A rich and outspoken advocate for woman suffrage

Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont devoted much of her Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont devoted much of her fortune and time to women's suffrage after the death of her second husband. Married first to William K. Vanderbilt and then to Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, she helped design and owned many mansions, including Idle Hour in Oakdale, Brookholt in East Meadow and Beacon Towers in Sands Point. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

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If you ask Antonia Petrash, author of "Long Island and the Woman Suffrage Movement," to single out the most interesting local suffragist, her answer is a woman who was the wife of two rich and famous men.

"Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was unarguably the most outspoken and controversial advocate for woman suffrage Long Island had ever seen," Petrash writes in her book. "Despite some unpleasant character flaws, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was fearless and loyal . . . She was not afraid to spend enormous sums of her own money to right what she considered an egregious wrong to all women."

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Petrash says that the demanding Belmont had boxcars full of money after divorcing railroad magnate William K. Vanderbilt in 1885. Contemporary accounts put her settlement at more than $3 million, plus mansions and $200,000 a year.

She married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, son of a wealthy banker, the next year. When he died in 1908, she inherited his $10-million fortune, plus several mansions, according to The Dictionary of American Biography.

She spent a lot of it on the movement, hosting events at her homes in Sands Point and Newport, R.I. Belmont arranged for the National American Woman Suffrage Association to move from Ohio to New York by purchasing a building on Fifth Avenue. She established the Political Equality Association, and named herself president.

Belmont, who lived from 1853 to 1933, would go to Manhattan when there were labor protest marches by women who worked in clothing factories. "If they were arrested, she would pay their fines so they wouldn't have to spend the night in jail," Petrash said. But in return they had to wear a "Vote for Women" button.

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