In this episode, APU Management professor Cynthia Gentile talks to Lucy Beard about her time as the Executive Director of the Alice Paul Institute, which is dedicated to honoring the legacy of the influential suffragist by preparing young women for leadership roles. Learn how the small nonprofit fared during the pandemic and how being forced to provide virtual-only programming actually helped the organization reach and connect more girls than its in-person sessions.
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Cynthia Gentile: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Cynthia Gentile. Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with women leaders from across the professional spectrum on how the systemic effects of the pandemic have shifted their approach to being an effective coach, leader, teacher and citizen.
Today, my guest is Lucy Beard, who recently retired from her role as executive director of the Alice Paul Institute in New Jersey. The mission of the Alice Paul Institute, or API, is to honor the legacy of Alice Paul, a key suffragist and author of the Equal Rights Amendment, by working for gender equality through education and leadership development.
Lucy has dedicated the past 27 years to raising awareness of Alice Paul’s life and work for gender equality and to advocating for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She started with API as a volunteer, then later as a board member, and finally as executive director.
During her time at API, Lucy established the interpretive story for Paulsdale, Alice Paul’s home, and the only publicly accessible national historic landmark in New Jersey that honors women. Lucy helped to create the Alice Paul Leadership Program For Girls. Today those programs serve kindergarten through 12th grade students using the example of successful women leaders from the past and present to teach and inspire today’s young women to pursue leadership into the future.
Beyond her role at API, Lucy co-chaired New Jersey’s statewide commemoration of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020. She serves on the national steering committee of the Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative, and as a treasurer on the Board of Directors of the National Collaborative For Women’s History Sites, creator of the National Votes For Women Trail. In 2020, Lucy was named one of South Jersey Magazines’ 20 Super Women. Welcome Lucy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today.
Lucy Beard: Thanks very much for having me, Cyndi.
Cynthia Gentile: During your almost 30 years with API, and especially during your tenure as executive director, you oversaw the establishment of an endowment fund, opened a public exhibit which increased visits to Paulsdale tenfold, and expanded youth programming to provide year-round opportunities for young women to develop leadership skills to benefit themselves and their communities.
But just like so many other aspects of life, the world of nonprofit management was turned upside down last year by the pandemic. Traditional approaches to programming and subsequently fundraising where at least in the short term, no longer viable, yet you were able to shepherd API through this storm. At the onset of the pandemic, API was busy planning a year of programming in recognition of 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. When the full impact of COVID began to be realized, what were your initial thoughts and concerns for API?
Lucy Beard: Right. That’s an interesting question because in so many ways, I think I was the last one to grasp what was coming. I don’t know how to say this without coming from an ageist sort of thing, but everyone on staff were half my age, and they lived with phones, devices in their hands, and they were so up-to-date on all the latest information.
And for me, this was quite a hard transition, to go to working from home and only seeing other people online, trying to get my news from different sources, that kind of thing. I know in each staff meeting someone at some point would have to say to me, “Oh, this is going to go for a while, Lucy.” Whereas I kept thinking, “Oh, we’ll be back by Memorial day, oh, we’ll be back by July 4th.” And it wasn’t until into the summer that I realized, “Oh, this is going to go for a while.” So I think what helped me make the transition was being surrounded by these very incredibly intelligent and really nimble staff members. They helped make me more nimble, I think, through this.
Cynthia Gentile: So what were some of the things that you were planning that had to be sidelined or changed or canceled?
Lucy Beard: Looking back at what we had planned, I’m wondering now how we thought we were going to do it all for a small staff. One of our program people was out on maternity leave from February into the summer. And I don’t know how we would’ve done all of these things without her, but we were going to, that’s all there is to it, the little engine that can, will.
But we had planned a full menu of weekly programs, all in person of course, through the month of March, we had a very large one day symposium planned for June, really looking up ahead to the future. And that was going to be followed by an onsite party the next day to celebrate looking back 100 years. That was an enormous undertaking, we were partnering with a local law firm and looking for sponsors and lining them up.
And then through the summer, it was just going to be one event after another, through August 26, which is the anniversary of the 19th Amendment being ratified. And then into the Fall, at some point in the Fall, I think we might’ve dropped. I’m not sure, but we really had constant events and programs, educational programs, just around the Centennial Initiative. And this was all going to be while maintaining all of our leadership programs as well and involving the high school girls and our girls leadership council in the Centennial programming. So there was a lot of work planned.
Cynthia Gentile: That is quite a lot to undertake in a small nonprofit. Before we dig too much into what you did in response to the pandemic let’s back up a minute. Tell me a little bit about Alice Paul, about the Alice Paul Institute, and why she’s important for us to still recognize today?
Lucy Beard: Sure, happily. That’s what I’m most comfortable talking about. Alice Paul was born in the late 1800’s in South Jersey at Paulsdale. And she was a Quaker, which everyone in South Jersey was a Quaker at that time just about, but she was raised as a Quaker with this belief that men and women are equal, and that really informed how she approached the world.
And it was only as an adult when she left her little Quaker bubble here in South Jersey, that she encountered the rest of the world that didn’t think that way. They thought that women were an inferior sex. She was highly educated as were many young women, young Quaker women, in the late 19th century, early 20th.
And she got involved first in England and then in America in the suffrage movement, the right to vote for women movement. She became a leader, she rose to the leadership of the movement here in America, but leadership of what they would consider the radical side of that movement. These were the women that picketed in front of the White House, were jailed for that picketing, and eventually hunger struck and force fed in jail all because they were standing in front of the White House, asking for the right to vote.
Once the vote was won, and I always hesitate to say that the Constitution granted women the right to vote, they won the right to vote. They weren’t given or granted anything, they took it and demanded it. But once that happened in 1920, most of the thousands and thousands of women involved in the suffrage movement packed their bags and went home. They felt that it was over, they had won. But not Alice Paul.
She was dedicated to this notion that we have to guarantee equality through the law. She was a legal scholar, she graduated with a doctorate in law after 1920, because she truly wanted to understand the law in order to change it.
And then she developed and had introduced into Congress in 1923, a new amendment to the Constitution, which became known as the Equal Rights Amendment. And all that the ERA would do is guarantee equality regardless of your sex. And she fought for that amendment for the rest of her life until she died in 1977.
It did pass in Congress in 1972, and then was given a 10-year time limit for ratification by 38 of the 50 states. That’s the requirement, that three quarters of the states have to ratify or agree to the amendment. At her death, in 1977 we still needed three more states to ratify it. And when the time limit ran out in 1982, we still needed three states to ratify the amendment.
So she did not live to see the Equal Rights Amendment passed and we have not yet lived to see it pass. It is still unratified. However, 38 states have now ratified it. We got those final three just within the last four years, and we’re closer to getting an ERA now than we ever have. So I can’t help but think that Alice Paul is kind of watching and smiling on that one.
And I would encourage all listeners to investigate whether their senators are on board and support the ERA. And if they are not yet on board, please write them and encourage them to co-sponsor S.J. Res. 1 I believe that’s the number, which is the bill to accept the final three ratifications and make the ERA an amendment to our Constitution.
Cynthia Gentile: Thank you for giving us that great background, and your passion for Alice and all of her work really is so apparent. In preparing for this conversation, I did a little research and I stumbled upon a little snippet of information that in her later years, when individuals would want to come and visit with Alice in her nursing home in South Jersey, she would ask them to contact their senators to advocate for equality before they were allowed to come and see her. Is there truth to that?
Lucy Beard: Yes, that’s a consistent story we hear over and over. Here was this frail little woman in a wheelchair and people would just assume that her mind wasn’t as sharp. And then she would look at them and ask them, “What congressional district are you from? Where do you live?” And if they didn’t know their congressional representative’s names, she would tell them. And then she would tell them that, usually man’s record on the ERA. And then she’d point to a phone and say, “Now you need to go over there and make a phone call.” So you never got away from her without promising, if you hadn’t already done it, to contact your legislator.
Cynthia Gentile: That’s just so wonderful and awesome. And it is such a legacy that API continues today in developing the leadership skills within girls and women in the community. Can you talk a little bit about that and about some of that leadership programming that you mentioned a few minutes ago?
Lucy Beard: Yes. The women who started the Alice Paul Institute were ERA activists and they had watched the time limit run out in 1982. And then they were all meeting together at some point in the next year or so and they realized we live right down the road from the ERA author’s birthplace and her 100th birthday is coming up, in 1985, we want to do something to commemorate that.
So they formed a nonprofit called the Alice Paul Centennial Foundation, and said we’re going to do events to celebrate and commemorate, but also we want to do something tangible, something to memorialize Alice Paul. Here’s this woman who’s done so much for women throughout the 20th century and hasn’t been recognized. She really did not promote herself in any way and had been more or less written out of history by the less radical side of the suffrage movement. So she wasn’t well-known at all by that point in the 1980s.
So they created the organization, they had some events. And then in 1990, the family that owned the property at Paulsdale approached them and said, “Would you consider saving this house when we decide to move away and downsize, would you consider saving the property and the house and somehow doing something to honor Alice Paul?”
So this group that started with an intention to do something tangible to remember Alice Paul, had it basically offered to them at a price tag of half a million dollars, but still, there was their tangible thing, a six-and-a-half-acre property at a 200-year-old building. And they bravely said yes, and then spent the next several years on a fundraising campaign to raise money to purchase the house and then to secure a mortgage for it. And then these activists were, by ownership of this 200-year-old building were converted into preservationists and they all developed a real appreciation for the idea of saving women’s historic sites, that we show what we value by what we save.
But then they brought activists from around the state of New Jersey together in the parlor at Paulsdale and said, now what’s the best use for this place? Alice Paul didn’t leave us any furniture, they didn’t necessarily want to create a historic house museum, but what would be the best use? And everyone, there was sort of a synergy in the group. And they came to a consensus in a very Quakerly fashion. Consensus came out of the room that, use this place to keep Alice Paul’s work moving forward. That Alice Paul wouldn’t want a historic house museum, she would want us to be doing something toward getting the ERA passed and creating a better world of equality. And that was really the touchstone for everyone. And the birth of this idea, this concept of creating a leadership center at the property.
And in the early 1990s, which is when this was, the idea of taking a historic site and using it to address contemporary issues was a very new one. Frankly, when I came along as a volunteer, it was a hard case to make to potential funders, they couldn’t understand it. If we had said, we’re going to put a velvet sofa over there and I’ll dress up like Alice Paul and serve tea, we’ll do reenactments, that they could get. But this idea that no, there probably won’t be any historic furniture. There will be modern conference room furniture and workshops and all that, that just didn’t make sense to them.
And I will say that the idea has caught on since then, these women were just a little ahead of their time. So then in the mid-90s, while still raising money to pay off a mortgage on the property and get the house ready for public accessibility, it was habitable, but it wasn’t up to code for school groups or things like that, large-scale meetings. A group on the board, who were all volunteers, started deciding on what those programs would look like, the leadership development programs.
And that was the start of the Alice Paul Leadership Program. And we started with large scale focus groups, one day meetings of girls from all over the region, coming together for a day, learning about Alice Paul, meeting each other, working together on team activities.
And then we took what we learned from those days, what the girls told us, what was important to them, what mattered, that helped us to create a curriculum for a series of workshops that we would take into area schools and work with girls over a period of weeks. Helping them to identify their strengths as leaders and their weaknesses, what they needed to work on, but always through the lens of looking at women as role models. Historical women, Alice Paul, Maggie Walker, contemporary women, Dolores Huerta, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ellen Ochoa, the astronaut, all kinds of role model women we called them.
So in all of our programs, which have now blossomed out of those initial focus groups to the in-school workshop series, to workshops that happen onsite at Paulsdale. In all of those programs, the focus is on women as role models of successful leadership.
Cynthia Gentile: So most of the programming, which is incredibly interesting and comprehensive and in full disclosure to our listeners, I am on the committee that works with advocacy around the ERA at the Alice Paul Institute and so I do know a little bit about these leadership development programs.
And in fairness were all conducted in person before the pandemic. So how did you approach restructuring such an incredibly hands-on, tactile, immersive experience into something that could be done because there was no other choice, could be done virtually?
Lucy Beard: Right. That’s been probably the biggest surprise to me. In January of 2020, we had 90 girls attending monthly meetings of a girls leadership council, and they literally can’t all fit in the building at one time. So we split them into three nights, group A on Tuesday, group B on Wednesday, C on Thursday. And we were all a little frustrated that group A girls weren’t getting to know group C girls, and the different dynamic in the different nights created a very different reaction to the same curriculum, the same materials.
So we were always looking for ways to get more of the girls together when we could, but we had to go off-site for that. So that we were seeing was becoming a challenge, and how can we solve that the capacity of our site was at most 30 at a time in our leadership programs, as well as our adult programs, that we were now limited by the physical space we were in, as well as the location we were in.
So we were all recognizing this over the last few years, if we really want to expand, and all of our strategic planning we’d talk about expanding, but it was how do we do this beyond our place? We’re limited by what girls have parents who will drive them to us, which meant automatically we weren’t serving a certain audience that didn’t have parents who were driving them or who lived too far away, just that’s it.
So these were all things that were rolling around in our minds leading up to this. And then all of a sudden, no one can come to us. So we had to pivot, and I know that was such a hackneyed, overused word for this a year ago at this time. But we had to pivot and realize we have to go out to them via the internet.
And, oh my goodness, it’s just, there were so many fortuitous things over the last two years that put us in a better position in March of 2020, in that we converted to a server system and cloud storage. And we had started on Microsoft Teams, even though we didn’t yet need it, and we had gotten a Zoom account. So we had means of communication immediately with each other.
And then with all the girls being at home from school, they were all doing these same kinds of things and learning them themselves. So our last in-person program was the beginning of March 2020. And we had one the beginning of April 2020 with the girls. Their next monthly meeting was online. And I’ll be honest I don’t think I ever said it out loud to the staff, but I was sure that we would lose so many girls because they just wouldn’t want to meet this way, but they stayed with us through the rest of the school year and then several of them signed up for a summer online program.
I think our enrollment in September of 2020 for the next school year for the Girls’ Leadership Council was in the 80’s. So we had lost a lot of seniors who had aged out of our program, but they were actually replaced by younger girls and new girls. So that has really been the biggest surprise to me.
Cynthia Gentile: So do you think that the social justice movements that started to take hold during the pandemic, in response to the pandemic, as well as in response to other issues in society played a role in increasing the interest for the girls to participate?
Lucy Beard: Yes, I absolutely do because we have been working with them for a couple of years now on learning advocacy skills. For the Equal Rights Amendment. We take them to Washington for a day of lobby training and then meeting with representatives on the Hill, some from New Jersey. They’ve often met with Congresswoman Jackie Spears who’s the sponsor in the House of Representatives for the passing the ERA, she’s leading the charge there and girls have gone to meet with her.
They’ve met with their own congressman who four years ago was not supporting the ERA, and they questioned what is it that is a problem for you with the ERA? Our current Congressman is a big supporter of it, so they’ve gone to meet him and thank him for that.
So we’ve been teaching them some advocacy skills and our whole curriculum is based around current issues, both American issues and international issues that affect girls and women. So they’re steeped in current events and issues like that. I will say that our girls were really ready for a lot of the conversations that were happening nationally last summer and into the fall, they embraced the topics around social justice readily.
Cynthia Gentile: That’s a testament to the programming too, because I know many adults who weren’t ready for that conversation.
Lucy Beard: Right. Yeah, it’s true.
Cynthia Gentile: So when you think about yourself as a leader, what have you learned from your time with these younger girls and young women that has informed your own kind of leadership approach?
Lucy Beard: Oh, what a great question, Cyndi. I think the importance of listening, we used to kick around ideas in the early years of the leadership program like we want to teach them this, we want to teach them that. And then we would look at what they wanted to learn and see is this appropriate? Are we on the right track?
Because we always wanted to be relevant to the girls while still, and this may sound counterintuitive, but while still understanding that what girls say they need, isn’t always what they need. So it’s a give and take where we have to suggest things to them, see how they respond, and even if they don’t think they need it, learning how to teach them things that they need, whether or not they realize they need it. While still, at the same time, listening to them and making sure that we are also addressing what they say they need.
Cynthia Gentile: Sure. I think that’s similar to my experiences in the classroom, so I certainly can appreciate that. So thinking about your approach to programming or to how you had to pivot during the pandemic, all of these kind of tough decisions, how do you approach decision-making? Take me through a process for you when you were executive director at API when you had to make a tough decision?
Lucy Beard: I think the staff would say that I was extremely collaborative, but I will say that as the staffing grew, because I started there 20 years ago, there were two of us. And I was half-time I think, as the program director. It was several years before there were three of us, and in 2020 there were 10 of us, 11, excuse me, two of them were part-time, so that’s a bigger group to build consensus among and all that. So I think I am a very collaborative sort of leader and would put things out there and want to hear everyone’s ideas.
But as the staff grew, I became more aware that I have to make it clear that in the end I have to make the decision. And I’m not naturally a very hierarchical person so that was a challenge for me personally, to have to say that out loud, I was never comfortable with that. But I learned in the last two, three years as the staff really grew to the size it did, that I needed to do that, to make other people feel secure too. And let them know, don’t worry, I know I’m the one holding the buck.
Cynthia Gentile: So I know that you’ve now stepped away from your executive director role with API, but reflecting on your time that you were in that leadership position, having rose through the ranks of a small nonprofit, how do you define success? What would you look back on and say, or point to as a successful program or a successful approach. Something that you did that would really be the hallmark of how you define success at your time at API?
Lucy Beard: The things I feel most successful at and most proud of is that other people began to feel as passionately as I did. That, I was able to transmit the passion I felt for Alice Paul’s story and her cause, and inspire the staff and volunteers and other people to feel the same way. And to feel empowered to use that as giving them more confidence.
Probably the highlight of my last eight years as executive director were those monthly nights, when the girl’s leadership council were meeting in downstairs, I would intentionally stay late so I could sit upstairs and just hear what they were talking about and hear these girls make this connection to Alice Paul and other women, and say, “Look at that, they could do this. I can too.” I would leave the office after their meetings just walking on air. I was so excited by the future I saw with these young women.
I firmly believe the future is female. And I would see that continually with these girls. And it would just, it was like a shot in the arm, no matter what was going on in the world or how challenged I felt by just the challenges of running a small nonprofit, those nights, seeing those girls and what they were learning and how they valued it, was just really wonderful.
Cynthia Gentile: Well, Lucy, I can’t think of a better way to define success than that. You gave me goosebumps thinking about that as a mom to two teen girls, I can appreciate that the future is female. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today and to share all of these experiences and perspectives. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.
Lucy Beard: As did I, thanks a lot, Cyndi.
Cynthia Gentile: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. Be well and be safe.