Biographical Sketch of Alice Morgan Wright

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Alice Morgan Wright, 1881-1975

By Catherine Tignetti, SUNY Old Westbury. Faculty Supervisor, Carol Quirke

Recording Secretary, New York State Woman's Suffrage, 1916-1920; Chairman, Enrollment Committee, New York State Women's Suffrage Party, 1917; Chair, International Relations, National Woman's Party, 1944-1948

 

From New York Tribune, October 17, 1915

Very few people know of the extraordinary life of Alice Morgan Wright, sculptor, animal welfare advocate, and key member of the women's suffrage movement in the U.S. and abroad. Recognized for her artwork and animal welfare activism, she committed herself to the women's suffrage movement alongside well-known radical leaders such as Britain's Emmeline Pankhurst and the U.S.'s Alice Paul, even as she worked with the mainstream New York Suffrage Party. Wright was born on October 10, 1881 in Albany, New York to Henry Romeyn Wright and Emma Jane Morgan. Of Irish and English descent, Wright had an elite upbringing; her father was a grocer and businessman. Wright died at the age of 95 in her hometown on April 8, 1975.

 

Wright attended Smith College, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in 1904. Afterward she joined the Collegiate Equal Suffrage League. According to pioneering feminist psychologist Ethel Howes, the Collegiate Equal Suffrage League "was founded in Boston in the year 1900, by college women who had come to believe it their duty to take a positive stand in favor of woman suffrage" (Howe, 1915). Wright also became involved in New York City's Art Student League in 1909. The League awarded Wright "the Gutzon Borglum and the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Prizes for her outstanding artwork," according to the Sophia Smith collection which houses her papers. Male artists dismissed Wright, believing women lacked the strength to manage clay and stone. According to the Smithsonian Institute, "She was not allowed to sketch nude men in class and resorted to attending boxing and wrestling matches to study the male physique." Nonetheless she went to Paris to study and her artwork was displayed at the Royal Academy of Art in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris, among other cities. Over her career her sculpture moved between traditional and more modernist forms. Art historian Charlotte Rubinstein claims Wright produced the "earliest and strongest avante-garde sculptures created by an American" (Groft and Mackay 55). Her work appeared in exhibitions alongside famed modernists: Brancusi, Modigliani, Stuart Davis, John Sloan, and Florine Stettheimer. She also served on the Society of Independent Artists with other key modernists (Society, 1921).

While in Europe Morgan became involved in the British and French Suffragist movements. As a student in Paris, she invited Emmeline Pankhurst to speak in 1910, and in 1911 she helped arrange Pankhurt's tour in the US, according to June Purvis, Pankhurst's biographer. Pankhurst and Wright maintained a lively correspondence and Wright ultimately joined in militant activism with Pankhurst. Wright, Pankhurst, and fifteen other women were convicted of smashing windows in March of 1912. Wright was sentenced to two months hard labor. Radical suffrage leader Pankhurst was arrested numerous times and was force fed when she went on a hunger strike, a radical tactic that her Women's Social and Political Union pioneered to highlight the political nature of their crimes. Local papers reported that Wright's father took no steps to free her, but that he would not cut off her allowance. The New York Sun reported that she was "held incommunicado", and would "be compelled, with her companions in wrongdoing, to scrub the floors of the prison, clean the windows and wash and iron the clothing used in prison." Additionally they promised she would "sew on coarse bagging making sacks." In jail Wright and Pankhurst shared a cell, and Wright had materials smuggled in. She created a bust of Pankhurst out of plastoline, now at the Museum of London, and she entertained inmates by sculpting other jailed activists with uneaten food.

Wright returned to New York and continued her suffrage work, becoming recording secretary of the New York State Women's Suffrage Party in December 1915. The party was a branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, founded in 1890. She was re-elected to the position year after year unanimously by her peers. Wright was responsible for organizing 3,500 women to convey to President Wilson petitions with signatures of over one million New York women attesting to their desire to vote; anti-suffrage leaders argued women didn't want the franchise. Wright appeared in the news in 1917 as the author of a proposal to seek "revenge" against politicians who rejected women's suffrage. The New York Sun denigrated Wright by claiming she backed down in fear of losing her father's financial support. The Tribune reported the action as "vindictive" and selfishly unpatriotic during war time.

Wright used the arts to promote suffrage. In 1915 she donated sculptures to the Macbeth Galleries to sustain the movement; the New York Times applauded her "sensitive refinement." In 1916 she designed "self denial" Christmas cards with Alice Duer Miller who wrote the note: "Hanging upon the Christmas tree/you see a Christmas gift from me/You must not think that I forgot/I gave it as my conscience bid--/To Suffrage—aren't you glad I did." Wright received more positive press for bringing together Greenwich Village actors for theatrical presentations to a Suffrage War Booth in June of 1917. One of Wright's most renowned modernist pieces is "The Fist," now exhibited at the Albany Institute of History and Art. It was completed the year women won the vote. For Wright, politics and art could serve each other and her art often drew attention to women's suffrage. As her art career matured, the subjects of her sculptures included Isadora Duncan's infamous dancers, Toulouse Lautrec's muse Yvette Guilbert, and Shakespearean women characters (Groft and Mackay).

During her time at Smith College, Morgan met her lifetime companion, Edith Goode. Neither woman ever married. According to the Humane Society of the U.S., "Wright and Goode became ‘lifetime companions,' bonded by impassioned commitments to women's suffrage, racial justice, peace, international understanding, and animal welfare." Goode's mother, Jane McKnight Goode, was also a founder of Alice Paul's radical National Woman's Party (Birke, 696). Goode was also a co-founder of the National Woman's Party and a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

After passage of the 19th Amendment which guaranteed women the right to vote, the two women worked on suffrage internationally and Wright became the chair of International Relations for the NWP from 1944-48 (Birke 713). Wright also helped found the New York State League of Women Voters in 1920. "The League began as a "mighty political experiment" designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters". The League was meant to encourage women to use their new power to help shape a more equal public policy. She returned to Albany in 1921 at the age of forty, though she and Goode travelled extensively and also maintained a home and studio in Woodstock, Vermont.

 

Thereafter, she and Goode turned their attention to the humane treatment of animals; both became founding members of the U.S. National Humane Society. A vegetarian from her third decade of life, Wright became an active animal rights activist at some point in the 1940s. Wright and Goode worked together up until Goode's death in 1970, five years before Wright's death. Both Wright and Goode "supported the HSUS...in a broad range of activities aimed at the reduction and elimination of animal suffering." Wright importuned Eleanor Roosevelt to publicize HR 8540 in her nationally syndicated column, "My Day." The bill would force slaughterhouses to "render animals insensible," before butchering them. One scholar contends that the two women were instrumental in arguing for having the United Nations treat animals as citizens, a then radical stance (Birke 694).

 

 

Alice Morgan Wright Papers. Alice Morgan Wright (seated third from left) with other students and models in art class (from Wiki— in public domain)

Or

 

Alice Morgan Wright Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith Class 1904

Sources:

"Alice Morgan Wright." Smithsonian American Art Museum. https://americanart.si.edu/artist/alice-morgan-wright-5491.

"Alice Morgan Wright Papers, 1873-1994." Five College Archives & Manuscript Collections. https://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss406.html.

L. Birke, "Supporting the Underdog: Feminism, Animal Rights and Citizenship in the Work of Alice Morgan Wright and Edith Goode." Women's History Review, 2000, 9(4):693-719.

"Boss Hay Fights Plan for Revenge," New York Sun, November 22, 1917.

Buffalo Commercial, May 21, 1912.

"College Woman in English Jail," Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 7, 1912.

"Even Whitehouse is Turned Down." New York Herald, Nov 20, 1917, 16.

"Exhibition of Art Works for Benefit of Suffrage," New York Sun, September 26, 1915.

"Exhibition for Cause of Woman Suffrage, New York Times Magazine, September 26, 1915.

"Father of Alice Wright is Considering Step," Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 11, 1912.

Betsy Fahlman, Sculpture and Suffrage: The Art and Life of Alice Morgan Wright (1881-1975): Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Albany Institute of History and Art, 1978.

Tamis Groft and Mary Alice Mackay, Albany Institute of History & Art: 200 Years of Collecting, New York. Hudson Hills Press, 1998, 55.

Howes, Ethel. "College Equal Suffrage League Described By An Authority" Columbia Daily Spectator, LIX, n. 30: 1 November 1915. http://spectatorarchive.library.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/columbia?a=d&d=cs191511 01-01.2.26.

"Many are the Wonders to be Seen Among the Booths," New York Sun, June 13, 1917.

"National Woman's Party: The Suffrage Era." Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument. http://nationalwomansparty.org/learn/national-womans-party/.

"Portrait Bust of Emmeline Pankhurst." Id No. 55.30, Museum of London, https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/456431.html.

"Public Finds Some Work of Independents Quite Worthwhile," New York Herald, March 12, 1922.

June Purvis, Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography. Routledge, 2002, 175.

Eleanor Roosevelt, "My Day," March 29, 1956 at https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/displaydoc.cfm?_y=1956&_f=md003444

"Miss Pankhurst Hides from Police," New York Sun, March 7 1912.

"Society of Independent Artists," New York Times, November 6, 1921.

"Suffrage Christmas Gifts," New York Times, October 17, 1916.

"Suffrage Parade to Set New Mark," New York Sun, October 21, 2017.

"Suffragists Off For Saratoga To Launch Big Votes Offensive." New York Tribune, Aug 29, 1917.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Sculptors. 1990, 221.

"The Fist." Albany Institute of History and Art. 2018. http://www.albanyinstitute.org/details/items/the-fist.html.

Unti, Bernard. "Goode and Wright: Protecting Animals Was a Life and Death Decision." The Humane Society of the United States. http://www.humanesociety.org/about/history/goode-and-wright-page1.html?credit=web_id341431344.

"Yvette Guilbert Says Woman Must Have Suffrage to Save Civilization from Man, Always the Destroyer," New York Herald, December 24, 1916.

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