American Portraits

Nothing Complicated About Ordinary Equality: Alice Paul and Self-Sacrifice

In this lesson, students will learn about the self-sacrifice of Alice Paul and ways in which they can sacrifice their own comfort for what they believe.

Founding Principles

Equality image


Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Representative / Republican Government image

Representative / Republican Government

Form of government in which the people are sovereign (the ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.


From a young age, Paul demonstrated outstanding academic promise, and though she studied social work and served the poor at settlement houses, she disdained the typical professions open to women: nursing, teaching, and social work. She later explained, “I knew in a very short time I was never going to be a social worker, because I could see that social workers were not doing much good in the world…you couldn’t change the situation by social work.” After completing a bachelor’s degree in biology and then a master’s degree in sociology, Paul sailed to Great Britain in 1907. There, she began to work in the women’s rights movement, while continuing her studies in economics and sociology. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Britain, participating in processions, demonstrations, and civil disobedience for women’s equal rights. As a result, Paul and other suffragettes were repeatedly arrested and imprisoned….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you sacrifice your comfort to stand up for your beliefs?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the self-sacrifice of Alice Paul and ways in which they can sacrifice their own comfort for what they believe.


  • Students will analyze the actions of Alice Paul.
  • Students will understand the virtue of self-sacrifice.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of self-sacrifice in their own lives.


The organized reform movement for American women’s economic and legal rights, including suffrage, is commonly dated from the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. At this meeting of about 300 people, Elizabeth Cady Stanton read her Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, and 100 attendees signed the document. Stanton met Susan B. Anthony three years later and for the next half century the two women collaborated in a powerful partnership focused on numerous social reforms including the abolition of slavery, support for temperance, and pursuit of legal equality for women.

In 1885, Alice Paul was born to a Quaker family in New Jersey, and as a small child she attended women’s suffrage events with her mother. She would become one of the most powerful voices for women’s rights in the new century, bringing new life to a movement that had stalled out by 1900.


  • Collaborated
  • Temperance
  • Militant
  • Scandalous
  • Inauguration
  • Undeterred
  • Autocracy
  • Esophagus

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What did Alice Paul understand her purpose to be?
  • In what ways did Paul sacrifice her own interests for the good of others?
  • Why did Paul join the women’s suffrage movement?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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