Helen Paul (1889-1961)
By Jill D. Zahniser, Independent Scholar
This biographical sketch was first published on the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States and appears here by permission. That database is accessible at https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/VOTESforWOMEN
She would stand in the shadow of her older and famous sister, Alice Paul, all her life. Helen tried teaching, and abandoned her Quaker faith for Christian Science, but also joined her ambitious sister’s suffrage work. She would spend her last years with Alice, living in a Ridgefield, Connecticut cottage.
Helen Paul was born in Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey on August 10, 1889, four years after her elder sister Alice. Helen was the Pauls’ third child and second daughter. Their father William Paul had purchased a 200-acre farm before their birth and the bucolic environment of Paulsdale would be Helen’s home base for the first decades of her life. The Paul children matured in a well-to-do, but frugal household which devoutly followed local Hicksite Quaker mores and manners. Through high school, Helen and her siblings attended the Moorestown Friends School, which still exists today.
Helen asserted some independence from her family beginning with her post-secondary education. She began matriculating at Swarthmore College in 1907. A Parry ancestor had helped found this first Quaker college, located just south of Philadelphia. Mrs. Paul insisted that her children attend the college. Helen quickly found the school not to her liking. With Alice’s support, Helen transferred to Wellesley, from which she graduated in 1911. One signal event at Wellesley for Helen was the opportunity to meet Emmeline Pankhurst, when the latter appeared in Boston during an American lecture tour.
Helen Paul began teaching at a New Jersey school but found the experience nerve-wracking; she resigned after a short time. Her health declined until she found a Christian Science practitioner whose recommendations eased her condition. She decided to leave the Moorestown Friends Meeting, which occasioned considerable stir, and become a Christian Scientist.
Helen enthusiastically joined suffrage activities after Alice became involved with the Pankhursts in England and later rose to leadership in the American suffrage community. Helen helped organize the New Jersey contingent for the March 1913 suffrage procession in Washington. She wrote Alice about plans to attend the November 1913 NAWSA Annual Convention: “It is a most delightful privilege to be thy sister when going to suffrage meetings—thy name acts like magic—the people immediately take great interest in me & introduce me to everyone.” Helen served as the Congressional Union chair for New Jersey, but as her sister’s political activities became more controversial, Helen’s suffrage work diminished, perhaps because of disapproval from Mrs. Paul. Helen continued to be supportive of Alice Paul, however.
After the death of her mother in 1930, Helen purchased property in Ridgefield, Connecticut and may have moved there as well. Alice Paul left full-time work around 1950 and the sisters began living together in Ridgefield. Helen Paul died of pneumonia on March 17, 1961. She was buried with her parents and two brothers in the Friends cemetery behind the Westfield Friends Meeting in New Jersey, where Alice would join her in 1977.
The only extant Helen Paul papers are included with the Alice Paul Papers at the Schlesinger Library for Women’s History. The Alice Paul Institute, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, holds a small Paul family archive. J.D. Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry’s Alice Paul: Claiming Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) contains the fullest account of Helen Paul’s suffrage activities through 1920 and her relationship with Alice Paul.