Bryant, Alice Franklin (1899-1977)

  • By Ruth Williams
  • Posted 12/09/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8865

Alice Bryant was a life-long peace activist and advocate for justice, based in Seattle. She was a world traveler, a prolific writer of letters to the editor, a lecturer, poet, essayist, and an author of books for children and adults. This biography is written by her granddaughter, Ruth Williams.

Alice Bryant

Alice Virginia Franklin was born in Fredricktown, Missouri, on May 1, 1899. She moved to Seattle’s Capitol Hill with her family in 1919.  Alice finished her education at the University of Washington, and taught at Issaquah High School in its first year of operation.  In those years Issaquah was so far away that she only came home for holidays.  Alice also spent two and a half years teaching English and French in China and Hawaii.  While she was in China she learned Cantonese.

The year 1927 found Alice teaching in Manila, Philippine Islands, where she met and married William Cheney Bryant after a two-week courtship.  William, who had lived in the Philippines since 1902, was a former provincial governor and had stayed on as manager of a co-operatively owned coconut plantation.  In 1931 their daughter Imogene was born.   

When World War II was raging, Imogene was sent back to the states while Alice and her husband held on in Negros, P. I.  Once the Japanese took Negros, the Bryants hid in the mountains for months until they were discovered and sent to Santo Tomas Internment Camp, where they endured the remainder of the war. After two and a half years of fear and privation (William was close to starvation and could barely stand) they were repatriated. 

This was the transformative experience of Alice’s life. Alice had made the observation that some of the Japanese guards went out of their way to be courteous and humane.  While many people lost their moral compass, many others were especially helpful and kind.  She saw war as a tide that swept people along, but they were still people. She believed forgiveness of the evil that war evinced was the best way toward peaceful dialogue and a more harmonious world.  Alice found her voice, and she set to work immediately.    

Beginning in 1945, she became a tireless author of articles and letters to the editor.  By her own count she wrote 56 letters one year. Many of her essays and letters found their way into The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, as well as numerous other papers around the United States and the world.  It did not bother her that not everything got published.  She knew that at least the editor read it, and a secretary once told her that her ideas occasionally came out in the editorials. 

Alice’s poetry, essays, and children’s stories were widely published in magazines such as Nature, Christian Century, Children’s Activities (later called Highlights for Children), Young People, and Fellowship. Alice also wrote and distributed brochures on the dangers of nuclear fallout.  Her first book, The Sun Was Darkened (Chapman and Grimes, 1947), is about their World War II years. 

Alice would sometimes spend up to six months a year traveling, meeting world leaders (including Nehru and Khrushchev), and lecturing on the cause of peace. On their first trip to Japan in 1951, the Bryants were among the first American  visitors after the war. Alice’s purpose was to ask for forgiveness for the deaths and destruction resulting from the atom bombs and to offer the Japanese her forgiveness for her internment. She carried with her an apology signed by many other Americans, and was made an honorary citizen of Hiroshima.  The Bryants donated their reparation money for a community house there, and Alice gave 48 lectures over several weeks as they traveled on around the world.

Alice made her first bid for public office in 1952 when she ran for Congress. She thought she might have won except that her opponent’s name was Don Magnuson, and people confused him with Senator Warren Magnuson. She ran as a Democrat on a platform of peace, justice, and human rights, not a popular position during the Cold War. 

Her second book, Religion for the Hardheaded (Dodd, Mead, 1953), for which she received the 1954 Achievement Award from the Seattle League of American Pen Women, is a Platonic dialogue about the practical uses of Christianity.    

Her second visit to Japan came in 1954 after the crew of the Japanese fishing boat, Lucky Dragon V, was exposed to radiation when the United States was testing atomic bombs at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. (All the men had become very ill, and the Japanese fishing industry was temporarily wrecked.). Alice traveled with Floyd Schmoe on that trip, and the apology they delivered was signed by 13,000 Americans. 

Two years after her first run for Congress, Alice again campaigned for Congress and lost. She really didn’t mind losing so much.  After the first race Alice never expected to get elected. She knew that arguing for peace during the Cold War was no recipe for victory.  Her main goal was always to get people talking about and involved in supporting peace and human rights. What mattered most was keeping her ideas in the public discourse.  

When William died suddenly in 1956, it was a terrible shock for Alice.  However, as she put it, “My cause came to the rescue ... I got to work ... I had to think of the future.”  As time went by she began to say she was married to the cause of peace.

The year 1958 found Alice running for Senate against Henry Jackson. She found Senator Jackson’s politics thoroughly unpalatable. Alice felt that Jackson was too extreme in his anti-Moscow views.  She disliked “his fascination with military might,” and felt that military intimidation was his entire strategy for dealing with the USSR.  She also believed his apparent willingness to go to war was at odds with any kind of environmentalism.  His values were the polar opposite of hers.  Nevertheless, she did not consider herself a pacifist, and believed that disarmament had to be supervised and verified.

In 1962 and 1966 Alice again ran for Congress.  Both times she made it into the general election and ran against incumbent Republican Thomas Pelly.

In 1968 she traveled through six Iron Curtain countries without a net:  no guide, no reservations, and as always, very low budget.  She joined a protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.  Back home, she also made her last run for office that year, once more against Senator Jackson in the primary.  By now the popular tide was turning against the Vietnam War, and Alice had much more support than previously, but the result was the same.    

Alice spent the last decade of her life writing those letters to the editor, traveling, lecturing, and participating in peace and civil rights demonstrations.  She fought nuclear proliferation and power, WPPSS, and removal of Seattle’s electric buses and trolley lines. Her last trip abroad was to the 1975 First International Women’s Conference in Mexico City. She devoted every resource she had to the causes of peace, human rights, and a healthy environment. 

Alice Bryant passed away on June 7, 1977. She was remembered most for her energy, her commitment, her conscience, and yes, her sanity.

Honors   

1977 -- Recognized as a Distinguished Citizen by the Washington State House of Representatives (House Floor Resolution No. 77-51, adopted June 18, 1977)

1976 -- Proclaimed a First Citizen of Seattle (issued by Mayor Wes Uhlman on November 19, 1976)

1968 -- Honorary master of the Arts of Peace from Bellevue Community College

1954 -- Achievement Award from Seattle League of American Pen Women 

1951 -- Honorary citizen of Hiroshima

1945 -- Civilian decoration for materially contributing to the success of the war in the Pacific  

Affiliations

  • Seattle First Baptist Church -- Christian Citizenship Committee, secretary (eight years) -- They took action on civil rights and peace.  When they began advocating for fair housing, Alice’s own home was vandalized.  She served in many capacities for several Baptist groups, locally and internationally, in addition to her involvement with the Council of Church Women.
  • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom -- Alice chaired the Seattle branch for many years and served on the national board.
  • American Friends Service Committee – Worked with them to send aid to Japanese & European war victims, and on the Lucky Dragon V incident.
  • Koinonia birth place of Habitat for Humanity
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation
  • NAACP
  • Seattle Urban League
  • Cousteau Society
  • Environmental Action, and many, many more.

Related Topics:   Biographies | People's Histories | War & Peace

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