I began making serious inquiry about Miss Paul in 1980. She was my touchstone for my 37 day fast for the ERA in 1982. It was because of her, we drafted legal papers making certain the state could not force feed us. Her friend, Doris Stevens’ book, Jailed for Freedom was our primary reference. My interest in Miss Paul never waned and, in 2012, I set out to read contiguously everything I had access to - calling it AP immersion. Since that time, I have read 40+ books, 100+ articles and interviewed 10 women who knew her. The most enchanting source was the November, 1972 taped interview by Amelia Fry. I carefully read every word in the 664 page transcript. I bought CDs of the first two hours of the interview just so I could hear her voice and I grieved that Amelia Fry passed on before completing her book on Alice Paul.
One day I got wind that the work was going to be completed by American / Women’s Studies scholar, J.D. Zahniser. I pre-ordered it instantly and waited six months. It was published Tuesday, June 3, 2014. It arrived Wednesday, June 4, 2014. I collected my favorite reading tools; felt tip pens, color tabs, magnifying glass and notebook. The scripted order of my adventure; copyright, index, footnotes, bibliography, acknowledgements, introduction, chapter one. FORCE FIELD - DO NOT INTERRUPT ME.
Page after page, line after line. Sheer perfection. The backstory, the reason, the lineage, the culture. Her letters, her family, her home, her schools. Even her hats! It was all there, explained as no other book came near. Her first friendships that lasted a lifetime; Lavinia Dock, Rheta Dorr, Maud Younger, Elsie Hill. I knew each and every one mentioned but never embraced with this depth. Every question filled in as never before. Miss Paul’s letters lavishly quoted, letting us all inside her thinking. Bicycle through France, study in Germany, first apartment, encountering her icon - Christabel and the portentous meeting of Miss Lucy Burns. From Gandhi to all the Pankhursts. From Alva Belmont to Doris Stevens to Dorothy Day to Rose Winslow to Jeanette Rankin and the squirrely Mr. Wilson. From biology to economics to social work to quintessential leadership – disappearing just when the applause begins. From WSPU to NAWSA to CC to CU to NWP. From Paulsdale to Lafayette Square. And the steadfast architecture of Hicksite Quakers; Forward Into Light.
If you want to know Miss Alice Stokes Paul, the Quaker genius who masterminded the American Suffrage victory, this is the book. Finally you can follow the unfolding of her inspiration, her deep understanding of power and get inside of the political complexity of the “First Wave.” So much here to find for the first time and find familiar. Within it all; Miss Alice one step ahead, widening her domain, examining her motivations but always the Equality of Women.
Of course I have to rate 5 stars. It is the best and I have read them all.
There are three things I wish were different.
1) I wish for 100 more photos. There are a few, some I have never seen, but it is not enough.
2) I wish more was said about Miss Paul or AP (as Miss Paul often signed) believing the vote was one of many steps on the path to full, global equality. Her vision was for all women, for all time.
3) I am bereft that this book ends in 1923. Alice Paul Claiming Power is more than worthy and brilliant which is why I wanted it to cover more than 35 of her 92 years. Her last 57 years is distilled in a four page epilogue. I will always long for such a wonderful book to include Miss Paul going to Geneva, founding the World Women’s Party, her resistance efforts during the war, the maddening journey with the ERA, her closing years with her greedy nephew and her rescue by the Jews she hid 30 years before.
Let there be no mistake, I will always look for that full life biography. Miss Paul did not vaporize with the success of the suffrage campaign. She cannot be reduced to this ten year segment. In fact, to the activist, her longevity with sustained purpose is her greatest legacy. I love Miss Paul. I am so grateful for this book. I have to stop now and read it all over again.