Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Alice Lehman Carpenter, 1855-1940

By Melanie Beals Goan, University of Kentucky

The second of seven children born to German immigrant parents, Laura Alice Lehman was born on June 1, 1855 in Midway, Kentucky. Her father, David Lehman, established the town's first lumberyard, was a prolific carpenter who built many of its historic buildings. and also sidelined as a mortician. Her mother, Elizabeth Merkz Lehman, settled into adult life, caring for a busy household. Elizabeth's main claim to fame, as noted in her obituary, was that she had been held prisoner by Native Americans while living as a child in western New York.

Alice married in 1888 and moved to Lexington with her husband, Frank D. Carpenter, whose last name matched his chosen line of work: carpentry. The couple had one child, a son named David, born the following year.

It is unclear what factors first drew Alice Carpenter to suffrage. No evidence exists that she was involved in club work or the WCTU, which often served as a gateway to the movement. She was a member of the Second Presbyterian Church, but she appears not to have been active in missions. Unlike many Kentucky suffragists who knew each other through lineage societies like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Carpenter did not share those connections. Her husband sometimes served as an election official for their precinct and his political activity may possibly have led her to become publicly involved.

The first sign of her political interest came after women in Kentucky's second-class cities, including Lexington, won the right to vote in school elections in 1895. Arguing that well-bred women would not be willing to sully themselves by frequenting the same polling sites as men, steps were taken to set up alternative registration and voting booths across the city for them. Alice supported women's participation and stepped up to encourage other women to vote. In 1898, she ran a registration site from her home at 224 North Broadway and helped to register 27 women. The following year, she again served as an election commissioner, registering 41 women. Carpenter demonstrated her strong support for school suffrage for women in 1902, when two state legislators introduced a bill to rescind it. She joined a group of women to oppose the so-called "Klair bill," joining Lexington's Committee of One Hundred to lobby for its defeat.

Lexington women's effort to retain the school vote failed, but it propelled many women who had never done so before to support votes for women. School suffrage was likely the catalyst for Carpenter's expanded involvement in the movement. She attended KERA's 1901 annual meeting in Covington, stepping up to serve as recording secretary pro tem at the convention. In 1905, she took over as KERA's corresponding secretary when Mary C. Roark moved out of state. She held the position until Roark returned and was reelected to the position in 1906. That year, Carpenter was also named an alternate delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention. There is no further mention of Carpenter's suffrage activity after 1906.

After her husband Frank died in 1926, Alice continued to live in Lexington with her adult son. She died in 1940 and is buried in Lexington Cemetery.

1870, 1880, 1920, 1940 Federal Manuscript Censuses
Kentucky Birth Records, 1847-1911
Kentucky Death Records, 1852-1965

"Child Labor Discussed by Kentucky Equal Rights Association," Courier-Journal, November 23, 1906, 2.

History of Women Suffrage: 1900-1920, Volume XI, ed. Ida Husted Harper (National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), 215 [LINK].

Minutes of the Thirteenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, Held at Trinity Church, Covington, Ky., October 17-18, 1901 [+1902] (Lexington, 1903), University of Kentucky Special Collections and Research Center (hereafter UKSCRC).

Minutes of the Sixteenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, Held at the Spiritual Temple, Newport, Kentucky, November 10, 1905, (Newport, KY: Davies, n.d.), UKSCRC.

Minutes of the Seventeenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, Held at Ashland, KY, November 21st and 22nd, 1906, (Newport, KY: The Newport Printing Co.., n.d.), UKSCRC.

"Mrs. Alice L. Carpenter," Cincinnati Enquirer, April 11, 1940, 21.

National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Midway Historic District, May 22, 1978,, accessed April 14, 2020.

"Registration of Women," Lexington Daily Leader, October 5, 1898, 7.

"Tomorrow the Day," Lexington Daily Leader, October 3, 1898, 7.

"The Other Officers," Lexington Daily Leader, September 28, 1899, 7.

"Vigorous Fight Being Urged against the Klair Bill," Courier-Journal, February 6, 1902, 2.

"Women Register," Lexington Daily Leader, October 4, 1899, 5.

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