Philly student follows in footsteps of Alice Paul with march for ERA

Anna Holemans

Anna Holemans

Anna Holemans is a junior at Friends Select School in Philadelphia. As part of her work to earn a Gold Award, the highest achievement in the Girl Scouts, she decided to recreate the 1913 suffrage parade led by noted women’s rights activist Alice Paul, who was born in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

Anna is calling it “Alice’s March For Equality.”

“I started planning this march before I knew who was actually going to be elected, and … this march is bigger than either of the two candidates,” she said. “It’s about women’s equality because half of the population isn’t considered constitutionally equal.”

Anna is an active member of the Girls Advisory Council at the Alice Paul Institute.

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“I’m in love with Alice Paul. She’s one of my role models, so continuing her unfinished work is just exciting for me,” said Anna.

Paul was instrumental in the fight for women’s voting rights and helped to write the Equal Rights Amendment. In a 1970s interview archived on the institute’s website, Paul said the idea behind the amendment wasn’t complicated.

“Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction,” said Paul. “Cause that said it all and I said, that’s what we want, let’s say what we want.”

Institute executive director Lucy Beard said, while progress has been made toward equality over the years, the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified really drives Anna to carry on Alice Paul’s legacy. Beard said the Equal Rights Amendment matters even though laws ban discrimination against women.

“We live with a Constitution that does not guarantee rights regardless of your gender,” said Beard. “It literally says all men are created equal and when you use a word — a gender-specific word like men — it means that women are not included.”

For guidance in putting the Thursday march together, Anna turned to Colleen Puckett, the assistant head of school for external relations at Friends Select. Puckett, who has a long history of social activism, called Anna a natural leader.

“People want to follow her. People want to assist and help and their minds have been open too. So, there is a lot of excitement around,” said Puckett.

Anna’s parents were not surprised when she told them she was going to organize a march. They said she has always been passionate about equality. However, her dad, Pete, said even though Anna may be more engaged and aware than other kids her age she is still a teenager.

“As a father of a 16-year-old daughter, you know you don’t really get much of a statement in what they care about, right? They’re going to care about what they care about,” he said. “Fortunately for Anna, it’s something that we should all care about.”

A lot of work, much support and a bit of stress

Anna admitted planning a march wasn’t easy. When she started, the idea was to hold it in Washington, but that didn’t work.

“I’ve cried so many times about this march, just because it’s like, ‘OK, well now I have to switch it to Philadelphia. What does that mean?’

“And just stress because, it’s normal school and planning a march, and normally this is a full-time job,” she said.

She said her school, the Girl Scouts, and the Alice Paul Institute have been very supportive, but some others doubted her.

“People were just like, ‘All right, are you sure you can do this? Are you sure that you can pull this off? Do you know how to get a permit?’ Stuff like that.”

Those closest to Anna said, no matter how many people participate, successfully organizing a march like this is a victory. But up until the last minute, Anna intends to be pushing to get more people to join in the march. 

It will begin Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at Philadelphia City Hall and move along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to Eakins Oval where a rally will be held until 2:30 p.m.




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