Alva Belmont a Newport socialite was born on January 17, 1853 in Mobile, Alabama, one of six children to Murray and Phoebe Smith. She was married twice, first to William K. Vanderbilt and later to Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont. Following the death of her second husband in 1908, Alva moved back to Marble House, her first Newport home and focused her attention and vast wealth on the women’s suffrage movement.
In 1909, at the suggestion of Rev. Dr. Anna H. Shaw, president of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, Alva attended a conference of the International Suffrage Alliance in London, England. Inspired by this conference, Alva founded the Political Equality League and on August 24, 1909, under the auspices of the National AmericanWoman’s Suffrage Association, she hosted a large suffrage meeting on the lawn of Marble House. More than 600 women were in attendance, guest speakers were Rev. Dr. Anna H. Shaw and nonagenarian and first-generation suffragist Julia Ward Howe. Also, in attendance were many dignitaries including the Governor of Rhode Island and the Mayor of Newport.
Alva Vanderbilt Belmont would go on to support the women’s suffrage cause with the help of Marble House for the remainder of her life. She used the allure of this edifice to promote attendance, and therefore awareness of the cause. On July 26, 1914 Marble House hosted Miss Alice Paul, president of the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage, at a meeting to discuss plans for a political campaign to defeat Democratic Congressmen who opposed women suffrage. On August 29 and 30, 1914 Marble House hosted a two-day conference of the National Advisory Council of the National Woman’s Party.
In 1923 Alva became the president of the National Woman’s Party. Her vast wealth was used again in 1929 to purchase the Sewell House as the headquarters for the National Woman’s Party on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. In 2016, this building was renamed the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument and today it exists as a testament to the women’s suffrage and equal rights movements. Alva died in Paris, France on January 26, 1933 and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.
Russell J. DeSimone