Alice Paul Aspired for Gender Equality by 2023: “Women Will Have the Opportunity to Revolutionize the World”

“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me, there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.”

—Alice Paul

Alice Paul, as painted by Melanie Humble.

According to the 2021 report from the Women, Business and the Law project at the World Bank, there are only 10 countries where women have full equal rights under the law: Belgium, France, Denmark, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, Portugal and Ireland. While the United States is not on this list, last month’s vote in the House of Representatives to remove the deadline for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment means American women are closer to constitutional equality than ever before.

Ninety-nine years ago, ERA author Alice Paul opined in the local Washington newspaper that equality would easily be won by 2023. Paul’s commitment to equality was grounded in her Quaker upbringing: Like me, she was taught that all people are equal regardless of race, gender or economic circumstances. Paul, like me, attended Swarthmore College where the tenets of equality learned as a child were nurtured and encouraged. And Paul, like me, felt impatient with the status quo and determined to challenge systems that held women back.

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Paul was in constant pursuit of knowledge, after graduating from college she went on to earn a degree in sociology from the New York School of Philanthropy (now Columbia University), a degree in social work from the Woodbridge Center in Birmingham England, a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and law degrees from American University and Washington College.

Alice Paul. (Wikimedia Commons)

An ardent suffragist, Paul spent 18 months picketing the White House with the Silent Sentinels—imploring President Wilson to support voting rights for women. After the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified, she went on to help found the National Women’s Party and worked tirelessly for the adoption of the simple string of words which could become the 28th Amendment to the Constitution:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

This column by Alice Paul, entitled “Women Will Be Real Equals in 2023,” was published in The Washington Times on December 28, 1922:

It will not require one hundred years to elect a woman President of the United States. Before 2023 I think we shall see a woman in the White House as chief executive of the nation and women will comprise half of the membership of Congress.

Throughout the ages the oppression of women, as a sex, has existed. Once having freed themselves from the restrictions to which they have so long submitted and that have made them subject creatures since the beginning of history, women will have the opportunity to revolutionize the world. If they use their opportunity the world a hundred years from now will be as if a new creation had been achieved.

Real Equals Soon.

My hope for women one hundred years from now is that they no longer will be subject to men in law or custom, that they no longer will be regarded or regard themselves as inferiors, that they no longer will be the governed half to society, but will participate equally with men in the direction of life.

My hope is that a hundred years from now the world will no longer be a man’s world, but a woman’s and man’s world with each sex participating equally in the control of government, of family, and of industry.

Change in Morals.

Legislation by sex will then be considered as undemocratic as legislation by creed or color. There will be a single moral standard. There will be no sex in work, but every occupation open to men will be open to women and restrictions upon the hours, conditions and remuneration of labor will apply alike to both sexes. Women will be able to enter the priesthood, the ministry and any position of authority in the church on an equal basis with men. Women as well as men will represent our country abroad in the diplomatic service.

The great changes in marriage that will take place within a hundred years will, I believe, establish a woman as a separate identity after marriage, able to contract with her husband regarding the marriage relationship. She no longer will be treated in law as dependent upon her husband for support, but the mutual contribution of husband and wife to the family maintenance will be recognized.

Reading Alice Paul’s words, written almost a century ago, I am reminded that it’s important to hold fast to the vision of full equality for women and to remember, as Paul said, that the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.”

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Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.