Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Alice F. Porter, 1859-1939
By Bailey Young, undergraduate student, Rhode Island College
Auditor and Treasurer, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association; Officer, North Providence and Rhode Island Woman's Christian Temperance Unions; Committee Chair, Rhode Island United League of Women Voters
Alice Frances Angell was born on July 18, 1859 in North Providence to William Henry Angell and Orra (Ide) Angell. Her father came from a prominent Rhode Island family and a descendant of Thomas Angell and Thomas Olney, who co-founded the colony with Roger Williams in the 1600s. William H. Angell was a successful farmer and active in local politics. He was elected to the Rhode Island Senate and served as the North Providence treasurer and tax assessor. Her mother was a suffrage activist and served as an auditor for the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association in the 1890s. The family were active members and supporters of the Fruit Hill Baptist Church in North Providence. Her parents' background in religion and public work in the community set the stage for her own activism.
Alice F. Angell married George Mortimer Porter on February 1, 1881. They lived in Providence, Rhode Island and had one child, a son, William Angell Porter born on October 18, 1881. It is unclear what George Porter's situation was but in 1886 Alice Porter successfully petitioned the Rhode Island probate court to be treated legally as “if she were sole and unmarried.” A Minnesota probate court committed him to an “insane asylum” in 1888 and he died in Minnesota in 1892. After he left the marital home, Alice Porter and her son lived with her mother in Providence until his early death at the age of thirty years old from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1911.
Following in her mother's footsteps, Porter was active in the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RWSA). The earliest record of her participation was 1912 when she served as an auditor for RIWSA. However, she was likely a member prior to becoming an officer in 1912. In 1914, she was elected treasurer of the organization. Besides the leadership positions, Porter supported the suffrage cause in numerous ways. In 1912, 1915, and 1916, she assisted at woman suffrage booths at the Pure Food Fair, a large and high-profile event in Rhode Island where “thousands of new members were enrolled, tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed and much publicity work was done” to advance the cause of woman suffrage in Rhode Island. She signed petitions to the United States House of Representatives in 1914, 1915, and 1916 advocating for woman suffrage. Following the National American Woman Suffrage Association's lead, Rhode Island suffragists supported World War I voluntarism as a way of demonstrating their patriotism and citizenship in order to advance woman suffrage. In 1917, Porter assisted the war effort with other suffragists from the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association had renamed itself in 1915). She canvassed door to door for the military census documenting the number of able-bodied men remaining in the states.
After the ratification of the suffrage amendment, NAWSA was replaced by a new organization, the League of Women Voters, to continue working on women's civic and social issues in Rhode Island. Porter was a member of the Rhode Island United League of Women Voters and chaired its publicity committee. In 1922, the league held an event to initiate a campaign to reach the membership mark of 3,000. At the event, Porter, as a former treasurer of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association, presented and donated the remains of the suffrage treasury to the new organization. In 1927, Porter served as vice chairman of the league's legislative committee.
In addition to her work on suffrage, Porter was active in Christian organizations. She served on the nominating committee and as delegate of the Women's Board of Missions of Rhode Island, an organization dedicated to missionary work in both domestic and foreign regions. Porter was most active, though, in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Both in Rhode Island and nationally, there was a lot of overlap in issues and members between the woman suffrage and temperance movements. She was a documented member of the North Providence Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) as early as 1907.
In the North Providence branch of the WCTU, Porter was an active member, served as secretary, and chaired several committees. She attended multiple national WCTU conventions as a representative from Rhode Island. In the early twentieth century, the WCTU advocated for a constitutional amendment for the prohibition of alcohol. The United States Congress passed the eighteenth amendment outlawing alcohol in 1917 and the Rhode Island WCTU and Porter worked to get Rhode Island to ratify the amendment. In 1919, the amendment was successfully ratified by the required number of states, although the state of Rhode Island rejected it. Following the amendment, Porter continued working to support the prohibition cause. In 1920 she presented the reports to the members on “Recent Surveys of Prohibition Legislation Throughout the Country” highlighting statistics showing the “expanding dry majorities and shrinking wet minorities” in the United States.
In the early 1920s, she was appointed chair of the Christian citizenship committee for the state WCTU, a position that was later evolved to the chair of the Christian citizenship and legislative department, and then the chair of legislation and law enforcement. She held WCTU meetings at her house and took on more responsibility in the organization. Porter led the organization to adopt a policy in 1927 pledging to support candidates “who are the undoubted friends of prohibition,” after they felt that some Republican allies had betrayed them on prohibition issues. As legislation director of the Rhode Island WCTU, Porter wrote a letter to the editor in The Providence Journal in 1928 calling for stricter legislation and enforcement of prohibition. In her letter, Porter quoted Herbert Hoover's words about prohibition, “Our country has deliberately undertaken a great social economic experiment, noble in motive and far reaching in purpose. It must be worked out constructively.” In 1928, she became chair of the campaign committee of the Rhode Island WCTU; in this position Porter and her committee worked for the election of “dry” candidates in Rhode Island and supported Herbert Hoover's presidential campaign. She sent an announcement to the United States House of Representatives, declaring that the Rhode Island WCTU intended “to work for the election of Herbert Hoover as a supporter of the Eighteenth Amendment and principles for which we stand and work against the election of Alfred E. Smith.” She continued that the WCTU included women from all political parties and that their work “will not be along party lines but solely on principle.”
In 1930 Porter was named chairman for the Rhode Island WCTU education campaign committee. The committee sent out circulars on prohibition and spoke to women about the importance of being registered to vote, with the hopes of protecting prohibition legislation. As legislative director, she drew up a manifesto for the Rhode Island WCTU that spoke out against a referendum written up by state Republicans to vote on the so-called “dry law,” which would allow the voters in the state to vote for or against prohibition. She frequently gave public speeches and statements in The Providence Journal supporting prohibition and informing Rhode Islanders about the various ways legislators were trying to weaken the Eighteenth Amendment. In 1930, Porter and Grace P. Barber, president of the Rhode Island WCTU, published in The Providence Journal a letter that they had sent their members about the 1930 elections. In the letter they explained the importance of voting for representatives that would support Hoover and prohibition. The warned that “liquor is an indescribable evil with horrible consequences, while the Eighteenth Amendment is indescribably great.” In 1932, Porter drafted a petition to the U.S. Congress protesting any repeal or modification in the prohibition amendment.
In the 1932 presidential election, Herbert Hoover was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had run on an anti-prohibition platform. Following the election, Porter wrote letters to the U.S. Senators from Rhode Island urging them to keep prohibition, especially during the Great Depression. She pleaded that, “At a time when the nation, State, cities and towns are appropriating money for food and clothing and for the general maintenance of needy citizens, it would be an act of stupid cruelty and recklessness to consider the return of legalized liquor.” After the prohibition amendment was repealed in 1933, Porter continued her work in the Rhode Island WCTU on alcohol and other social issues and was appointed secretary of the organization in 1934.
Alice F. Porter died on May 7, 1939 at the age of 80 and is buried the North Burial Ground in Providence.
Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, eds., The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 4: 1883-1900 (Indianapolis: The Hollenbeck Press,1902), 908. [LINK]
Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). 568, 572. [LINK]
“Alice F. Angell Porter,” Find A grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18820925/alice-f_-porter
Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925), 245.
Paul F. Caranci, North Providence: A History and the People Who Shaped It (Arcadia Publishing, Jul 31, 2012).
Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States 63, No. 3 (Washington, DC: 1915), 65.
J.H. Beers & Company, Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island: Genealogical Records and Historical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens and of Many of the Old Families, Volume III. (Chicago: J.H. Beers & Company, 1908), 1684-1685.
“Court Notes,” The Saint Paul Daily Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota), February 5, 1888.
“State Mission Board Hears Many Reports,” The Providence Daily Journal, October 18, 1907.
“Suffragists Elect Miss Yates Again,” The Providence Daily Journal, October 9, 1912.
“NORTH PROVIDENCE—Annual Tag Day Surpasses All Previous Records,” The Providence Sunday Journal, June 3, 1917.
“Petitions For Prohibition,” The Providence Sunday Journal, January 13, 1918.
“W.C.T.U. In Favor of R.I. ‘Dry' Act,” The Providence Journal, April 9, 1921.
“Call Issued for Convention of United League: First Annual of Women Voters to be held in Providence,” The Providence Sunday Journal, September 25, 1921.
“State W.T.C.U. Will Hold 48th Annual Convention At Newport,” The Providence Journal, September 18, 1922.
“United League Political School To Open April 5,” The Providence Journal, March 21, 1923.
“Five to Represent R.I.,” The Providence Journal, July 24, 1927.
“State W.T.C.U. To Support Only Avowed ‘Drys',” The Providence Journal, August 30, 1927.
“Favors Amendment to State Enforcement Law,” The Providence Journal, March 11, 1928.
“State W.C.T.U. To Work For Hoover's Election,” The Providence Journal, September 14, 1928.
“W.C.T.U Elects,” The Providence Journal, September 25, 1928.
“W.C.T.U. Letter is Made Public,” The Providence Journal, November 1, 1930.
“W.C.T.U. Meets,” The Providence Journal, January 24, 1933.
“Officers Elected,” The Providence Journal, September 27, 1934.