Daughter of Maurice and Anne Perkins
Alice Jane Grey Perkins was born in Schenectady, and, like her siblings, spent her early life on the Union College campus. As a girl, she also studied and traveled in France and Germany.
Mrs. Perkins frequently mentioned Alice’s activities and plans in her letters. These usually focused on the subject of education, with which her daughter would remain deeply involved throughout her long life. In February of 1895, for example, Mrs. Perkins reported that Alice would soon open a school for children, which garnered much enthusiasm among local residents who did not want to send their children to public school. The Perkins family had great hopes for its success, expecting to enroll at least fifteen pupils at $40 per year. The school opened that fall and indeed did well until Alice left to attend Barnard College in New York City, feeling that her knowledge of mathematics and science was insufficient. Although funding Alice’s move to New York put a great financial burden on the family, Mrs. Perkins wrote that she understood her daughter’s decision to leave, because they both believed that Alice could not get anywhere in her profession without a degree. By the Commencement of 1899, Alice was proudly wearing a Master’s hood lined with blue and white.
Alice was often employed as a private tutor in Latin and other subjects. While still at home in Schenectady, she had given lessons to Griswold Perkins, a cousin who was nominally a freshman at Union but only kept up with his classes by constant private instruction. Shortly after Alice received her degree from Barnard, she was tutoring a number of female students, and in late 1900, she was hired at the remarkable sum of $300 to give private lessons to Joseph Pulitzer’s daughter Edith. “They may be at the top of the heap some day,” wrote Mrs. Perkins gleefully on October 11, 1900. In 1901, Alice declined the post of head of the Albany Female Academy, preferring to live in New York City. For many years she taught history at the Nightingale-Bamford School, from which she retired about a decade before her death. Mrs. Perkins must have been proud of her daughter’s accomplishments, having written, “She is an uncommon combination in the teaching world, a lady and a good teacher. The ladies are generally sticks, and the teachers chumps” (April 1, 1901).
Alice Perkins was active in the women’s suffrage movement in New York as well as in England, where she lived for a while, and she was a close friend of Alice Duer Miller, the writer, poet, and champion of women’s rights. She was a member of the Women’s Democratic Union and the Women’s Rest Tour Association, and served as chairman of the education committee of the Democratic Women of the Seventeenth Senatorial District. She was also a member of the Cosmopolitan, Fortnightly, and Women’s University clubs. She wrote and published The Life of the Honourable Mrs. Norton in 1907 (under the name Jane Gray Perkins) and co-authored Frances Wright: Free Enquirer in 1939. She never married and died in 1948 of a heart ailment.