Back to Inquiry Set

11.2.5 Alice Paul Describes Force Feeding

Alice Paul describes her disruption of Lord Mayor's banquet and subsequent force feeding after hunger strike in Holloway jail. She refused to wear prison clothes or to work, so spent the month in bed.
1909
Clipping
Library of Congress

Alice Paul Describes Force Feeding. London, England, Dec-09, 1909. Manuscript. From Library of Congress, Rare Book And Special Collections Division. https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbcmil.scrp6014301/

The headline of this London newspaper article from 1909 explains that Alice Paul, an American suffragist, who spent a great deal of time involved in both the British suffragette (a British term) and American voting rights movements, experienced being force-fed during a hunger strike that she chose to start while in jail. Take a look at the first paragraph and locate the reason Paul was placed under arrest, and what her sentence was for her crime. Based on Paul’s description, why do you think she went on a hunger strike in jail? How did jail officials force-feed her? Why did she describe in detail the experience of being force-fed? Why do you think it is important that this article highlighted how Paul, an American suffragist, fought for suffrage in Britain? How did this newspaper article compare American and British suffrage efforts?

The headline of this London newspaper article from 1909 explains that Alice Paul, an American suffragist, experienced being force-fed during a hunger strike that she chose to start while in jail. Paul was the radical leader of the Congressional Union, which would go on to become the National Women’s Party. Her radical methods and ideology stood in opposition to the more moderate National Association Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt. Paul learned the more radical methods (many of which she had learned while working in England) that she originally introduced to the United States through the Congressional Union in England. Ask students to take a look at the first paragraph and locate the reason Paul was placed under arrest, and what her sentence was for her crime. Based on Paul’s description, ask students to consider why they think she went on a hunger strike in jail. How did jail officials force-feed her? Ask students to make connections between the radicalization of her strategies by considering the questions: Why do you think Paul described in detail the experience of being force-fed? In what ways did the battle for US women’s suffrage extend beyond the United States? This newspaper article serves as an important piece of evidence for the second part of the question, how did women convince men to grant them the right to vote?

Being Fed Through Nostrils Is Described by Alice Paul, Young American Suffragette

Inventor of Hunger Strike Tells How British Prison Physicians Keep Life in Women Who Won't Eat or Wear Clothes.
London, Dec. 9. - Miss Alice Paul, of Philadelphia, the suffragette who was arrested November 9th and sentenced to a month's hard labor for her share in the suffragette demonstration at the Lord Mayor's banquet at the Guildhall, was released from Holloway jail this morning on the completion of her thirty days. She left the prison in a cab, accompanied by two wardresses, and went to the home of friends. A doctor was immediately called to attend her there, owing to her weakened condition.

Miss Paul, who was the inventor of the suffragettes' "hunger strike" and practiced it during her latest term in jail, was cheerful, and said she did not regret her conduct, and was prepared to repeat it again if necessary. She said she was unable to undergo the ordeal of an interview, but later she sent your correspondent a statement by a friend. On previous convictions, Miss Paul was able to gain her freedom by refusing to eat, but her tactics were futile this time.

Miss Paul said she was the granddaughter of a New Jersey judge, and master of arts of the University of Pennsylvania, She had done a great deal of settlement work during the last four years, and came to London in Septemeber, 1908, to study economics. After saying that she was first struck by the contrast between the academic interest in woman suffrage in America and the lively character of the movement here, Miss Paul told this story of her prison life.

"I practiced a hunger strike until November 11th. After that date they fed me twice a day by force, except on one day when I was too ill to be touched, I have no complaints against the Holloway officials. I spent the whole time in bed, because I refused to wear prison clothes. Each day, I was wrapped in blankets and taken to another cell to be fed, the food being injected through my nostrils.

"During this operation the largest Wardress in Holloway sat astride my knees, holding my shoulders, down to keep me from bending forward. Two other wardresses sat on either side and held my arms. Then a towel was placed around my throat, and one doctor from behind forced my head back, while another doctor put a tube in my nostril. When it reached my throat my head was pushed forward.

"Twice the tube came through my mouth and I got it between my teeth. My mouth was then pried open with an instrument. Sometimes they tied me to a chair with sheets. Once I managed to get my hands loose and snatched the tube, tearing it with my teeth. I also broke a jug, but I didn't give in."

Miss Paul lives alone in London. Her friend told me with great gusto how Miss Paul had eluded the vigilance of the police at the Lord Mayor's banquet. It seems she and Miss Amedia Brown, her partner in the escapade, dressed charwomen, went to the Guildhall at 9 o'clock in the morning. Every time they met anyone they asked the way to the kitchen. They had many hairbreadth escapes, and once, seeing a policeman close at hand, they knelt down to escape notice. In the dark the policeman actually put his cape on them. Finally they succeeded in getting to the gallery overlooking the banqueting hall, where they shrieked and threw stones through a stained glass window.

Miss Lucy Burns, the other American suffragette, is following Winston Spencer Churchill around the country, making it as warm as possible for the President of the Board of Trade.