Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Alice Charlotte Williams, 1877-1945
By Elizabeth Lorelei Thacker-Estrada, Merced Branch Library Manager: San Francisco Public Library.
Corresponding Secretary of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, Librarian
Alice Charlotte Williams was born in Buffalo, New York, on May 5, 1877, to attorney Benjamin Harris Williams and Charlotte Angeline Stoneman Williams. Williams came by her political activism naturally: her father was elected state senator of the 31st District of New York in 1879; her mother would be active in the Women's Educational and Industrial Union; her maternal aunt, Kate Stoneman, was a suffragist who would be the first woman admitted to the New York State Bar Association in 1886; and her maternal uncle, George Stoneman, Jr., a United States cavalry officer during the Civil War, would become governor of California in 1883.
Following her education at Buffalo High School, Williams entered Wellesley College in 1896, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1900.
Williams was elected corresponding secretary of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) at each annual convention from 1905 to 1908. At the 1906 annual convention, she was recognized for her "excellent report" on field and state fair work. At the 1907 convention, she reported on the "great deal of field work" she had conducted. This field work included writing to twelve colleges in New York State to establish an essay contest on "Woman Suffrage" with a competitive prize of $50. In 1908, in her home city of Buffalo, Williams served as a delegate to the 40th Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), during which the convention-goers celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention.
Williams' most-noted suffrage activities coincided with a renewed push for the vote by state and national women's suffrage organizations. In a December 12, 1908, letter to Anne Fitzhugh Miller, founder of the Geneva Political Equality Club, Williams summarized NYSWSA Legislative Committee plans. She confessed that she was "not a rich woman so that I can give money to the cause, but I can give myself--that is my time at the Headquarters." At the beginning of the 1909 state legislative session, she established herself at the new State Suffrage Association headquarters in Albany, New York, the state capital. Newspapers commented that from "altruistic motives" she devoted "her time to the furtherance of work in behalf of the cause in the legislature." The New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NYSAOWS) wrote a letter to each state senator and representative objecting to the "very active campaign at Albany" conducted by the pro-suffrage women lobbyists, singling out "Miss Alice Williams of Weedsport N.Y."
In 1909, the NYSWSA supported the Hill-Toombs Concurrent Resolution of the Senate and Assembly, proposing to strike the word "male" from the suffrage clause of the New York state constitution. At a hearing on February 24th, the suffragists urged the members of the Judiciary Committees of the Senate and Assembly to permit the state legislature as a whole to vote on the suffrage measure. Williams, who served on the Legislative Committee of the NYSWSA, was one of the "prominent suffragists" in attendance. The anti-suffragists arranged for a large delegation to oppose the measure, and the bill failed. Nonetheless, a February editorial in The Nation observed that the demonstration of women suffragists in Albany "was the most impressive yet made in this State" and that the strong opposition to the movement was proof that woman suffrage "has now to be taken seriously" and was "a country-wide and world-wide movement."
According to the History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6, Williams, along with the president and vice-president of the NYSWSA, remained in "Albany for three months, speaking and working in the towns in the eastern part of the State." Suffragists who were circulating a woman suffrage petition to Congress were instructed to address all petitions to Williams. At the 1909 State Fair in Syracuse in September, Williams and other NYSWSA officers successfully secured many hundreds of names for the petition.
From 1909 to 1910, Williams continued her education as a student of Library Studies at Simmons Female College in Boston, Mass. From 1910 to 1911 she performed library work at the Newark, New York, Public Library and from 1911 to 1912 at the East Houston Street Branch of the New York Public Library. In 1914, Williams was living in Willink, New York, later renamed East Aurora, and continued to support woman suffrage. She maintained memberships in academic organizations including the Buffalo Wellesley Club, where she served as secretary; the Wellesley College Alumnae Association; the Simmons Club; the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, the predecessor of the American Association of University Women; and the East Aurora College Club. She was also a life member of the American Canoe Association.
By 1920, she was a homeowner in East Aurora and a bookbinder at a bindery shop. That year, she was elected to be the librarian of the new East Aurora Free Library. She lived in East Aurora until the end of her life. She traveled the world and collected curios, her "largest and most interesting collection" consisting "of old knives, sabers and dueling pistols." Following a long illness, Williams died on February 21, 1945, in Buffalo. She is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
New York Suffrage Newsletter, edited by Harriet May Mills, vol. VII, no. 11, November 1906, p. 182. https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbcmil.scrp3000601/?sps4
Alice Williams, Corresponding Secretary, New York State Woman Suffrage Association to Anne Fitzhugh Miller, December 12, 1908. Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller001221/
Cutter, William Richard. Genealogical and Family History of Central New York: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. Vol. 2. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912.
Harper, Ida Husted, Editor. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). 1922. [LINK]
Leonard, John William, Editor-in-Chief. Woman's Who's Who of America, 1914-1915: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada. New York: The American Commonwealth Company, 1914. p. 886. [LINK]
Miller, Elizabeth Smith and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. 1905-1909. National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. 1905-1906 image 36; 1907-1908 images 13, 16, 84; 1908-1909 images 26, 82-84, 88-90, 102, 104-105, 110, 151, 178. Online Text: https://www.loc.gov/item/93838336/
Mills, Harriet May, Editor. [TE(1] New York Suffrage Newsletter. New York State Woman Suffrage Association. Syracuse, New York. Vol. VII, no. 11, November 1906, pp. 182 and 186. https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbcmil.scrp3000601/?sps4
"Miss Alice Williams." Buffalo Evening News, February 22, 1945, p. 20.
New York State Census. 1915, 1925. FamilySearch.org website.
New York State Death Index, 1880-1956. FamilySearch.org website.
"Notes and News of New York Libraries." New York Libraries: A Quarterly Devoted to the Interests of the Libraries of the State. Albany: The University of the State of New York. Vol. 7, no. 4, August 1920, p. 113.,
"Suffragists Begin Congress Crusade." New York Times, January 15, 1909, p. 2.
Upton, Harriet Taylor, Editor. Fortieth Annual Report of the National American Woman Suffrage Association [Convention], held at Buffalo, October 15th to 21st, inclusive, 1908. Warren, Ohio: The Association, 1908.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org websites.
Wellesley College Record, 1875-1912: A General Catalogue of Officers and Students. Wellesley, Massachusetts: Wellesley College, 1912.