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Alice Vanderbilt Morris

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Alice Vanderbilt Morris
Portrait of 13 year old Alice by John Singer Sargent, 1888
Alice Vanderbilt Shepard

(1874-12-07)December 7, 1874
DiedAugust 15, 1950(1950-08-15) (aged 75)
EducationRadcliffe College
Known forCo-founder of IALA
(m. 1895; died 1944)
ChildrenDave Hennen Jr., Louise, Lawrence, Noel, Emily, Alice
Parent(s)Elliot Fitch Shepard
Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt
RelativesSee Vanderbilt family

Alice Vanderbilt Shepard Morris (December 7, 1874 – August 15, 1950) was a member of the Vanderbilt family. She co-founded the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA).

Early life[edit]

Woodlea, her parents home in Westchester County, New York in 1895

Alice was born on December 7, 1874, in New York. She was one of five daughters born to the former Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt (1845–1924) and, her husband, Elliot Fitch Shepard (1833–1893). Her mother was the eldest daughter of William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa (née Kissam) Vanderbilt. Her father was a lawyer, banker, and owner of the Mail and Express newspaper, as well as a founder and president of the New York State Bar Association.[1]

Alice was known to her family as "Angela" because of the sweetness of her disposition and the beauty of her face, well-demonstrated by her attached portrait. She was no true angel, however, and climbed a tree against her father's specific interdiction and fell out fracturing her thoracic spine. Her father, a hard man, refused to call the doctor to punish her disobedience. She grew up deformed in Woodlea, a mansion on the Hudson now occupied as the clubhouse of the Sleepy Hollow Country Club. Among her siblings was sister Edith Shepard[2] and brother Elliot Fitch Shepard Jr.[3]

Education and work[edit]

She attended the Radcliffe College of Harvard University. She was an honorary member of the Phi Beta Kappa society. She also received an honorary doctorate in Literary Science from Syracuse University "as special recognition of the field of study that you have made your own, the field of the international auxiliary language." She was Vice President of the World Service Council of the YWCA United States.

From her youth, Morris was troubled by ill health and was forced to spend much of her time on a sofa. Despite her illness, she initiated what was probably the most extensive linguistic research undertaken to date. During her stay at a clinic, Morris found a brochure on the artificial language Esperanto. She became interested in the idea of a neutral auxiliary language that could facilitate communication among diverse groups of people. Frederick Gardner Cottrell, later a well-known American chemist, persuaded Morris to tackle the problem of an auxiliary language, but objectively and scientifically.[4]

In 1924, Morris and her husband founded the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA). Morris had studied Esperanto, so the neutrality of IALA was often a dilemma for her. Nevertheless, she succeeded in remaining neutral. In 1945, she co-authored with Mary C. Bray the General Report of IALA. Morris was actively involved in the association – and remained its honorary Secretary – for the rest of her life.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Photograph of her husband, David Hennen Morris, in 1902

She was courted for some time by Dave Hennen Morris (1872–1944) who saw her face around the funnel of the steamer to France and knew at once that he must marry her. When he pursued her more closely, he saw that she had a deforming scoliosis which did not change his ardor one bit. When he presented himself to her father to ask for her hand in marriage, he was told he would never amount to anything good and was asked to leave and have no further contact with the family.[6] When he was allowed to say good-bye to her in the hall, he asked her to elope with him. She climbed out the window that night for an extraordinary life. Her sister later packed up her clothes in a trunk and sent them on by Railway Express. Mr. Shepard was infuriated at the insubordination of yet another daughter and refused to speak to her for a year, as the family story goes.[6] Morris later became the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium from 1933 until 1937.

Dave was the son of John Albert Morris, a wealthy horseman, and Cora Hennen Morris, daughter of prominent New Orleans Judge Alfred Hennen. The couple, who married in 1895, had six children:

  • Dave Hennen Morris Jr. (1900–1975), who married Alice Agnew in 1926.[7][8] They divorced and he married Mary Josephine Dority (1907–1979).[7]
  • Louise Morris (1901–1976),[9] who married Dudley Holbrook Mills (1894–1987)[10] in 1922.[11]
  • Lawrence Morris (1903–1967),[12] who married Ruth Spafford Whittmeyer, daughter of Joseph H. Spafford, in 1953.[13]
  • Noel Morris (1904–1928), who committed suicide at the age of twenty-four in 1928.[14]
  • Emily Hammond Morris (1907–1995), who married Hamilton Hadley (1896–1975), son of Arthur T. Hadley, President of Yale University,[15] in 1929.[16]
  • Alice Vanderbilt Morris (1911–1986),[17] who married Walter Knight Sturges, Jr. (1909–1992), an architect, in 1939.[18]

Morris died in Bar Harbor, Maine in August 1950 at the age of 75.[19] About six months later, the Interlingua-English Dictionary was published, presenting to the world her life's work, Interlingua.

In popular culture[edit]

In 1999, Julia S. Falk of Michigan State University published the book Women, Language and Linguistics – Three American Stories from the First Half of the Twentieth Century (320 pp.). The women portrayed were Gladys Amanda Reichard, E. Adelaide Hahn, and Alice Vanderbilt Morris.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Elliott F. Shepard Dead; He Expires at His Home After Taking Ether. Had Given No Indication of Serious Illness -- but Evidently Had the Possibility of Death in Mind -- His Family at His Bedside -- a Peculiarly Eccentric Character -- Politician, Editor, and Relig- Ious Enthusiast -- Often Amusing, but Always in Earnest". The New York Times. 25 March 1893. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  2. ^ "MRS. SHEPARD FABBRI, CHURCH BENEFACTOR". The New York Times. 19 December 1954. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  3. ^ "DIED. SHEPARD, Elliott Fitch". The New York Times. 13 April 1927. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  4. ^ Gopsill, F. P., Le historia antenatal de Interlingua. Panorama, 1991, January–February, March–April, and April–May.
  5. ^ Biographias: Alice Vanderbilt Morris, Interlingua: Communication Sin Frontieras Durante 50 Annos, 2001, revised 2006.
  6. ^ a b Dennison, Frances Ferry, Oral narrative on personal history by Morris' great niece on July 14, 2011
  7. ^ a b "Dave Morris Jr., Banker, 74, Dead". The New York Times. 2 April 1975. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  8. ^ "ALICE AGNEW WEDS DAVE H, MORRIS JR'; Ceremony in Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, With Reception at Colony Club, GRACE CHURCH CHOIR SINGS Bride Wears Her Mother's Wedding Gownridegroom's Sister Is Maid of Honor". The New York Times. January 5, 1926. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Louise M. Mills, Leader in Girl Scouts, 74, Dies". The New York Times. 21 October 1976. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  10. ^ Princeton Alumni Weekly. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton Alumni Weekly. 1987. p. 47. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  11. ^ "MISS MORRIS WEDS ON HER BIRTHDAY; Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dave H. Morris, 21, Married to Dudley H. Mills by Rev. Dr. Coffin". The New York Times. 9 November 1922. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  12. ^ "Lawrence Morris Dead at 64; Lawyer Specialized in Trusts". The New York Times. 25 November 1967. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  13. ^ "MRS. WHITTMEYER IS WED; Becomes the Bride of Lawrence Morris, a Lawyer Here". The New York Times. 1 February 1953. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  14. ^ "VANDERBILT SCION ENDS LIFE BY SHOT; Body of Noel Morris, 24, Son of Dave H. Morris, Is Found Locked in Bathroom. DEJECTED BY 'TANNHAUSER' Philosophy Student Makes a 'Closing Entry' in Diary on Return From Opera". The New York Times. 2 November 1928. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  15. ^ "Hamilton Hadley, a Utilities Lawyer". The New York Times. 24 March 1975. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  16. ^ "EMILY MORRIS WEDS HAMILTON HADLEY; Bride a Member of New York Family--Bridegroom Son of Yale's President Emeritus. CEREMONY AT BAR HARBOR Madeline Childress Is Married In Scarsdale to T. Edmund Beck-- Other Weddings". The New York Times. 14 July 1929. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Interlingua Institute records 1921-1990 [bulk 1930-1980]". archives.nypl.org. New York Public Library. Retrieved 18 January 2018.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "Alice Vanderbilt Morris 2d. Is Wed to Walter K. Sturges". The New York Times. 14 May 1939. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  19. ^ "MRS. MORRIS DEAD; ENVOY'S WIDOW, 75; Member of Vanderbilt Family Aided Y.W.C.A. and Backed International Language Was Radcliffe Graduate Honored By Belgians". The New York Times. 16 August 1950. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  20. ^ Falk, Julia S. (1999). Women, language and linguistics : three American stories from the first half of the twentieth century. London [u.a.]: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415133159.

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