Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Alice Coale Simpers, 1843-1905
By Hannah Himes, undergraduate student, University of Maryland
According to The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, Maryland, Mrs. Alice Coale Simpers was born in an old mansion called "Traveler's Repose" in Cecil County, Maryland on December 1, 1843. She lived in Cecil County for the majority of her life, and grew up along Octoraro Creek. Her education began in Waring's Friends' School, run by the neighborhood community, and continued at the State Normal School in Baltimore. There she received her teaching qualification (year unknown). She taught in Cecil County MD, Dorchester County, MD, and Illinois.
Simpers wrote her first poem at seventeen and it was published in The Cecil Whig by E. E. Ewings. In 1875 she began to write for the New York Mercury. She contributed letters, essays, stories, and poems there for ten years. She also wrote for the Woman's Journal and other periodicals. Through these writings, Simpers advocated for the rights of her sex. She also wrote History of West Nottingham Presbyterian Church, published in the Oxford Press and mentioned in the acknowledgments section of a book about Rising Sun, Maryland by William W. McNamee.
Alice Coale Simpers is listed as a prominent women's rights pioneer in Doris Weatherford's book Women in American Politics: History and Milestones, and represented Cecil County and the Women's Suffrage Party of Maryland in state conventions, according to History of Women's Suffrage (1900-1920). She is also listed as a member of the Baltimore City Suffrage Club. Simpers is cited in The Cecil Whig (1898), which notes that "at the fourth annual convention of the Maryland State Suffrage Association held in Baltimore on Monday an address was made by Mrs Alice Coale Simpers, of Colora, her subject being "'First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of (Her) Countrymen But Last at the Ballot Box.'" Her feminist writings have proved difficult to locate, but there is sufficient proof that such writings bolstered the success of the women's suffrage movement.
On February 22, 1879 Alice married Captain John G. Simpers. John served in the Civil War in the 2nd Regiment, Delaware Infantry on the side of the Union. The two lived near Mount Pleasant, Maryland. The 1880 census lists Alice's occupation as "housekeeper" and states that she lived with her husband John, a carpenter, and his sister Sarah Simpers, who was a single seamstress. They had no recorded children.
Alice Coale Simpers died on January 20, 1905, at the age of sixty-one. She was buried at the Friends Burial Ground, in Rising Sun—part of Cecil County, MD. Her obituary states that she suffered from cancer for quite some time, and that she died in a Baltimore hospital where she was receiving treatment. Simpers is described as "a woman of high intellect and…a writer of talent, well informed upon topics of the time. She was of a bright and cheerful disposition and had a wide circle of friends and admirers."
Her husband John G. Simpers died on August 18, 1907.
Alice Coale Simpers was active in the suffrage movement for almost twenty years, but was not alive to see the passing of the amendment in 1920, at which time she would have been seventy-seven.
Information about her early life, her education, and most of her publications comes from George Johnson, The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, Maryland (Elkton, Md.: Power Press Print,1887) by George Johnston which can be found at: https://books.google.com/books?id=JhlBAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA276&lpg=PA276&dq=%22alice+coale+simpers%22&source=bl&ots=fqGfw6a9-E&sig=0BUPzvidYn7rx0l_cWVog92Nvsw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiW6rOPkfnSAhWBOiYKHdZrAVEQ6AEIMDAE#v=onepage&q=%22alice%20coale%20simpers%22&f=false
Listed as a "Prominent Women's Right Pioneer" for Cecil County 1850-1920. Doris Weatherford, Women in American Politics: History and Milestones (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2012).
Represented the Women's Suffrage Party of Maryland in state conventions--History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, vol. 6, p. 252, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper) [LINK]
The 1880 census lists her occupation as "housekeeper" and states that she lived with her husband John, a carpenter, and his sister Sarah Simpers, who was a single seamstress. ("United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MNQJ-WLD : 14 July 2016), Alice Simpers in household of John Simpers, Elkton, Cecil, Maryland, United States; citing enumeration district ED 11, sheet 126C, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0507; FHL microfilm 1,254,507.)
Came into a "regular estate" in 1905 ("Maryland Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XXF6-D62 : 4 December 2014), Alice C Simpers, 1905; citing Cecil, county courts, Maryland.)
Husband: Simpers, John G.
BATTLE UNIT NAME: 2nd Regiment, Delaware Infantry
SOLDIER'S RANK IN: Lieutenant
SOLDIER'S RANK OUT: Captain (https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-soldiers-detail.htm?soldierId=60F903D1-DC7A-DF11-BF36-B8AC6F5D926A)
Listed as member of the Baltimore City Suffrage Club (EMILY EMERSON LANTZ. The Sun (1837-1991); Baltimore, Md. [Baltimore, Md] 07 Jan 1906: 8.)
"At the fourth annual convention of the Maryland State Suffrage Association held in Baltimore on Monday an address was made by Mrs Alice Coale Simpers, of Colora, her subject being "First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of (Her) Countrymen But Last at the Ballot Box" (The Cecil Whig., December 10, 1898, Page 5, Image 5)
Father was William Coale who died in 1895 (The Cecil Whig., March 23, 1895, Image 1)
All death and obituary information from The Midland Journal, Rising Sun, Maryland A Salute to Rising Sun on Its 180th Year (1996) by William W. McNamee (http://www.reynoldspatova.org/documents/william_mcnamee.pdf).
More of her poetry may be found at https://allpoetry.com/Alice-Coale-Simpers and http://www.inspirationalstories.com/poems/t/alice-coale-simpers-poems/
Professor Jessica Enroch
28 March 2017
The Difference Between T and L
On February 27th, Jessica Enoch projected the names of forgotten suffragists onto the classroom screen. The list was compiled by Thomas Dublin, for the purposes of outsourcing a mass research campaign to memorialize unknown or forgotten suffragists. It was our job to identify, research, and compile information on our particular suffragist, her life, and her role in the suffrage movement. My experience with this project was eye-opening in that sometimes the answers, and the women, were right in front of me—unrecognized. My research started out with a spelling error in my suffragist's name, it was listed as "Coate" rather than the correct "Coale," which proved problematic for a few days. However, the truly interesting find was that Alice Coale Simpers was not difficult to find at all. She was in plain sight, the very first result in a Google search of her name, yet she remained invisible. That is the task at hand. If there is not woodwork to draw forth information from, if light has already been cast, then one must speculate the context in which memorialization does or does not occur.
The name I was given was Alice Coate Simpers. Such a women did exist in Cecil County, Maryland. She was of mixed white and African American race, born in approximately 1872. She was married, and had four children—one of whom died shortly after birth. She worked as a laundress, while her husband, George Simpers, worked as a laborer in a brick yard. They lived in a rented house. However, there is no record of her ever taking part in the suffrage movement. She existed in the right place, at the right time but I was at a loss to locate her in any location, other than on the census. The census proved to be my saving grace, because underneath Alice Coate Simpers was a listing for Alice Coale Simpers. A single letter difference that changed everything.
Alice Coale Simpers also lived in Cecil County, Maryland. She was born on December 1, 1843. She married John G. Simpers in 1879, and had no recorded children. Upon searching her name, I discovered a renowned Cecil County poet who wrote on behalf of her sex and represented suffragist groups at national conventions. I knew this had to be her. There was no way that such coincidences could line up so perfectly. Yet, I felt a sense of guilt at leaving Alice Coate Simpers behind. I know that in terms of this project, she offered nothing of promise, but I felt—and still feel—as if she deserves a voice too. No one will remember her. No one will look up the marriage certificate of her daughter. No one will know that her parents lived in Virginia and were likely slaves. No one will know that she and her husband both worked to afford their rented home. It is important to note the role that race and class play in this. Alice Coate was almost certainly lower class, and was of mixed race which, at the time, was viewed with skepticism from both African Americans and Caucasians. In In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, Alice Walker discusses the ways in which African American women create art that is later said to have been created by "anonymous." As a society, we place less value on the art and creations of women of color. Walker also discusses the idea of time, and the way that being of lower economic status may restrict the time one has in which to create. She states: "Dinners must be started, and cotton must be gathered before the big rains." The same idea may apply to our Alice Coate. When one is oppressed due to race, and restricted due to economic class there are not as many options to be involved, even in something like the suffrage movement. Alice Coate is not less important because she was of mixed race, or low economic class. She followed in the footsteps of women before her, doing what had to be done. She may not have played a role in the suffrage movement, but I cannot help feeling that I have abandoned Alice Coate, with a T.
Alice Coale, with an L, Simpers was easily found with a simple Google search—instantly accessible. Upon searching her name, I found a book entitled The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, Maryland (pages 276-285). There she was, biography and all. I did not need a database. I did not need special access. The book outlined her birth, her schooling, her marriage, and her success as a writer. I was impressed that it is specifically mentions that Simpers wrote to "advocate the claims of her sex to the right of suffrage, in which she still continues to be a firm believer." It was also interesting that in this source, her husband is the last aspect mentioned. The biography truly is about her writing, and her success, and only at the end does it mention that her husband served in the Civil War. This is especially spectacular because the book was researched and edited by a man in 1887. It is incredible that such a detail is even mentioned in this book, because in terms of importance women were often restricted to private, domestic circles. George Johnston examined Coale's success as its own entity, independent of the enforced social norms in which women were meant to be housewives, who were second class compared to men. At the time this book was written, Alice Coale Simpers was forty-four. She would go on supporting suffrage until her death in 1905.
In Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies (Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms) by Jacqueline Jones Royster and Professor Gesa E. Kirsch the idea of feminine and masculine domains is discussed: "the concept of social circulation might well begin with a disruption of the dichotomies associated with rhetoric being defined within what has been considered historically to be the public domains of men…rather than the private domains of women." Women were often part of the private domain, one that did not necessarily contain the same practices or focuses as the public sphere of men, who were allowed to discuss politics, business, economics, etc. I believe that a large part of the reason that Alice Coale Simpers was so easy to find is because she was not entirely in the private sphere. By being published, even in local papers like The Cecil Whig, she pressed into the public sphere and in a way, memorialized herself. However, it is important to note that she was published before she began her feminist campaign. In this way, she already had a platform for herself, because she was established both in print and in a community of writers. Without this support system, I think it may have been impossible for Simpers to voice her support of the suffrage movement, especially as it was not necessarily popular to do so at the time. Her circumstances, timing, and access to newspapers and other publications, are all part of the context in which Alice Coale Simpers was able to vocalize her beliefs on behalf of herself, and other women.
Alice Coale Simpers breeched the private and public spheres, and thus was easy to discover and access information about. Had she not been a writer before she started campaigning for the suffrage movement, perhaps finding her would have proved more problematic. Her prose and declarations on behalf of the suffrage movement are more difficult to find than her earlier work, probably due to the less popular ideas expressed in suffragist writings. Even in The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, Maryland, a book meant mainly to celebrate prominent authors in Cecil County, her suffragist writing was mentioned rather than exhibited. However, because of her status within the community, her contributions were reported on. She represented Cecil County at national conventions, wrote for the Women's Periodical, and was listed as a Women's Right Pioneer in Women in American Politics: History and Milestones by Doris Weatherford. Her role in the suffrage movement may not have been monumental, but it was influential and significant. To quote Simpers' poem "The Last Time": "In that land where we are going, /Where the skies are ever glowing; / In that fair and fadeless clime, / Never comes the last, last time."
Royster, Jacqueline Jones., and Gesa Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies (Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms). N.p.: Southern Illinois UP, 2012. PDF.
Simpers, Alice Coale. "The Last Time." The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, Maryland. George Johnston. 1887. Google Books.
Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2004. PDF.