Our twenty dollar bill is due for a redesign soon. The ‘Women on 20s’ Campaign is devoted to getting President Obama to choose a woman to be the new face of $20. Why are we interested in this? Two of the 15 women candidates have ties to New Jersey! Clara Barton and Alice Paul deserve your NJ votes so go to the website now and choose Barton and Paul.
Clara Barton wasn’t born in New Jersey but she spent important years of her life here and made New Jersey history. She was born in Oxford, MA in 1821 and became a teacher. She founded the first free school in New Jersey. We recognize her name best as a nurse during the Civil War when she brought food and medical supplies directly to the front lines, earning her the nickname “angel of the battlefield.” Later, after hearing about an international relief organization in Europe that was always at the ready, she came back home and lobbied for the creation of the American Red Cross and for 23 years served as its president.
Clara started teaching in 1838 and in 1850 she decided to further her education by pursuing writing and languages at the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York. At the Clinton Liberal Institute, she befriended Mary Norton of Hightstown, NJ. After graduation, Barton’s visit to Norton in Bordentown and its groups of kids roaming the streets made an impression on Clara. Clara immediately sought out the chairman of the school committee and asked for an interview. Clara opened New Jersey’s first free school in Bordentown. Laws had existed in New Jersey for free public education but had not yet been implemented.
Clara was given a ramshackle one room school house, on the first day six children showed up for school. They spent the first few days cleaning up the school house and getting it ready for children. She started the program in 1852 with six children and very little else, by 1853 there were over 600 children in the program, receiving lessons from teachers housed in locations all over the city. When a bout of laryngitis kept her from her classroom for several months, the school committee appointed a man as principal of the new program Clara created. Frustrated, in 1855 she moved to Washington D.C. and began work as a clerk in the US Patent Office and on to national fame once the Civil War began.
Alice Paul is the other New Jersey woman on the ‘Women on 20s’ campaign ballot. Born in Moorestown in 1885, Paul was a descendant of William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. The foundation of her activism was the Quaker tradition of public service and promotion of gender equality. Highly educated, Paul attended Moorestown Friends School, where she graduated at the top of her class and then went on to earn a BA in biology, an MA in sociology, a PhD in economics, and several graduate law degrees. While studying and working in England, Paul became acquainted with women suffragists and their militant tactics. She was arrested seven times and imprisoned three times, participating in several hunger strikes. Returning to the US in 1910, physically weakened but determined, she teamed up with London colleague Lucy Burns and together they began to lead the suffrage charge under the auspices of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
In 1913, the group organized the largest parade ever in Washington to coincide President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Eight thousand marched and a half-million viewed the parade, many onlookers harassing the participants. Later, Paul used police inaction in protecting the marchers to garner public sympathy. Paul and Burns split from NAWSA in 1914 when the organization refused to support a push for a constitutional amendment and formed their own more radical party (which became the National Woman’s Party) to advocate for women’s enfranchisement. In 1917, they became the first protestors to picket the White House and spent 18 months there, displaying banners asking, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
Paul was arrested in October 1917 and spent seven long months in jail, organizing hunger strikes, enduring severe beatings along with the others. She was force-fed raw eggs through a feeding tube and assigned to solitary confinement and the psychiatric ward. Press coverage led to a public outcry and her eventual release. Public opinion soon swung in favor of the movement and, with President Wilson’s support, Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution on August 26, 1920.
After ratification, Paul worked to get an equal rights amendment passed. Her efforts to get women’s rights language into the United Nations preamble resulted in many nations around the world adopting equal rights language that the US has never accepted.
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