Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Mrs. Althea Somerville Grossman, 1880-1954
By Brittani Langland, University of Missouri
Source: Notable Women of St. Louis, 1914.
Member, Board of Directors St. Louis Women's Trade Union League; Member, Board of Governors of St. Louis Equal Suffrage League; Secretary, Missouri Committee for Social Legislation; Director, Self-Culture Hall.
Mrs. Althea Somerville Grossman was born on April 4, 1880 in St. Louis to William and Harriet Bordan (Pullis) Somerville. Althea graduated from Mary Institute in 1897 and spent a year at Wellesley College (1897-1898), before transferring to the University of Chicago (1898-1901) to study sociology, literature and English where she earned her bachelor's degree in philosophy. Lastly, she earned her master of arts from Washington University in St. Louis in 1902. Althea married a German-born lawyer named E.M. Grossman on June 17, 1911. She had twin girls named Althea and Mary.
Althea was a long-time suffrage supporter. She felt that participation in government was a responsibility not to be shirked by any adult, male or female. Althea was a founding member of the Board of Equal Suffrage. Additionally, throughout her life, Althea helped introduce and pass legislation such as the child labor law, a nine-hour workday law for women, a law reducing the minimum age limit for school from six to five years old, and a law eliminating the maximum age of 20 for schools entirely.
Before she began advocating for these laws, Althea taught at Joliet Township High School. This led her to her next career as director of the Self-Culture Hall. The Self-Culture Hall was established as a workingmen's club that eventually broadened to provided recreation and education for families. Althea eventually took over the Saturday morning domestic science groups for children. Under her direction, over 200 children attended and were taught skills like basketry, sewing, carpentry and dancing. While Althea was head of the Self-Culture Hall, she lived in the hall and immersed herself with the people.
Since Althea got to witness the everyday lives of the people who attended the Self-Culture Hall, she began to learn more about working conditions in places like factories. After learning about the problems with wages and hours, Althea began to advocate for the child labor law and the nine-hour law for women. She used her relationship with her husband, E.M. Grossman, to learn more about bills and laws. Her husband was the attorney for the Social Legislation Committee, and helped Althea become the secretary for it and advocate for change. When officers of the committee went to Jefferson City to push for legislation, they took with them factory women from all over the state to relate their experiences about their working conditions.
Althea was also a founding member of the Women's Trade Union League that was created in the Self-Culture Hall. The organization had over one thousand members, and they taught men, women and children about laws so that they could see which laws needed changed. Althea spent the rest of her life as a suffragist, and was a member of the Board of Equal Suffrage since its creation. Mr. E.M Grossman was also a well-known suffragist, and was one of few men to be so involved. Together, the couple actively changed the way people in Missouri thought about equal rights. Althea died on May 4, 1954 in St. Louis.
“Missouri death certificates, 1910-1968.” Digital image. Missouri Digital Heritage. Retrieved from https://s1.sos.mo.gov/Records/Archives/ArchivesMvc/
Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. p. 347. Accessed on October 16, 2017. https://archive.org/stream/womanswhoswhoofa00leon#page/346/mode/2up/search/grossman
The University of Chicago Alumni Directory 1919 p. 322. Accessed on October 16, 2017. https://archive.org/stream/universitychicago00univrich#page/322/mode/2up/
Johnson, Anne A. Notable Women of St. Louis, 1914. St. Louis: Woodward. 1914. pp. 84-87. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/notablewomenofst00john/page/84
Grossman, Althea Somerville. The part of the St. Louis Equal Suffrage League in the campaign for equal suffrage (1920). The Missouri Historical Review, 14 (3-4), 306-20. https://archive.org/details/missourihistoric14missuoft/page/306