Biographical Sketch of Ailsie Kyle Riley Alderson

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ailsie Kyle Riley (Mrs. Joseph T.) Alderson, 1883-1969

By Dora C.W. Owens, graduate student, University of North Carolina - Greensboro

Ailsie Kyle Riley was born in Rogersville, Tennessee on May 18, 1883, the oldest of five children. Her parents were Absalom Kyle Riley, an employee of a livery stable, and Mary Elizabeth Hale. She had two brothers Robert and Riley Philip, and one sister, Somerville. In 1909, she married Joseph Thompson Alderson (1890-1933), a Kentucky businessman, at the Rogersville Presbyterian Church in Rogersville, Tennessee. Ailsie and Joseph had no children.

Rogersville Presbyterian, founded in 1805, has a long history of progressive activities and strong northern sentiment among its congregants before, during, and following the Civil War. The women of the church were active participants in a number of missionary and aid societies. The church encouraged the education of women as evidenced by their control of the female institute known as Rogers Synodical College. They also saw the value of education for newly emancipated black citizens supporting the founding and maintenance of Marysville College, now known as Swift Memorial College. With such a background, it is little wonder Ailsie became active in the causes of education and suffrage.

After the Aldersons settled in Middlesboro, Kentucky, they operated multiple businesses, including a dry goods store and a boarding house. As a businessman's wife, Ailsie served an active role in Middlesboro women's groups which were at the forefront of many progressive policy campaigns, including woman's suffrage. In 1915, she campaigned for a change in the local school board to improve conditions for all schoolchildren, including black children. As a leader of the Bell County Suffrage League, Mrs. Alderson led door-to-door canvassing, produced leaflets containing candidate information, and provided speakers to local clubs. She served as president of the Bell County League as early as 1913, later serving as second vice president (1915), first vice president (1916) and treasurer (1916).

Concurrently, she worked with the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA). During her time with KERA beginning in 1913, Ailsie was increasingly active, serving on the College Prizes Committee (1915, 1916), the Resolutions Committee (1915), and the Courtesies Committee (1917). She served as state representative for the 11th Congressional district from 1915-1917 during which time she helped establish the Harlan County League for Woman Suffrage. From 1917-1920, Ailsie served KERA as auditor. She was selected as an alternate delegate to the national convention in 1917 and became a full delegate in 1919. A highlight of her time with the KERA, as reported in the January 6, 1917 edition of The Woman's Journal, was her work as a "congressional aide," supporting women of the Front Door Lobby (under the direction of the National American Woman Suffrage Association) who personally lobbied members of Congress in Washington.

Mrs. Alderson did not always agree with KERA leadership. Prominent Kentucky suffragist Laura Clay broke with KERA over support of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment (later the 19th Amendment). Mrs. Clay believed that pursuing a national amendment would alienate southern states who feared granting African American women the vote. Clay elected to pursue a state-by-state approach. Mrs. Alderson continued to pursue the national amendment and regretted Mrs. Clay's retreat from that goal; she wrote to Laura, "You've always seemed the biggest part of the Kentucky ERA to me...Couldn't you reconsider?"

After the 19th amendment passed in 1920, Ailsie retreated from her activism. She enjoyed music and worked as a piano teacher for many years, especially after the death of her husband in 1939. During World War II, Ailsie Riley Alderson spent time with family, visiting her Tennessee relatives and entertaining them in her Middlesboro home. She was most active in the music society, hosting musical events and promoting promising musicians. She died on August 3, 1969 at the age of 86. She is buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Rogersville, Tennessee.

Sources

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