Document 17: Freda Kirchwey, "Alice Paul Pulls the Strings," The Nation, 2 March 1921, pp. 332--33.
Freda Kirchwey, associate editor of The Nation, authored this article, provoking a negative response from the National Woman's Party. Freda Kirchwey exemplified the "new--style feminist," and she often wrote about women like herself who were college educated, employed, and juggling the demands of family and career. Kirchwey began at The Nation clipping articles in 1918, but she was promoted quickly to associate editor and then managing editor. In 1937, she bought The Nation and retained control of the journal until 1955.
Throughout college and her early career, Kirchwey supported suffrage as a progressive reform. She marched in suffrage parades and integrated her advocacy into her writing. She did not support many of the positions of the National Woman's Party, including a separate women's political party or the Equal Rights Amendment, which she considered good in theory but too costly in practice since it would erase protective labor legislation.
Kirchwey attended the National Woman's Party convention of February 1921, observed the proceedings, and interviewed rank and file participants. Based on her observations, she compared the National Woman's Party with political machines. In the tradition of the ward boss, Alice Paul's power within the organization was such that no one dared to oppose her. Kirchwey laid the blame for the National Woman's Party's lack of interest in the enfranchisement of African American women firmly at Paul's feet.
Alice Paul Pulls the Strings
By Freda Kirchwey
The spirit of the National Woman's Party convention at Washington last week was summed up in two striking sentences. Said a disheartened delegate after the last day's session: "This is the machine age." Said one of the leaders of the Party to another delegate who tried to plead for a free consideration of a real program: "At a convention human intelligence reaches its lowest ebb." That was what it amounted to: the leaders acted on the theory of an amiable contempt for their followers; the rank and file, either cynically or enthusiastically, watched the wishes of the leaders become the law of the convention. With quiet precision the Woman's Party machine--a veritable tank--rolled over the assembly, crushing protestants of all sorts, leaving the way clear--for what? If anyone left the convention with a distinct idea of what the Party will do now that it has solemnly disbanded and solemnly reorganized, it is perhaps, Alice Paul and the Executive Committee and chairmen. The rank and file, not realizing that their intelligence was at a low ebb, are vaguely disappointed. They do not know what their party will do; they only know that no action was taken in behalf of the Negro women, who have not yet got the vote in spite of the Nineteenth Amendment;
Some day the story of the working of the National Women's machine will be told. It will be an interesting story, full of strange contradictions.
The efforts----wholly unsuccessful----of the representatives of the colored women would form a tragic chapter of the same story. A delegation of sixty women sent by colored women's organizations in fourteen Sates arrived in Washington several days before the convention. They requested an interview with Alice Paul so that they might take up with the question of the disenfranchisement of the women of their race. They were told Miss Paul was too busy to see them. They said they would wait till she had time. Finally, grudgingly, she yielded. The colored women presented their case in the form of a dignified memorial--which read as follows:
We have come here as members of various organizations and from different sections representing the five million colored women of this country. We are deeply appreciative of the heroic devotion of the National Woman's Party to the women's suffrage movement and of the tremendous sacrifices made under your leadership in securing the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
We revere the names of the pioneers to who you will do honor while here, not only because they believed in the inherent rights of women, but of humanity at large, and gave themselves to the fight against slavery in the United States.
The world has moved forward in these seventy years and the colored women of this country have been moving with it. They know the value of the ballot, if honestly used, to right the wrongs of any class. Knowing this, they have also come today to call your attention to the flagrant violations of the intent and purposes of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in the elections of 1920. These violations occurred in the Southern States, where is to be found the great mass of colored women, and it has not been made secret that wherever white women did not use the ballot, it was counted worth while to relinquish it in order that it might be denied colored women.
Complete evidence of violations of the Nineteenth Amendment could be obtained only by Federal investigation. There is, however, sufficient evidence available to justify a demand for such an inquiry. We are handing you herewith a pamphlet with verified cases of the disenfranchisement of our women.
The National Woman's Party stands in the forefront of the organizations that have undergone all the pains of travail to bring into existence the Nineteenth Amendment. We can not then believe that you will permit this amendment to be so distorted in its interpretation that it shall lose its power and effectiveness. Five million women in the United States can not be denied their rights without all the women of the United States feeling the effect of that denial. No women are free until all are free.
Therefore, we are assembled to ask that you will use your influence to have the convention of the National Woman's Party appoint a special committee to ask Congress for an investigation of the violations of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in the election of 1920.
Miss Paul was indifferent to this appeal and resented the presence of the delegation. Their chance of being heard at the convention was gone. A Southern organizer told the one active supporter of the colored women--a white woman and delegate from New York--that the Woman's Party was pledged not to raise the race issue in the South; that this was the price it paid for ratification. But no such sinister motive is necessary to explain the treatment of the colored delegation; they were simply an interruption, an obstacle to smooth working of the machine. Their leading members were not allowed to ride in the elevators of the Hotel Washington where the convention was held, until finally they made a stand for their rights. And only by the use of tactics bordering on Alice Paul's own vigor and persistence, did their spokesman--the delegate from New York--get a moment to present a resolution on their behalf--a resolution which was promptly defeated and which left the question precisely where it stood.
The attitude of Alice Paul and her supporters toward these disturbers of the peace--Negro women and birth control advocates alike--was the attitude of all established authorities. "Why do these people harass us?" asked Miss Paul. "Why do they want to spoil our convention?" The answer, that never occurred to her, was this: "For the very same reason that made you disturb the peace and harass the authorities in your peculiarly effective and irritating way: because they want to further the cause they believe in."
In the lobby, among the futile opponents of the machine, there was much discussion of the cause of their leaders' hostility to all that was new and clear--cut. The great fighting issue was gone; if the organization was to continue it must turn its attention to other issues and work for them one at a time or several together, not only in Congress, but in the States. Would the leaders evolve out of their program an issue which they could hope again to raid their disciplined volunteer army? Would they justify their tactics, as they had so often done before, by the brilliant success of their results? Or were they only greedy of power, eager to hold the final decision close to their own hands, unwilling to trust the desires of their followers? Or were they, perhaps, only half awake to the fullness of life? Absorbed in a task of immense proportions, for years they had forfeited, as soldiers must, the common enterprises of life--love, marriage, children, the economic struggle. Had they thereby lost touch with the plain demands of modern women who are more interested in their opportunities for personal expansion and economic freedom and the right to bear children when they choose than they are in the presence of women in the councils of the unborn or dying league of nations? The opponents of the machine never decided these questions; the Alice Paul legend hung too closely over them and its phrases sounded in their ears through the closed doors of the convention hall.