Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont (1853-1933)
Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, a wealthy, influential New York socialite, multimillionaire, and ardent woman suffrage supporter, was a major financier and writer of the movement. After her husband’s death, she emerged as a militant suffrage leader, founded the New York Political Equality League and later became president of the National Woman’s Party whose activities she financed.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, educated in France, she came to New York after the Civil War, and married William Vanderbilt (1875), grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. From her 5th Avenue mansion, she embarked on dazzling social ventures that conquered New York society. In 1895, she divorced Vanderbilt for adultery saying, “I was one of the first women in American to dare…to criticize openly an influential man’s behavior.” She married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, a wealthy society friend. After his death (1908), she embraced the suffrage movement, paid for the headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in New York, and financed their national press bureau. She was president of the New York Political Equality League, but gravitated to the militant National Woman’s Party, serving on its executive board. She used her Newport, Rhode Island home, Marble House, to host suffrage and feminist events. Elected president of the Woman’s Party (1921), Belmont contributed money to purchase their historic mansion headquarters on Capitol Hill. She spent her later years in France and died soon after her 80th birthday, having contributed millions of dollars, and millions of words in magazine articles, to advance woman’s rights.
Reprinted from NWHM Cyber Exhibit "Rights for Women"
Author Kristina Gupta
- PHOTO: Alva Smith Belmont, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (LC-USZ62-37442)