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The hottest NYC musical focuses on an unlikely hero from South Jersey

Rita Giordano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Entertainment News

Her genius was working behind the scenes.

“She was a brilliant strategist,” Walton said. “People recognized that no one would do or could do what she was doing. People used that word ‘charisma’. She was charismatic.”

She was the master organizer, enlisting some of her comrades to be the movement’s more public figures. In "Suffs," that is Inez Milholland, the beautiful, brilliant socialite suffragist, played by "Hamilton" alumna Phillipa Soo. In real life, Milholland, a lawyer by profession who rode a white horse in the famous women’s march, defied opponents’ stereotype of suffragists as uncomely females who couldn’t “get a man.”

When it came to gender equality, Paul was a radical — and a single-minded one. She never married or had children. Her life was the cause. When she’d had it with the suffrage movement’s more conservative leadership, and they had become critical of her extreme tactics, she formed her own organization — the National Woman’s Party.

“She recognized in America, it’s all about the law,” said Lucy Beard, Alice Paul Institute project consultant and former executive director. “We don’t have a common religion. We don’t have a common ethnicity, a common anything. What we have that makes us a nation is our laws, and it in the Constitution. That’s where change will happen.”

Decades later, Paul’s laser-like focus of the ERA drew criticism from women who thought she should have been actively supporting other issues, like equal pay and child care.

 

“She would tell people they were getting themselves sidetracked by other issues and should focus on the big picture,” said Beard.

At the time of Paul’s death, the ERA was closer than ever to ratification.

“She was literally lobbying from a wheelchair in a nursing home in Moorestown,” Beard said. She would exhort visitors to lobby their members of Congress. “You didn’t get out of there until you promised her you’d make that call.”

Race also plays a complex role in the history of these early feminists, including Paul, and some of that is reflected in "Suffs," voiced especially by the Black journalist and suffragist Ida B. Wells. Some historians argue that Paul’s singular devotion to the eventual passage of the ERA meant she was reluctant to champion the public participation of Black women — who were crucial players in the suffrage movement — for fear of alienating potential allies.

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