Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Alice Eugenie du Pont Ortiz, 1876-1940
By Anne M. Boylan, Professor Emerita, University of Delaware
Vice-Chairman, Delaware Branch, National Woman's Party
Born into a family whose history was linked closely to Delaware's own, Alice Eugenie du Pont joined the ranks of the state's suffragists in 1914, casting her lot with the Congressional Union (CU) and with its successor, the National Woman's Party (NWP). Members of the du Pont family could be found on both sides of the suffrage question; her sister, Elizabeth du Pont Bayard (1880-1975) was a firm anti-suffragist, as was Elizabeth's husband, Thomas F. Bayard, Jr. An older cousin by marriage, Josephine Anderson du Pont, however, was just as firm a suffragist and a supporter of the CU/NWP. We can only guess at what prompted Alice du Pont Ortiz to join the militant wing of the cause, but a consideration likely affecting her choice was the realization that, by marrying Frenchman Julien Ortiz, under American law she had lost her U.S. citizenship. She dedicated time and money to "votes for women" despite knowing that, if the Constitution were amended to enfranchise all adult women citizens, she would be ineligible to vote. Not until Congress passed the 1922 Cable Act did Alice Ortiz apply to have her citizenship restored.
At Alice du Pont's birth on April 10, 1876, her parents, Dr. Alexis Irénée du Pont (1843-1904) and Elizabeth Canby Bradford du Pont (1853-1925), were living in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father, a grandson of the founder of the eponymous gunpowder and explosives company, had a medical degree, but he did not practice. Instead, he joined some cousins in Kentucky in the paper manufacturing business. Alice was the eldest of the couple's four children. When she was nine years old, the family relocated to Wilmington, Delaware, where both her parents had been born, and where her father became a senior partner in the family firm. He retired in 1902, due both to ill health and to the company's reorganization. He died in November 1904.
Alice grew up in an atmosphere of comfort and privilege, with ties to a dizzying array of du Pont cousins in the Wilmington-Philadelphia region and access to social activities at multiple du Pont family estates in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Live-in servants of Irish and English origin looked after her, her siblings, and her parents. To judge by newspaper notices, the decade before her marriage was characterized by society parties, dances, and debutante balls, as well as trips to visit friends in Louisville.
On January 20, 1906, Alice du Pont married Julien Leon Ortiz (1868-1955), a French citizen who had immigrated to the United States in 1901, residing for a time in New York City. It seems likely that the couple met through his work as a chemist with the DuPont Company. In Wilmington, he established the Ortiz Analytical and Testing Laboratory and registered a patent for a process designed to retard the spontaneous decomposition of explosives. The wedding, held at her mother's "Rencourt" estate outside Wilmington, was a small affair because the family was still observing a mourning period for Alice's father. The Episcopal bishop of Delaware was the officiant. During their marriage, the couple had two children: Marguerite du Pont Ortiz Scott Boden (1907-1977) and Marie Alexia du Pont Ortiz Sharpless Krebs de Bie (1912-1963).
Whether she realized it at the time or not, Alice Ortiz's marriage caused her to lose her U.S. citizenship. (Before the marriage, Julien Ortiz had declared his intention to become a citizen, but had not followed through.) Under the Citizenship Act of 1907, which codified long-standing custom, any American woman who married a man with foreign citizenship assumed her husband's nationality, regardless of where she lived. When California suffragist Ethel Mackenzie challenged the law, the Supreme Court in the 1915 case of Mackenzie v. Hare affirmed that marriage to a foreign man should be considered an act of "voluntary ... expatriation," that is, choosing to leave one's native country. (Perhaps it needs to be noted that U.S.-born men who married women with foreign citizenship suffered no such penalty.)
Alice Ortiz's public embrace of woman suffrage, and particularly of a federal constitutional amendment, began in spring, 1914, when she pledged to march in Delaware's first big suffrage parade, planned for May 2. Organized under the auspices of the Congressional Union by Florence Bayard Hilles, to whom Alice Ortiz was related by marriage (Alice's sister Elizabeth had married Hilles's brother Thomas in 1908), the parade called attention to the demand for a federal suffrage amendment. At the same time, she began donating regularly to the CU's federal amendment fund. Thereafter, she supported the Delaware Congressional Union's activities, becoming the group's vice-chairman in 1916.
Aside from offering her name and financial contributions and serving as an officer, Alice Ortiz lent her pen in support of "votes for women," writing at least one letter to a local newspaper in 1917 criticizing anti-suffragists' methods. She then conducted a poetic contest with an anti-suffragist. Dueling poems appeared in the papers, with Alice du Pont Ortiz portraying the antis as seeking to turn back the clock on progress and fearful of alienating men. In December, 1918, she was one of a group of Delaware NWP supporters who travelled to Washington, D.C. to participate in watch fire demonstrations in Lafayette Park, at which President Woodrow Wilson's speeches were thrown into the flames. In 1919, she joined a delegation of NWP members in pressing Delaware's governor to call a special session of the legislature to address ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. During the special session in spring, 1920, Ortiz was one of a number of NWP members lobbying in Dover, the state capital.
During the post-suffrage years, Alice Ortiz attended the 1921 NWP convention and continued to contribute financially to the organization, including a fifty-dollar subscription to purchase a life membership for Amelia Earhart in 1933. When her husband, Julien, became naturalized in 1925, Alice submitted the paperwork to become - once again - an American citizen, and thereby eligible to vote. In her petition, she invoked the 1922 Cable Act, for which the NWP had lobbied vigorously, as the reason for restoring her citizenship. The act repealed the 1907 law that had "expatriated" her in the first place. She also continued to write, publishing two books of poetry, The Witch of Endor (1937), a religiously-themed ghost story, and The Scene Shifter (1939), as well as a short essay on the Quaker martyr Mary Dyer, written for Colonial Dames of America. As a writer, she joined the National League of American Pen Women. Throughout those decades, Wilmington and Philadelphia newspapers regularly chronicled the Ortiz couple's social life and travels, including society and debutante parties, their daughters' marriages (and divorces), and trips to Europe.
Yet although Alice Ortiz continued to enjoy the comfortable life that the family wealth supported, her choice of charitable activities revealed a consciousness of social inequalities and a meliorative approach to remedies. Some of that awareness may have arisen from her interest (along with that of her husband) in the esoteric ideas of theosophy. In 1913, the couple became officers (along with another Wilmington suffragist, Anna Cootsman Bach) in a new local Theosophical Society, dedicated to "universal Brotherhood without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color." They did not abandon their affiliation with the Episcopal Church, but their interest in the principle of "universal Brotherhood" may have shaped Alice's post-1920 commitments. She served on the white advisory board and was a "generous benefactor" of the Garrett Settlement House, at which Black suffragist and social worker Blanche Williams Stubbs served as executive director. In 1929, she joined other white philanthropists in helping to raise funds for Wilmington's Mount Ezion Baptist Church's new building. She maintained an interest in the Wilmington Prisoners' Aid Society and in 1930 became president of the Mission of Hope project, which aided former prisoners as they made the transition from jail to freedom.
When Alice Ortiz died on November 5, 1940, published obituaries made no mention of her suffrage or benevolent activities, concentrating instead on the list of heritage and genealogical societies to which she belonged. Given the family pedigrees of both her father and her mother, a descendant of the Pilgrim leader William Bradford, it was a long list. Julien Ortiz remarried in 1947; he died in 1955. Alice and Julien Ortiz were both buried at the private Du Pont de Nemours cemetery in Greenville, Delaware. Their daughters carried on some of Alice's interests. At the family's 180+ acre estate, "Valmy," Alexia founded a research institute dedicated to the "universal principle" of psychosynthesis. Marguerite became an avid genealogist, member of hereditary societies, and historic preservationist. One notable project was the restoration of a colonial-era tobacco plantation, Mount Harmon in Maryland.
Genealogical information on Alice du Pont Ortiz can be traced through the vital records, city directories, censuses, and immigration and travel documents found on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. The latter has a scanned copy of her 1926 application for naturalization, as well as Julien Ortiz's 1925 naturalization papers. Genealogies of the du Pont family cover the basic facts of her life.
The following obituaries yielded useful information:
- "Dr. A. I. du Pont Dead," Wilmington Every Evening, November 26, 1904, p. 5.
- "Mrs. Julien Ortiz Dies at her Home," Wilmington Morning News, November 6, 1940, p. 2.
- "Mrs. Julien Ortiz Dies; Was Author of ThreeBooks," Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, November 6, 1940, p. 30.
- "Julien Ortiz Dies after Long Illness," Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, May 5, 1955, p. 1.
- "Mrs. Alexia de Bie Dies," Wilmington Morning News, February 12, 1963, p. 29.
- "Marguerite Boden, Historians' Patron," Wilmington Evening Journal, July 20, 1977, p. 5.
One can trace Alice Ortiz's suffrage activism through the National Woman's Party periodicals, The Suffragist and Equal Rights, both digitized by the Gerritsen Collection of Aletta H. Jacobs. See, in particular, "Organizing in the Constituencies," The Suffragist 4, no. 11 (March 11, 1916): 9; and "Annual Convention of the Delaware Congressional Union," The Suffragist 4, no. 30 (July 22, 1916): 2
Wilmington and Philadelphia newspapers often reported on the du Pont and Ortiz families' activities, and on Alice Ortiz's suffrage and charitable works. See in particular, "Theosophical Society," Wilmington Evening Journal, September 23, 1913, p. 7; "To March for Suffrage Cause," Wilmington Every Evening, April 22, 1914, p. 1; "Suffragists From Here Aid in Demonstration," Wilmington Morning News, December 17, 1918, p. 1; "Suffragists Burn Words of Wilson," Wilmington Evening Journal, December 17, 1918, p. 15; "Only Political Miracle Can Save Ratification as Battle Gets Warmer," Wilmington Morning News, March 25, 1920, p. 2; "Garrett Settlement Does Splendid Work," Wilmington Evening Journal, May 29, 1924, p. 3; and "Mission of Hope Starts Activities," Wilmington Morning News, May 28, 1930, p. 8.
For Alice Ortiz's letter to a local newspaper challenging anti-suffragists' tactics, see "Not a Correct Census," Wilmington Morning News, February 23, 1917, p. 4. For her two published suffrage poems and one anti-suffragist's response, see: Alice du Pont Ortiz, "To the Delaware Anti's (sic)," Wilmington Every Evening, February 24, 1917 p. 4; D.A.S., "To the Delaware Suffs," Wilmington Every Evening, February 28, 1917, p. 4; and Alice du Pont Ortiz, "The Antis of Delaware," Wilmington Evening Journal, March 7, 1917, p. 4.
In the du Pont family papers at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, including the Alexis Irénée du Pont papers, there are a few personal letters written by or to Alice Ortiz, but none covers her suffrage work. The Hagley Library has copies of her books; a digital version of The Witch of Endor (1937) can be accessed at https://digital.hagley.org/PC_PSO83w
For Delaware's suffrage history, see Mary R. de Vou, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Delaware," in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marion Björnson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947), I: 349-370; Carol E. Hoffecker, "Delaware's Woman Suffrage Campaign," Delaware History, 20:3 (Spring-Summer, 1983): 149-67; and Anne M. Boylan, Votes for Delaware Women (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2021).
For general context on the National Woman's Party, see Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920); Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of the Woman's Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1921); J.D. Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); and Christine Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, 1910-1928 (New York: New York University Press, 1986).