It’s a milestone year for women’s rights and the team at Alice Paul Institute (API) has plenty of programs, panels and presentations in store to educate as its celebrates.
With 2020 marking the centennial of the 19th amendment — the formal constitutional revision granting women the right to vote — API has seized on the momentous occasion to bring a range of relevant topics and events to the public.
“I would say that almost 100 percent of our programming for the year is centered around celebrating the centennial in a variety of ways,” API Outreach & Civic Engagement Director Krista Niles said.
And with March being Women’s History Month, API’s most immediate programs couldn’t be more timely.
“We believe in living history, so we take contemporary issues and show how they’re connected to the work that the suffragettes were doing,” said Niles.
She cites the quickly approaching March 14 event, “New Jersey Suffrage: Its Many Faces” — a four-person panel of historians — as a prime example of API’s mission to showcase how the past and present are inexorably intertwined.
“The panel profiles many of the women who were working for suffrage here in New Jersey,” Niles explained. “It talks about how local women had a big influence on the suffrage movement overall and the emerging tactics they utilized for outreach — they were kind of the original social media inventors, the avant-garde of using media and different methods to promote their cause.”
API is named for suffragette, activist and feminist icon Alice Paul, a turn-of-the-century Mt. Laurel native. Her accomplishments include passionately petitioning for the passage of the 19th amendment and fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that seeks equal rights for all regardless of gender.
The 200-year-old farmhouse that’s home to API, Paulsdale, is where its namesake was born and raised; designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1991, it is, according to Niles, “one of less than 4 percent of historic landmarks across the country that honor the life of a woman.”
The institute, founded in 1984, doesn’t just bear the name of Paul: It embodies her indomitable spirit while advancing her causes.
“We’re here to preserve Alice Paul’s story and to continue her legacy and her work for legal and lasting gender equality in the United States,” Niles noted. “She was such an effective leader — and what people don’t always know is that she was kind of shy and somewhat introverted, but she recognized that her leadership was most effective in strategizing and organizing.
“We really embody that belief that everyone has something to contribute. We want everybody to understand that one person can make a difference.”
For those who work behind the scenes to bring API’s vision and beliefs to the community, Niles believes it’s an honor to uphold the same ideals that previous generations of women have fought for.
“Alice Paul was an amazing force in terms of changing the direction for public policy and legislation as it pertained to women and girls,” Niles said.
While the past century has seen tremendous, positive social change, Niles said there is always opportunity for improvement.
“Women have made major strides and gains in many spaces: in Corporate America, in business and public policy. And we’re seeing so many more women run for public office and be elected,” she explained. “But for as many legislative gains as we have made, a lot of those laws can be rescinded or challenged.
“The 19th amendment and the proposed amendments, like the ERA Alice Paul authored, those really state what our priorities are as a country — what do we preserve, what do we fight for, what are our beliefs — so a lot of our work is going toward getting the ERA ratified to the constitution.”
Events like the March 14 panel aim to underscore that need to educate while bringing an array of related topics to the public through accessible, engaging programs.
Other upcoming events include:
- Second Saturdays: On the second Saturday of every month, API offers guided tours of Paulsdale from 12 to 2 p.m., typically followed by a history program from 2 to 4 p.m.
- The Fight for Equal Pay: Held on April 4, this talk will explore the topic of equal pay for equal work.
- Spring Tea at Paulsdale: Join Dr. Julie Suk, author of “Mother of the E.R.A,” for high tea on the Paulsdale porch May 3.
- 2120: Envisioning Equality: The June 19 “premier event of the year” for API is a symposium where, according to Niles, “women from all walks of life can come and strategize like the suffragettes did,” to discuss pressing issues and how to work together to address them.
- Votes for Women Lawn Party: The June 20 centennial celebration will be a family-friendly party featuring food trucks, performances and activities.
Most of all, Niles wants the public to benefit from everything API offers, especially during a year celebrating the power and importance of preserving democracy.
“I would love for people to know that Paulsdale is here as a public history museum that invites people to come and visit — we’re the best-kept local secret and we don’t want to be a secret!” Niles said with a laugh.
“We want everyone to understand that their voting rights are sacred because democracy functions at its best when everyone’s voices are heard. In our children’s programs, our educators and facilitators use a phrase I love: ‘You might not get your way but you’ll always have your say.’”
Visit alicepaul.org for more information.