By Aaron Hill, undergraduate, Binghamton University
Alice Caroline Carpenter, suffragist, activist and volunteer, was born in Woodstock, Illinois in 1875 to George Nathaniel Carpenter, an insurance agent, and Agnes Carpenter. At the time of the 1880 census, the Carpenters resided in Agnes's home state of Massachusetts, in Brookline, a town just outside of Boston. The Carpenters sent their daughter to Smith College, a women’s college, where she studied psychology from 1893 through 1894. In addition to her education at Smith, she also studied at Barnard and Radcliffe colleges for a year each, joining the Gamma Phi Beta sorority at the latter. Unfortunately, her course of study and years of attendance at these latter two institutions remain unclear.
Carpenter worked between 1898 and 1901 at the Elizabeth Peabody House, a Boston settlement house, helping new immigrants adjust to life in the United States. What appears to be Carpenter's first foray into true activism was during the 1912 presidential race. During the election, Carpenter, like many suffragists of her time, enthusiastically supported former President Theodore Roosevelt. During the Progressive Party's nominating convention she was one of the representatives for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Throughout the campaign, Carpenter coordinated the Progressive Party's office in New York City, and personally stumped for Roosevelt in the streets of New York.
Even after the election, Alice maintained a presence in progressive Roosevelt politics as the President of the Women's Roosevelt League, an organization of women who hoped that the former president would run again in 1916. As a result of her activism, Carpenter forged a cordial relationship with President Roosevelt, even engaging in a correspondence about politics, and more specifically, woman suffrage. These letters can be found in Harvard University's collection of Roosevelt's letters. By 1915 Miss Carpenter began another career: working for a Wall Street brokerage firm. She wrote an article for Good Housekeeping in November, 1915 detailing her life in the financial sector, relating that she believed that women could do anything they set their minds to. Also in 1915, Alice traveled aboard the 'Noordam' along with Jane Addams, Emily Greene Balch, and Alice Hamilton as they made their way to the Woman's Peace Conference at The Hague, an attempt by women worldwide to peacefully resolve the First World War. In 1918, as the war drew to a close, Carpenter applied for, and was granted permission to travel to France to aid the Red Cross. Despite her high level of activity during the 1910s, Carpenter's activism after the war declined, save for her efforts during Prohibition, which she opposed and even went as far as publicly debating prohibitionists in 1922.
Alice Carpenter became chairman of the New York City committee o the Congressional Union (CU) around 1914. She was active in the CU's attempts to raise funds in New York and, in 1916, introduced Alice Paul to Theodore Roosevelt. The former president advised Paul on securing presidential candidate Charles Hughes' support for the federal suffrage amendment.
Throughout the nineteen-twenties, thirties, and forties, a woman named Alice Carpenter who lived in Boston and Northampton wrote letters to the editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post concerning various issues of the day. Due to the author's name, location, and the political nature of the letters, it may very well be that the author is the same Alice Carpenter this research has centered upon. However, the details of her life after her prohibition activism remain obscure, and no definite date or location of death was found for her.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 5, 1922; Alice Carpenter, "Your Daughter's Career," Good Housekeeping, November 1, 1915; Miles Franklin and Jill Roe, A Gregarious Culture: Topical Writings of Miles Franklin (St. Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland, 2001), 55; Melanie S. Gustafson, Women and the Republican Party, 1854-1924 (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2001); Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915, LINK; Library of Congress. Photograph; Elting Morison, ed., The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt. Vol. 8. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954), 1081-82; See also, Theodore Roosevelt collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. One letter is accessible online: Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Alice Carpenter. August 4, 1916. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1540 (275). Harvard College Library. http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/en/Research/Digital-Library/Record.aspx?libID=o279895. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.
Smith College Alumnae Association, Catalog of Officers, Graduates and Non Graduates of Smith College, Northampton, Mass. 1875-1910 (Northampton: Alumnae Association of Smith College, 1911); U.S. Census: 1880 Brookline, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 44.
"Miss Alice Carpenter, Chairman, N.Y. City Committee, C.U. [Congressional Union]," Library of Congress, Photograph, accessed at https://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000111/
Fry, Amelia, ed. Conversations with Alice Paul. Berkeley CA: Suffragist Oral History Project, 1976.