Alice Ames Winter: A leading woman of the Progressive Era

Alice Ames Winter
In 1907 Winter became the first president of the Minneapolis Women’s Club. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum

The row of three brick condominiums on the southeast edge of Lake of the Isles seem a little out of place. The lake is otherwise nearly entirely ringed by single-family homes that are among the most exquisite in the city. 

Those buildings are duplexes, with two units in each. They were built in 1922 as rentals. Long before they became condominiums, one of the apartments at 2833 Lake of the Isles Parkway was home to Thomas G. and Alice Ames Winter.

Thomas was in grain trading and did well enough, but history’s spotlight shines on Alice Ames Winter. Born in 1863 and married in the 1890s, she was a young matron during the blossoming of the Progressive movement in Minnesota, a time when political power was increasingly sought and attained by women.

Alice Ames Winter
Alice Ames Winter was prominent in using the influence of wealthy women to address social injustices, and she created opportunities for middle-class women to learn and discuss their roles in improving
civic life. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Women were considered guardians of the home, but their concerns were far broader. An advocate for early childhood education, Winter was elected president of the Minneapolis Free Kindergarten Association in 1896. She soon forged an alliance with the League of Jewish Women to promote — and fund — the training of kindergarten teachers and their classes. In 1901 she was a member of the Consumers League, which kept a sharp eye out for sweatshops in Minneapolis. Women were organizing for social change, and Winter led these efforts in Minneapolis. She is honored as a foremother of women’s suffrage at the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Memorial on the grounds of the Capitol in St. Paul.

This was a time when “the leading women” were known by their inclusion in “the best social sets in the city.” Winter was not only socially distinguished, but she was prominent in using the influence of wealthy women to address social injustices. She also created opportunities for middle-class women to learn and discuss their roles in improving civic life. In 1907 she became the first president of the Minneapolis Women’s Club. She was an able executive and led women to agitate for what we take for granted: janitorial service and indoor plumbing in the schools, recess for school children and public playgrounds. In particular, Winter did not allow political or religious differences among women to distract from accomplishing their goals.

After serving as a district president in Minnesota, Winter was elected president of the national General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1920. This organization represented over 2.5 million women. Her previous experiences reaching across barriers of class and religion were good training for maintaining this larger network of socially active, politically aware women who were out to get things done. The GFWC started libraries and committed to lifelong learning. They worked for women’s suffrage, for the first pure Food and Drug Act and to give citizenship to women independent of their husbands.

duplex apartment buildings
This row of brick duplex apartment buildings was built in 1922 on the southeast edge of Lake of the Isles. Thomas and Alice Winter lived in a unit in the middle building. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum

In 1924, Winter was honored by the building of The Alice Ames Winter Demonstration House. This fine stucco house at 1630 Hennepin Ave. served as office and meeting space. The house also gave women a chance to see the best of home-keeping practices. This was the culmination of decades of work by women to acquire and use civic and political power.

Winter encouraged women to work together: “Women have linked themselves together to get and to give and to do. Do not be isolated. Join the other women who are in the midst of things. You will get help. You will give strength.”

She lived on Lake of the Isles until 1928, when she moved to Pasadena, California, to work on motion picture standards. The Demonstration House was used until at least the 1960s, when it was moved to a lot near the University of Minnesota. Today the house is gone, and a new apartment building has arisen on its lot.

If your house is included in the Hennepin History Museum photo collection, you can ask Karen Cooper for a house history by emailing her at yf@urbancreek.com. Look for your Southwest Minneapolis house.

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