Alice Elizabeth Cafferty was born in Manhattan August 27, 1884, the only child of Darwin Ross Cafferty and Mary Elizabeth Thrall. Alice’s father, a railroad man, was a Civil War veteran of the 6th regiment NY Cavalry.
Alice graduated from Teachers Training School in Brooklyn and taught for a few years, then became a pianist and reader for Redpath Lyceum, named after abolitionist journalist James Redpath. The Lyceum was a program of popular education combined with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts, and plays on literary, scientific, and moral topics.
On Nov 3, 1900 Alice married Byron Roger Wales, a native of Binghamton studying law at Columbia University. Following his graduation in 1901, the couple moved back to Binghamton, where B. Roger, as he was known, practiced law.
B. Roger Wales, after serving as Binghamton City Court judge, then Federal bankruptcy referee, was elected in 1925 as NYS Senator of the 40th District, comprising Broome, Chenango, and Cortland counties. On November 25, 1929, at the age of 51, Senator Wales died in office. Mrs. Wales made it public that she wished to run in the special election to finish her husband’s unexpired term. But her own political party leaders pressured her to withdraw from consideration, which she did very graciously. There was however, a great public outcry of a “slap in the face” to women. Newspaper editorials decried the party bosses’ bullying. Mrs. Wales’ “training, qualifications, and claims to the seat of her husband are beyond question,” the Binghamton Press said. The opposition party candidate stated that had Mrs. Wales run, she likely would have had the endorsement of both parties. A write-in campaign was urged and in the final tally, Alice Wales took nearly 10% of the vote on write-ins, while another 4% protested the party bosses by voting blank ballots. Had she run and won, Alice Wales would have become the first female NYS Senator (women having been elected to the Assembly already in 1919).
Four months later, in May 1930, Alice was appointed Binghamton City Court clerk. In the fall of 1933, she wanted to run for county clerk. Defeated in the primary election, she took the action, audacious for 1933, of running as a third-party candidate of the “Law Preservation Party.” Again she won about 10% of the vote.
That Alice Wales was a very capable, assertive, and well-respected woman active in politics is not surprising perhaps for one who was a Daughter of the American Revolution. Alice’s great-great-great-grandfather Major Joshua Mersereau and his brother John, both Revolutionary war patriots, are buried in Riverside Cemetery in Endicott. A supporter of women’s suffrage, Alice had been a member of the local Votes for Women Club and both she and her husband were signatories on a suffrage quilt with squares in the white and yellow colors of the suffrage movement. The quilt was used to raise money for the cause, and a portion of the proceeds was donated to the maternity ward of Binghamton City Hospital. In 1931 she hosted at her Davis Street home the organizing meeting for the Binghamton chapter of the League of Women Voters.
In 1918 Alice served as Queen of a carnival pageant held as a fundraiser to benefit the World War I Relief Fund of the Order of Red Men. The Improved Order of Red Men (with its women’s auxiliary the Degree of Pocahontas) is a national patriotic fraternal organization chartered by Congress and descended from the Sons of Liberty of American Revolution fame.
In 1922 both Mr. and Mrs. Wales served on the Broome County Good Will Committee in support of the American Committee for Devastated France, a women’s volunteer civilian relief organization.
Besides politics, Alice Wales was active in many other groups. In 1925 she joined her across-the-street neighbor Hannah Thomas and ten others in forming The Harmony Club of Binghamton. Alice sang on occasion, gave dramatic readings, and coached the 1954 play “An Evening with Johann Strauss,” written by two Club members.
Her greatest interest, however, was performing in the theater. She had acted in Brooklyn before moving here. In 1915 Alice was a founding member of the Binghamton Shakespeare Dramatic Club; 50 years later she was a past-president, a director and its last living founding member. By 1936 she was on the Board of Directors of the Repertory Theatre of Binghamton. She was also a member of the Chautauqua Lyceum Bureau Players, the Binghamton Civic Players, and the Little Theatre Group of the Southern New York Branch of the American Association of University Women.
Alice was a charter member of the local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (women’s Masonic organization). She was also active with the YWCA, the Monday Afternoon Club, and the Zonta Club (for women).
Her most curious job: During World War II, Alice trained at Cornell as a government ordnance inspector!
Alice Wales and her husband had two daughters, Mary Elizabeth (named after Alice’s mother) and Georgia Alice. Their eldest child, a son, followed in his father’s footsteps to become an attorney. The proudest achievement of his long career was being a founder of Broome Community College. Indeed, its administration building bears his name, Darwin R. Wales (being named after Alice’s father Darwin Ross Cafferty).
Alice Wales died in April 1980, and is interred with her husband and son at Floral Park Cemetery in Johnson City.