Sisterhood of Struggle: Leadership and Strategy in the Campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment
Feminist Legal History, Tracey A. Thomas & Tracey Jean Boisseau eds., NYU Press, 2011
17 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2013
Date Written: February 28, 2013
This chapter examines the role of Alice Paul's leadership in securing passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Recent scholarship on popular constitutionalism reminds us that constitutional history encompasses more than the work of litigators and judges; it also addresses movements for social and political reforms, including constitutional amendments. To achieve success, reformers must consider opportunities and constraints posed by the broader social and political context, make use of available resources, and devise appropriate tactics. All these strategic choices depend upon effective leaders and organizations. When the twenty-eight-year-old Paul assumed the leadership of the militant suffrage campaign, she sought to establish her place among an older generation of remarkable female reformers and activitists: Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Carrie Chapman Catt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Florence Kelley, Mary Church Terell, Lillian Wald, among many others. Historians like Anne Firor Scott have called attention to the "extraordinary efflorescence of female leadership" in this era, and a rich literature in women's history has examined these leaders' lives and legacies. Paul's work in the militant suffrage campaign is one of the most notable examples of successful leadership in the "age of reform," and yet her role has never received similarly sustained appraisals.
This chapter focuses, in particular, on two important features of her strategy: her use of a passionate politics relying on emotional appeals for recruitment, mobilization, persuasion, and contention; and her commitment to unruly defiance, through the party accountability campaigns and wartime acts of civil disobedience. Rather than simply describe these tactics and their results, this chapter instead draws on recent scholarship examining the role of leadership style and organizational form in social movements — what one scholar has called "strategic capacity" — in order to explore how these strategies were chosen and implemented, and to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Paul's approach.
Keywords: legal history, social movements, Nineteenth Amendment
JEL Classification: K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation