Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Alice Parker Hutchins, 1864-1939
By Matthew McNally, student, State University of New York at Cortland
Member, Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association and Massachusetts Federation of Women's Clubs; Delegate, International Woman Suffrage Alliance; Member, League of Women Voters
Born on April 21, 1864, in Lowell, Massachusetts, Alice Parker was the only child of Dr. Hiram Parker and Annie G. Trafton Parker. Her father was a notable homeopathic physician in Massachusetts. Alice graduated from Lowell High School in 1881 and began studying medicine under her father's guidance until his untimely death cut short her training. Hutchins's own poor health forced her to move west to the Pacific Coast in 1885. While convalescing, she took up a new career path in the law and met her future husband, a prominent San Francisco attorney, Josephus Mona Lesser. Hutchins was admitted to the bar in California in 1888, but returned home to Lowell in 1889 to care for her sick mother. She continued to build a legal career in Massachusetts, qualifying for admission to the state bar in 1890, while focusing her practice on probate and estate management law. Hutchins's first marriage in 1895 to Josephus Lesser ended tragically in 1902 after he died from injuries sustained in a fall on the steps of the Boston courthouse. She re-married in 1914 to Roger Hutchins.
Hutchins took part in many different associations that promoted women's activism and female collaboration. In 1889, she helped establish the Pentagon Club of Boston. The all-women's club met once a month for dinner with the goal of developing unity among women in the learned professions, including ministers, physicians, lawyers, teachers, and journalists. Hutchins also served as the business agent, and later president, of the Portia Club of Boston. The Portia Club's members consisted of female lawyers and law students. The club sought to strengthen relations between these two groups through the discussion of legal topics that were of interest to women. Hutchins also helped educate women on matters of family and marriage law, publishing articles such as "Law for My Sisters" in Boston's Home Journal, and was an active member of the Women Lawyers' Association, serving as editor of its Women Lawyers' Journal from 1917 to 1921.
Hutchins embraced a role as a critic of female exclusion in American life, commenting frequently on such matters in contemporary journals and newspapers. In an interview with Boston's Saturday Evening Traveller in 1912, she described the unfair treatment experienced by women who pursued careers in the law. She stated that women have "all the book learning any lawyer can have...But practice of law tells another tale." Hutchins condemned a double standard that existed in the American legal profession, in which increasing numbers of women who obtained law degrees were too often shut out of legal practice. In 1905, in an article entitled "A Woman President a Possibility," she similarly argued that the future of women's rights depended on women's access to the same political privileges enjoyed by men. A woman, Hutchins quipped, "would not make a good president for the identical reason that no man would make a good president who has been deprived, as woman has been and for as long as woman has been, of practically all participation in political life and political responsibility." In an essay from 1906 entitled the "Womanliness of Self-Supporting Women," Hutchins attacked bias against women from yet another angle, skewering the idea that a woman who sustained herself by her own means relinquished her femininity as she became more "independent" and "self-reliant."
Hutchins's support for female independence naturally led to an interest in woman suffrage. She was a member of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association and the Massachusetts Federation of Women's Clubs, serving a term as chair of the legislative committee in the latter organization. She also represented Massachusetts as a delegate to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance congress held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1911. After moving to New York in 1918, Hutchins continued to advocate for female equality through the League of Women Voters of New York City.
Alice Parker Hutchins died in 1939 at the age of 75.
- "Alice Parker Lesser," The Law Student's Helper 1 (9) (September, 1893), 240-241.
- "Club Women of Massachusetts," Boston Post (April 22, 1904), 7. https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=6822644&fcfToken=75745973385453644c5859734a4a344830684d6249753769524e4c414353795a2b6c474e3033565069426c6b794d70785a714d667a4c614b766b4b49686c5136.
- Croly, Jane Cunningham. The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America (H.G. Allen & Company, 1898), 658-659.
- "Death of Josephus M. Lesser," Santa Cruz Morning Sentinel (February 6, 1902).
- Drachman, Virginia G. Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001, 215.
- Lesser, Alice Parker. "A Woman President a Possibility," Cameron County Press (December 21, 1905), 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/6822738/alice_parker_lesser_on_a_woman/
- Lesser, Alice Parker. "Womanliness of Self-Supporting Women." The Daily Signal (1906). https://www.newspapers.com/clip/6822698/alice_parker_lesser_on_womanliness_of/
- Marquis, Albert Nelson, ed. Who's Who in New England (Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Company, 1915), 587.
- Norgren, Jill. Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers (New York: NYU Press, 2016), 181.
- Willard, Frances Elizabeth and Mary A. Livermore, eds., A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in all Walks of Life (Buffalo, N.Y.: Moulton, 1893), 557.