By Helen Brown, undergraduate, Loyola University Chicago
Alice Asbury was born in Quincy, Illinois. Her father, Henry Asbury, moved from Kentucky to Illinois and became a distinguished lawyer in Chicago. His success allowed Abbott to attend private school before enrolling at the University of Illinois, where she and another student were granted scholarships due to their status as children of deceased Union veterans of the Civil War. Abbott spent her four years at the university studying science and languages, including one year in Germany. In June 1871, Asbury married Abial Ralph Abbott, a lawyer from Binghamton, N.Y. He was a graduate of Amherst College. The couple eventually had two daughters, Sarah and Alice, and remained in Chicago. Despite her marriage, she did not identify only by her husband’s name and in many sources has been referred to with her full name: Mrs. Alice Asbury Abbott.
Abbott’s high quality education encouraged her to become an avid supporter and member of the Republican Party. In July 1880 she showed her support for women’s right to vote by sending a letter to The National Citizen and Ballot Box newspaper of Syracuse, New York, exclaiming, “I want to vote as I see no reason why I should not.”
While living in Chicago, Abbott maintained membership with the Fortnightly and the Women’s Club of Chicago; and she worked as editor for a Chicago-based scientific journal. In 1892, she received notoriety for her English translation and publication of Baroness Bertha von Suttner’s Die Waffen Nieder. Shortly after, in 1893, Abbott penned a statement called Compensation which discussed the unusual difficulties faced by women and the need for proper buildings and materials to support women receiving higher education.
Abbott’s dedication to academia did not go unnoticed as she worked her way up to the University of Illinois’ Board of Trustees. In January 1895, Chairman John R. Tanner of the State Central committee promised the next nomination for State University trustee to go to Abbott. It is important to note that this nomination was promised under the condition that Abbott “hold the Republican women of Chicago to a line of political inactivity until the Legislature adjourns.” She served on the University of Illinois’s Board of Trustees from 1898-1905 and was a representative on the Standing Committees for the University’s Agriculture, Buildings and Grounds, Student’s Welfare, and the School of Pharmacy. During her time as a Trustee, Abbott submitted a proposal to have the medical building leased to non-University groups in order to accumulate more money to help pay for taxes, insurance, repairs, and new equipment. This proposal was approved.
In August 1918 Abbott took her suffrage support to Washington, D.C. as she and Miss Gertrude Crocker represented Illinois in picketing the White House with the National Woman's Party. The protest emphasized the "necessity for active protest on the part of the women of the country." As banner bearers, Abbott, Crocker, and hundreds of others marched in opposition to the Democratic Senators who filibustered until a recess suspended consideration of the amendment to extend the vote to women.
William L. Pillsbury, comp. 22nd Report of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (Springfield, IL: Phillips Bros., State Printers, 1904). Online at http://archives.library.illinois.edu/erec/University%20Archives/0101802/01_volumes/1902-1904.pdf, accessed, 12 Sept. 2015.
James Herbert Kelley, "Trustees of the University," The Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, including Historical Sketch and Annals of the University, and Biographical Data Regarding Members of the Faculties and the Boards of Trustees (Urbana-Champaign: U of Illinois, 1913), 775.
The National Citizen and Ballot Box, (July, 1880), pg. 227.
“Last Plans for the Protest Demonstration, August 6,” The Suffragist, 6:29 (1918), 5-6.
Winton U. Solberg, "Draper and the Board of Trustees," The University of Illinois, 1894-1904: The Shaping of the University (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 15.
Alice Asbury Abbott, “Compensation,” in The Congress of Women Held in the Women’s Building, World’s Columbian Exposition
"Women in the Fight," The Chicago Tribune 17 Jan. 1895, p.12, online at http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1895/01/17/page/12/article/women-in-the-fight.