National Woman’s Party Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The National Woman’s Party helped bring the vote to U.S. women and later gave birth to the Equal Rights Amendment.

Summary of Event

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns made their entrance onto the stage of U.S. politics at a time when the issue of equal rights for women was at its peak of agitation at the state level. Six states had passed woman suffrage amendments, accounting for approximately two million women voters. On the national level, however, such activity had practically ceased. President Woodrow Wilson offered no active support of women’s issues. Paul and Burns became aggressive leaders of the fourth generation of U.S. women to devote themselves to the cause of women’s rights. National Woman’s Party[National Womans Party] Women;organizations Suffrage;women Woman suffrage;U.S. [kw]National Woman’s Party Is Founded (1917) [kw]Woman’s Party Is Founded, National (1917)[Womans Party Is Founded, National (1917)] [kw]Party Is Founded, National Woman’s (1917) National Woman’s Party[National Womans Party] Women;organizations Suffrage;women Woman suffrage;U.S. [g]United States;1917: National Woman’s Party Is Founded[04120] [c]Organizations and institutions;1917: National Woman’s Party Is Founded[04120] [c]Women’s issues;1917: National Woman’s Party Is Founded[04120] Burns, Lucy Paul, Alice Blatch, Harriot Stanton Martin, Anne Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline

Alice Paul was born in Mooretown, New Jersey, to Quaker parents and was educated at Swarthmore College, the University of Pennsylvania, and the London School of Economics. In addition to being reared by Quakers, who instilled in her a basic respect for all people, she was descended from a long line of political activists. In 1909, while in London at the university, she became active in the militant suffrage work of mother and daughter Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. Paul was arrested and jailed several times for her participation in protests, and during one of these demonstrations she made the acquaintance of another remarkable young American woman, Lucy Burns, from Brooklyn, New York.

Burns was also well educated (Vassar, Yale, University of Berlin) and had intended to pursue a career in academia. A taste of political activity caused her to change her mind, however, and she threw herself wholeheartedly into the fight for women’s rights. The meeting between the two women was fortuitous, and the partnership that ensued changed the course of history with respect to equality for women in the United States. Both of these courageous women suffered jail sentences and undertook hunger strikes. As leaders they were complementary: Paul was known as the quiet but bold strategist; Burns was the active, more militant public figure whose fierce leadership was tempered by her Irish sense of humor. Their observations of the Pankhursts readied them to return to the United States and take positions of leadership for their cause. In 1910, when Paul returned to the United States, she joined with Harriet Stanton Blatch (daughter of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton) to organize suffrage parades in New York.

The next window of opportunity for Paul and Burns was provided by the long-standing Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which had become inactive. The original purpose of the committee was to propose an amendment for woman suffrage to the U.S. Constitution. Under the leadership of Paul and Burns, who served as chair and vice chair, respectively, the NAWSA staged a march of five thousand women on the White House the day before the presidential inauguration of Woodrow Wilson in April, 1913. The idea of holding the party in political power responsible for its actions on important issues was modeled on the work of the Pankhursts in England. Flamboyant publicity, street marches, protests, and demonstrations at federal events became synonymous with the style of Paul and Burns. It was not, however, in keeping with the previous style of the NAWSA, which had been less aggressive and more educative.

Frustrated by hesitation within the NAWSA to demonstrate actively, Paul and Burns broke away from the association in 1913 to form the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage known as the CU. The CU rivaled the NAWSA nationally and published its own newspaper, The Suffragist, edited for a time by Burns. The CU sent representatives to various states to campaign against Democratic candidates who were not assisting the cause of women’s equality under the law.

In 1916, the group formed the Woman’s Party. Women voters in the western states convened in Colorado to make plans to infiltrate the upcoming national election campaigns with women’s equality issues. With Nevada historian Anne Martin at its helm, the party worked aggressively to organize voters against the Democratic national leadership, which had proved weak in its stand on suffrage. Twelve states had allowed women the right to vote, and Paul emphasized the importance of a group of voters, however small, that would not deviate from its mission.

In 1917, under the leadership of Paul and Burns, the CU joined with its western contingent and became the National Woman’s Party (NWP). Paul was elected the NWP’s first chairperson, with Martin as vice chair. Women from all areas of life—including homemakers, union workers, physicians, attorneys, and philanthropists—were represented in the ranks of the organization.


Although the NWP was effective enough to initiate discussion of the Susan B. Anthony (Suffrage) Amendment on the floor of Congress, women were still not enfranchised in most U.S. states. Paul and Burns were recognized for maintaining momentum and imparting a sense to the party’s members that the fight was in perpetual motion; they continually changed and refreshed the party’s strategies. Paul’s leadership was autocratic; to some she was the party itself. Nevertheless, she was so selflessly devoted to the single purpose of federal recognition of women’s rights that her followers did not object. Her single-issue political strategy did draw fire from other groups, however, when she refused to speak out on issues such as racial discrimination or the Great War for fear of diluting her effectiveness on the main issue of gender equality. Burns continued her activity as well, traveling often to state functions and inciting groups with her fiery spirit.

The NWP continued to work for suffrage until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment Nineteenth Amendment (U.S. Constitution) in 1920, which finally gave all women in the United States the right to vote. Paul and Burns saw well beyond the suffrage issue, however, and immediately refocused their energies on the issue of total gender equality under the law, resulting in the first presentation of the Equal Rights Amendment Equal Rights Amendment before Congress on December 10, 1923. The amendment stated simply that “men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction.” Thus began the long history of the campaign to ratify the amendment in all states—an objective that was never accomplished. The amendment that was eventually passed by Congress in 1972 included a requirement that, in order to become law, it must be ratified by three-quarters of the states within seven years. Although Congress extended the deadline by four years, in 1982 only thirty-five of the thirty-eight states required had ratified, and the effort to secure ratification was eventually abandoned. National Woman’s Party[National Womans Party] Women;organizations Suffrage;women Woman suffrage;U.S.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Jean H. Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists. New York: Hill & Wang, 2005. Discusses the lives and work of the five most prominent activists in the U.S. suffrage movement: Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard, and Alice Paul. Blends personal information on the subjects with political and historical analysis. Includes index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clift, Eleanor. Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. Brief history of the suffrage movement in the United States describes important events and organizations and provides background on the movement’s leaders. Includes bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cott, Nancy. “Feminist Politics in the 1920’s: The National Woman’s Party.” Journal of American History 71 (June, 1984): 43-68. Precise, well-referenced article focuses specifically on the work of the NWP and its leaders.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987. Provides background and analyzes the effects of the feminist movement on subsequent events. Lengthy bibliographic notes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flexner, Eleanor, and Ellen Fitzpatrick. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. Enlarged ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1996. Good historical overview of the movement, with specific information on forming of the NWP in chapter 21.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Irwin, Inez Haynes. The Story of the National Woman’s Party. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921. A thorough account of the founding and early days of the party from the perspective of a contemporary of Burns and Paul. Includes personal reflections from people involved in the suffrage movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kraditor, Aileen S. The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920. 1965. Reprint. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. Clearly outlines differing views of leaders in the feminist movement and presents the two sides of the suffragist argument both before and after the turn of the century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lunardini, Christine A. From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1910-1928. 1986. Reprint. Lincoln, Nebr.: iUniverse, 2000. Focuses on Paul’s role in the suffrage movement and examines the importance of the NWP in continuing the fight for gender equality after American women had won the right to vote.

Pankhursts Found the Women’s Social and Political Union

First Woman Is Elected to the U.S. Congress

Canadian Women Gain the Vote

British Women Gain the Vote

League of Women Voters Is Founded

U.S. Women Gain the Right to Vote

Proposal of the Equal Rights Amendment

Categories: History