Swarthmore College opened. All the [inaudible 00:22:18] seemed perfectly happy, and well they might be, for 'tis a perfect establishment."

Speaker 2: That's setting a nice tone for all of us, that we should be happy, perfectly happy, for 'tis a wonderful establishment. That was one of the last good deeds, mitzvahs that she did. She died in 1880 and she was 87 when she died.

We have less work to do in understanding Alice Paul. She was class of 1905 here. We know that she had a brilliant Quaker ancestor. His name was William Penn. He was the one, the King said to the handsome, Oxford-educated William Penn, "Go across the ocean. Take all the Quakers with you," and he would be rid of them. He had lately converted to the Friends, and he had, it was a beautiful tract land, Pennsylvania. It was actually named after his father who was an admiral, right? Yes. William Penn was the founder, the colonial governor of Pennsylvania. He was also the city planner of Philadelphia. Did you know that he named all the streets after trees? Spruce and pine and locust, and that was all his, having Rittenhouse Square and other parts, it was supposed to be like a country garden in the city. He was a visionary.

Alice Paul was what's called a birthright Quaker, meaning that you're born a Quaker, as opposed to being a convinced Quaker. If I became a Quaker I would be a convinced Quaker. Public speaking was not her thing, unlike Lucretia Mott. Her genius was organization on a grand scale. Alice Paul reinvented the Quaker principle of nonviolent resistance. She made it creative, defiant, for her chosen cause, women's suffrage, for a new century. This gets lost in translation sometimes, but she was the first person to build a mass movement in America that focused on the President. Her strategy became a blueprint for the mid-century Civil Rights marches led by Martin Luther King, a prophet of peaceful protest. The Suffragettes, as they were called in Britain, were called Suffragists here. After Swarthmore, Alice Paul learned her lessons well in London in the British Suffragette movement. That's where she went to study at the London School of Economics, but she also became the protégé of the Pankhurst mother and daughters Suffragette family. She understood by watching, learning, how to kick up a fuss in the streets and even get arrested. She did get arrested. Her main strategic move was to take the movement from the inside, indoors to the outdoors and make it publicly visible, a spectacle, street theater.

1913 was the beginning of something big, the arrival of Alice on the languishing suffrage scene. She took the fight right to Pennsylvania Avenue, and it was the day that Woodrow Wilson arrived to be sworn in as President. He was the President Elect of the United States. On March 3rd, he was going to be sworn in on March 4th, so he arrives in Union Station. This is sort of the founding story, the origin story, the beginning of the donnybrook between Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson. He comes into the Grand train station and it's empty. He's like, "Where are my people, where are my supporters, where's the throng for me?" The answer was, "They're all at the Suffragette parade, sir, down Pennsylvania Avenue." There were 2 or 3000 women who had assembled on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the only game in town; he was like a sideshow. He was not pleased at all. What was Alice Paul saying to this Princeton man? Woodrow Wilson was a Princeton man. What's her message? You know the word gobsmacked? It's a British word. He was gobsmacked. He's just been elected President of the United States, right. He was not at all amused. Can you try to think about, put yourself in his shoes or her shoes, and the message that she was personally telegraphing to him? I'll go on for a bit, but think about that.

Wilson was a Virginian, a cultural Southerner. He was born before the Civil War, in 1856, so he was no friend to blacks, he was no friend to women. They were stepping out of their place as far as he was concerned. You may know that Woodrow Wilson instituted Jim Crow in segregation into the federal workforce. That was a terrible blemish, terrible disservice to generations of black families. He did that when he first got to Washington. As for women, thousands of women were out on the streets marching, a few were on horseback. Others were getting hurt by the police who were supposed to be there to protect them. This was a really wild scene. It was amazing that she was able to round up so many women, think about it, without email, without Twitter. She did this by dint of her college connections to her Swarthmore friends, Bryn Mawr friends; the Seven Sisters Colleges were very well represented. It was something that everybody wanted to be part of.

The message that Alice Paul sent to Wilson on the very first day was "I'm here. We're here. We're a force. We're not going away." She changed the game, ripped up the old paradigm of conventions, say going to Ohio and Kansas, traveling the whole country the way that Susan B. Anthony did. From now on the campaign for suffrage would be waged in the public eye, in Washington. It's called the Federal Strategy, as opposed to state by state. This is not just for a day, this is for seven years. By having this sense that this outdoor vigil, parade, demonstration, they made it a public concern. When they starting getting arrested, that also changed the public attitude or mind, more sympathy for the Suffragettes because they had skin in the game.

Let me remind you that this would be the first crop of women educated like you are and to graduate from college. Most of the Seven Sisters Colleges, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Barnard, Sarah Lawrence, Vassar, they had opened up in the 1880s. Alice Paul was born in 1880. No, she was born in 1885, excuse me. She graduated from here when she was only 20. This was a network of women who expected larger lives for themselves. They were ready to claim their rights as citizens. Alice Paul amazed everybody because she worked all the time. She never stopped for the rest of her life actually. She showed Wilson and others that we look different, we talk different, we dress different; this is a new generation of young women. She was only 28 when she launched that first salvo against President Wilson.

At one point President Wilson called them into his office and was going to give them a little talking to. He was the President of Princeton College once. He had a very professorial air. In fact he's the only president to this day that had a Ph.D. They did not treat President Wilson with enough deference or respect for his tastes. He thought that he would be able to talk them into going home and waiting their turn and retreat. They were not going to retreat. I might add that he not only let them get arrested and did nothing, but when there were reports of abuse and force feeding seeping out of the squalid jails where Suffragettes were kept, where they were locked up, he did nothing. He let it happen.

Then, the political gets personal for the public, because more and more people had a mother, had a sister, had a wife, had a connection to those women out in the streets. The political movement I can compare it to in your time, your lives, might be the same sex marriage change or movement, because people would read what was ha- that they weren't getting the same oxygen, liberty or justice, and they would feel it on behalf of someone they loved, someone they were friends with. The more personal that a political movement becomes, the more effective it is. So, she never let up. Never let up. It was going to happen and it was going to take as long as it took, even beyond Wilson.

Wilson started to change his position around the time of a huge historical event, which was the First World War, the Great War. The United States entered the war in 1917 to make the world safe for democracy, that was his slogan. They turned out against him and said, what about democracy here at home? They were very clever? He started to see that he couldn't sustain his no, his negative position very long, and besides which wartime always loosens things up. Society needs all hands on deck. Women might be going to work in munitions factories as they did in World War II. Nurses were needed on ships to go to the theater of war. This is America's entrance onto the world stage, and that was what Wilson staked his whole presidency on. He didn't want him to be accused of being a 19th century man at home, and so he started to say, "All right, well I would back the federal amendment, the 19th amendment state by state, or at least I won't stand in the way." Because society was changing that fast. He helped women's suffrage over the finish line in 1918-1919, and finally in 1920, August of 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified.

That was Alice Paul's dream, but she was only 35. What was she going to do now? Well, she became the author of the Equal Rights Amendment. This is your political heritage. These are things that you need to know to understand how to reinvent your strategies or nonviolent resistance for your time. Alice Paul spent the rest of her life here in Washington, there in Washington, where I live, as she was mounting her second grade campaign, which came this close to passing in the 1970s, which is when she died. She thought as she was leaving us, she thought that it was going to pass. It almost did, but it didn't. So what did she name the Equal Rights Amendment? It's the Lucretia Mott Amendment. She honored Lucretia Mott's memory with this very simple, straightforward amendment. The language is that no rights should be abridged on account of sex. That's how simple it is. But it was even harder to pass than women's suffrage.

That's an arc. It goes from here all the way to 1920, and then the circle might be closed for all we know. But Lucretia Mott planted an oak tree on the very first day of the college. Alice Paul walked under that tree. She came of age here. Her political inheritance came from the Quakers. Whether you're religious or not, it's important to understand how much the Quakers changed the world, especially Quaker women, slowly but surely.

Thank you for listening.