Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
 
Biography of Alice Lee West Movius, 1885-1944
 

By Laura R. Prieto, Faculty, Simmons College

Alice Lee West, born on October 26, 1885, the daughter of George West and Rose Saltonstall; her mother was the daughter of Leverett Saltonstall, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts. She grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and evinced her philanthropic interests from a young age. As a member of the Vincent Club, founded by the students at Mrs. Shaw's School for Girls, she helped to raise funds for women's health care. Starting in 1892, the Vincent Club staged theatricals, from tableaux vivants to marching drill shows, to benefit the Vincent Memorial Hospital (later part of Massachusetts General Hospital).

On 11 December 1906, the "blonde, willowy, and beautiful" Alice married landscape architect and Harvard 1902 graduate, Hallam Leonard Movius of Buffalo, New York. They had three children: Hallam Leonard Movius, Jr., born 28 November 1907, and twins Rose Saltonstall Movius and George West Movius, born 1 July 1909. Alice belonged to the Church of Christ Scientist. The family lived primarily on a farm in Holliston and Millis, Massachusetts until June 1922, when Alice and her husband separated. At that point she moved to Boston with their three children. She sued Hallam for the farm in 1930.

Alice became a suffrage activist in the mid-1910s. The closest she came to taking on a leadership role was in representing her home state at the formation of the National Woman's Party in Chicago in 1916. But she regularly made financial donations. She played a supporting role in a suffrage protest on Boston Common in February 1919. She came prepared to speak publicly but in the end was "not needed as [a] sacrifice," as The Suffragist magazine put it, and was not arrested. The NWP continued to seek publicity, including through a cross-country train tour by 26 women who had been jailed for suffrage. When the Prison Special train arrived in Boston on March 9, 1919, Alice again played a supporting role. She arranged a reception at the Wilbur Theater and organized "an efficient corps of young girls" to collect subscriptions to The Suffragist and donations for the suffrage cause there. In 1920, she represented a ratifying state in Boston's victory parade after passage of the 19th Amendment. She also hosted numerous meetings and teas at her home on Beacon Street, first for suffrage and later in support of the National Woman's Party and the Equal Rights Amendment.

According to her friend and fellow suffragist, Rebecca Hourwich Reyher, Alice harbored deep prejudice against Catholics. On one occasion, Alice tried to bar a Catholic member of the Massachusetts NWP Board from the meeting that she was hosting in her house. Alice later relented, accepting that the NWP should not impose religious qualifications, whatever her own personal feelings might be. Clara Snell Wolfe, a NWP Committee chair, likewise commented on Alice's strong opinions about organizing work. Alice was more comfortable appealing to small groups of women within her class than canvassing the wider public to raise funds or promote women's rights. Alice was, however, willing to do whatever Alice Paul called upon her to do, and she used her elite connections (with Senators for example) for the cause.

After passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Alice continued to work for women's rights, especially through the courts. In 1929, along with fellow Boston Common protestors Jessica Henderson and Eleanor Calnan, Alice testified at hearings on two equal rights bills in Massachusetts: one to allow women to serve on juries, and another to equalize parental rights. While mothers did gain recognition of custody in certain cases, Massachusetts did not admit women to juries until 1949. Alice made local headlines again in 1931 when she defended a woman on trial for selling liquor during prohibition. The NWP had long argued that by not allowing women to serve on juries, the state was violating women's right to be tried by a jury of their peers. "The case of the Commonwealth versus Genevieve Welosky is a test case in our campaign for jury service for women in Massachusetts," Alice announced to the press. The state Supreme Court ultimately ruled that all-male juries were constitutional because Massachusetts law did not count women as "persons." Despite the loss of the case, it generated publicity for the cause.

In 1931, Alice opened the NWP's Conference in Boston on the effects of unemployment on women. She praised the NWP as the "only active women's group" that "offers a troubled world a genuine social direction." She served terms as a member-at-large of the National Woman's Party, an elected officer of the National Council, and until 1937 Chair of the NWP's Massachusetts Branch. Her sister-in-law, Mary Rumsey Movius, played a prominent role in the Buffalo, New York branch.

Throughout her life, Alice remained involved in other philanthropic causes as well, including charitable events for hospitals and museums. She died in 1944.

Sources

"1929 Legislative Documents," State Library of Massachusetts. http://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/68991 and http://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/409202.

"Married at Uncle's Home." Boston Evening Transcript, 11 December 1906, p. 14.

"Back Bay Houses: Genealogies of Back Bay Houses." http://backbayhouses.org/223-beacon/

"Bay State Suffragists Have Victory Parade." Boston Globe, 23 Sept 1920.

Equal Rights, 1929-1945.

"History of the Vincent Club." http://thevincentclub.wildapricot.org/history

Mackenzie, George Norbury. Colonial Families of the United States of America. Grafton Press, 1917.

Reyher, Rebecca Hourich. Search and Struggle for Equality and Independence. Berkeley: Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, University of California, 1977.

The Suffragist, 1918-1919.

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