By Sarah Kirksey, undergraduate, Louisiana State University
Alice Mary Clarisse was born on April 1, 1868 to Peter Clarisse and Mary McGuirk Clarisse in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her father was a native of New Orleans, her mother from Indiana. She was raised in New Orleans. She married Nestor J. Cosu from Belgium, and like her parents, settled in New Orleans. Nestor and Alice lived in prominent homes of New Orleans: 808 Dauphine Street, 831 Bourbon Street, 1005 Barracks Street, and 1012-16 Esplanade Avenue. During her time fighting for women’s rights, Cosu lived at the Dauphine Street address in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Alice Cosu was the vice chairman of the Louisiana state branch of the National Woman’s Party. The branch office was located in New Orleans.
On November 10, 1917, Alice M. Cosu was one of a large group of women arrested for picketing the White House and President Woodrow Wilson; she was 49 years old at the time. The arrest and treatment of the women were horrendous, however, yet the fight for democracy and equal rights was the motivation that kept the women alive. Cosu was one of those who experienced the brutality of the prison guards during the now infamous “Night of Terror” at Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. At Occoquan, Cosu shared a cell with Mrs. Mary Nolan of Jacksonville, Florida and Mrs. Dora Lewis of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At age 73, Nolan was the oldest woman in the group. Lewis was manhandled and terribly mistreated on the Night of Terror. A guard slammed Lewis’s head against an iron bedpost; afterwards, Lewis was unresponsive. Thinking her cellmate dead, Cosu suffered a heart attack, which she survived. After surviving the “Night of Terror,” Alice Cosu and the rest of the arrested women were released from prison on November 27, 1917. Alice Cosu’s experience during the “Night of Terror” was documented not only in Louisiana but throughout the United States. Newspapers everywhere documented the severity of the night in prison using Alice Cosu’s heart attack as an example of the suffragists’ suffering and horrible treatment by the guards.
Small details on Alice Cosu’s parents and husband can be found at the United States Census, 1930 database through FamilySearch.org. Information on Alice Cosu’s now historic homes can be found on The New Orleans Historic Collection website at http://www.hnoc.org/visit/aboutus.html. Two of the homes she owned, including the house she lived in while active in the women’s suffrage movement are now for sale in the famous New Orleans French Quarter. Both Mary Ellen Snodgrass’s Civil Disobedience: An Encyclopedic History of Dissidence in the United States and Doris Stevens’s Jailed for Freedom detail Alice Cosu’s role as a suffragist, her arrest as well as her experience during the “Night of Terror.”