Constable: It's time to honor a woman with a national holiday

  • Once the United States finally gets around to adding the Equal Rights Amendment to our Constitution, we should name a federal holiday in honor of Alice Paul, the suffragette who wrote it in 1923.

    Once the United States finally gets around to adding the Equal Rights Amendment to our Constitution, we should name a federal holiday in honor of Alice Paul, the suffragette who wrote it in 1923. Courtesy of Library of Congress

  • The women's marches Sunday across the nation were impressive. But so is this crowd on March 4, 1913, when Alice Paul organized the Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C.

    The women's marches Sunday across the nation were impressive. But so is this crowd on March 4, 1913, when Alice Paul organized the Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of National Archives

 
 
Updated 1/21/2020 6:25 AM

We rightfully honored Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday for his important contribution to America as the leader of the civil rights movement. Yet there would be no MLK holiday without that movement's contributions from women.

The Library of Congress interviewed more than 50 women who were vital to the movement as part of its Civil Rights History Project. But we still don't have a national holiday in honor of a woman.

 

Women have a dream, too. They were marching over the weekend in the suburbs and across the nation to inform people about a variety of issues, including the importance of being counted in the 2020 census, curbing gun violence, responding to climate change, expanding health care access and getting everyone out to vote in November. Those issues are important regardless of gender, just as the civil rights movement is important to Americans regardless of skin color.

The 15th Amendment granted black men the right to vote in 1870. It took another 50 years before the 19th Amendment extended that same right to all women. Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi became the first black member of the U.S. Congress in 1870. Women made that leap in 1916, when Jeannette Rankin of Montana was elected to the House of Representatives.

Black men broke through the barrier in the judicial branch of government in 1967, when Thurgood Marshall became the first to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. It wasn't until 1981 that Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman to wear that robe.

The presidency no longer was the exclusive reign of white men when Barack Obama took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009, after receiving a record 69,456,000 votes. The second-highest popular vote total in a presidential election belongs to Hillary Clinton, with 65,844,610. But our nation still hasn't had a female president.

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We celebrated the first national holiday in King's honor in 1986, and it's time to have a holiday honoring a woman.

A day to honor Alice Paul would be a good choice. Born Jan. 11, 1885, in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, to a wealthy Quaker family that embraced gender equality, Paul earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Swarthmore College, got a master's degree in sociology from what is now Columbia University, and studied social work in England before getting her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, according to her biography on the National Women's History Museum website.

In pursuit of ending the prohibition against female voters, Paul organized what might be our nation's most important women's march. On March 3, 1913, 8,000 women marched to the White House before a crowd of 500,000 spectators who either cheered or harassed the marchers.

When that didn't win over new President Woodrow Wilson, Paul founded a lobbying group. By 1917, she and an army of "Silent Sentinels" picketed the White House. Arrested on a charge of obstructing traffic, Paul was sentenced to seven months in jail, where she organized a hunger strike in protest. Wilson finally came out in support of suffrage in 1918, and two years later the required 36 states approved the amendment.

The other amendment crusade of Paul, who died in 1977, remains in the midst of a battle. As a member of the National Women's Party, Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. The bid to have her simple, 24-word piece of legislation -- "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex" -- added to the Constitution continues 97 years later. This month, Virginia became the required 38th state to approve the ERA, but the Justice Department says it doesn't count because the deadline was in 1982.

A national holiday in Paul's honor might push us in the right direction. And there is a way to appease those people who oppose the ERA, would never vote for a female president or don't think we need a holiday honoring a woman.

Designate the Monday after the Super Bowl as Alice Paul Day. Having that day off should make everyone happy.

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