Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Alice Elsberg Sterne Gitterman, 1871-?
By Karen Darner, Arlington, VA League of Women Voters and Arlington branch, American Association of University Women
Alice Sterne was born in New York City in 1871 to lawyer and economist Simon Sterne (1839-1901) and Mathilde S Elsberg (1858-1924). Alice attended Smith College and graduated at the age of 20 years in 1891. The following year she journeyed for her first time to Liverpool, England and Queenstown, Ireland – but England became a favorite visiting place during her lifetime. Alice Gitterman met a real estate lawyer, John Gitterman (1867-1943) and they were married on April 14, 1898. He received a law degree and a Ph.D. degree and later became a professor in Anglo-Saxon and English Literature in England. The couple divorced before 1920.
Newspaper articles described the couple often in society and news columns, particularly Mrs. Gitterman, who led volunteer activities related to education and employment in the District of Columbia. Eventually Alice Sterne Gitterman received a law degree from the Washington College of Law, founded in 1896. Its affiliation was with The American University in Washington, DC, and began when two women started the law school, the first of its kind in the world specifically for women. Interestingly, men were admitted in 1897.
As a lawyer and education activist, Mrs. Gitterman worked with the DC Superintendent of Schools to organize a free lecture course for residents. According to her report (July 2, 1905 Evening Star News), "sixty-six lectures were given at night in the public schools...and the average attendance was 238 persons." She coordinated this series of almost all volunteer-led events for about $1500, reaching 15,788 people or "one fortieth of the entire population in the city of Washington." Many well-known speakers delivered the courses. The only suffrage reference that has been found is in the DC report in the History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 and notes Gitterman's activity in the DC State [Suffrage] Association in 1904-05.
As a result of this responsibility and others that followed, she developed a very good reputation, and was often sought for testimony on social and educational issues, such as prohibition of girls in labor settings, making education compulsory in the District of Columbia, increasing teacher pay, and the value of women in the professional world. These topics were easily related to the importance of women in society, as professionals and as heads of households, and each testimony provided supporting data for the woman's right to vote.
Alice's membership in the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, founded in 1881, reveals her interest and concern for the improvement of women's education. When this Association was founded, it included 65 women representing eight colleges in the U.S. who encouraged women to perservere in their goal to use their college degrees, and fulfill professional objectives.
One of the first studies completed by the Association was debunking the myth that a college education adversely affected women's health. In 1907, the Association's research was conducted with Ellen Richards's Desirable Tendencies in Professional and Technical Education for Women. After the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, the Association continued to support higher education for women, and equal pay. In 1921, this Association merged with the Southern Association of College Women to form the American Association of University Women, which continues to empower 170,000 members. Alice Gitterman's continued activism moved from the United States, but included many of this association's concerns and goals.
Alice Gitterman's biography in Woman's Who's Who, 1914-1915 details locations of activity, including memberships and issues referenced in New York City, and a few in London, England. She was listed as the author of "Enthnological Study of the Dyaks of Borneo," but that study was not found in any searched resources. Her life in England is not well-known or documented. She changed her name to Alice Smith Allen, and at one time explained it was to keep from having a following or to maintain privacy. There was a possibility, also that her Germanic name and background were Jewish, and it was safer for her to disguise that link. Unfortunately, Alice Gitterman disappeared and no date or location of her death has been found at this time.
Alice Sterne Gitterman's biographical information is sparse because many important references were not dated or explained. Assistance from Ancestry.com provided much needed background.