By Katie Pratt
Undergraduate student, Simmons College
Alice Gram Robinson, an American suffragist, writer, and editor, was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1896 to Danish immigrants, Andreas Peter Gram and Karen Jensen. She was the sixth of seven children, including her older sister and prominent militant suffragist, Betty Gram Swing.
After the family settled in Portland, Oregon, both women decided to attend the University of Oregon with Gram Robinson beginning her studies there in 1914. Following in the footsteps of her older sister, Gram Robinson was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, and it was in college that she became active in the suffrage movement. She joined the College Equal Suffrage League, eventually traveling with the group to Washington for picketing in fall of 1917.
On November 10, 1917, Gram Robinson, along with nearly 40 others, was arrested for protesting in Washington, D.C. in a demonstration organized by the National Woman’s Party. The NWP had picketed at the White House gates since January 1917 with the aim of urging President Wilson to secure needed Democratic votes to pass a constitutional amendment for woman suffrage. After the U.S. entry into World War I, the pickets appeared to many as disloyal, though the NWP took a neutral stance on the war. The DC police began arresting the pickets in June 1917 for “obstructing traffic.” According to Doris Stevens's account, Gram Robinson was in the third group of picketers on November 10; she was arrested along with her sister, tried and found guilty. Both sisters, like most others, chose a jail sentence over the assessed fine. Gram Robinson was sentenced to 30 days in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. An article from the Suffragist details the demonstration and the subsequent arrest: “The pickets walked all together this time twice up and down in front of the White House in a brave line, and then stood in position against the high iron fence, stretching from gate to gate. They stood on guard for several minutes before the startled police gathered their forces and bundled them into commandeering cars.”
At Occoquan, Gram Robinson went on hunger strike as a form of protest against the Wilson Administration’s refusal to consider the suffragists as “political prisoners.” That designation was not recognized in the U.S. According to the introduction to the 2000 Annual Cumulative Index to The Congressional Digest, Gram Robinson “drew the White House physician to [her] side” while in prison due to her weakness. The President issued a full pardon to the suffragists in late November, and women won suffrage nationally with the passage of the 19th Amendment in August 1920.
Before the suffrage campaign ended, Gram Robinson served as an assistant in the press department of the NWP. In 1919, she co-founded the Women’s National Press Club—a parallel organization to the National Press Club, which did not at the time admit women. These early positions sparked Gram Robinson’s lifelong career in journalism.
In 1921, she founded The Congressional Digest, a publication that set out to demystify contentious issues in Congress by presenting Pro and Con arguments for various pieces of legislation. The monthly was initially geared at new women voters, and from the beginning Gram Robinson foregrounded issues that specifically affected women and children. In 1921, Gram Robinson spotlighted the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Bill, which incentivized states to support prenatal and children health centers by offering matching funds.
Gram Robinson headed The Congressional Digest until her retirement in 1983. She died of cancer on January 4, 1984, and was survived by her son, Norborne T. N. Robinson III, who eventually became the Digest’s publisher.
“2000 Annual Cumulative Index.” Congressional Digest Cum. Index (December 15 2000): 3.
Adams, Kathleen H. After the Vote Was Won: The Later Achievements of Fifteen Suffragists. Jefferson: McFarland and Co. Publishers, 2010.
“Forty-one Suffrage Pickets Answer the Attempt of the Democratic Administration to Crush Suffrage,” The Suffragist 5:95 (1917), 6-7.
“Publisher, Writer Alice G. Robinson Dies in Va. At 88,” Washington Post, January 28, 1984
Stevens, Doris. Jailed for Freedom, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920, digitized October 14 2008.
Swing, Pamela. “Gram Swing, Betty.” American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000, accessed April 16, 2016.