Hannibal artist made a name for herself in New York City
From the Vogue Magazine free online archives, cover illustrations by Alice De Warenne Little, who grew up in Hannibal, Mo. From left, cover dates May 15, 1916; April 15, 1917; and January 1, 1918.
Famed actress Ruth Gordon enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in 1914 at the age of 17, and during that time was a resident of the Three Arts Club. She went on to work for more than a half century in the entertainment business. Credits include Harold and Maude, 1971; Taxi, 1978-1983; and Rosemary’s Baby, 1968. Daily News, New York, Sept. 15, 1956. Newspapers.com
Clubroom at the Three Arts Club. Deaconess Jane Harris Hall is pouring tea. Dec. 5, 1903, New York Tribune. Newspapers.com
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Thousands of talented young women from across the United States and abroad flocked to New York City during the nineteen-teens, in search of a lifestyle previously unattainable by their mothers and sisters back home.
New York City offered education and job opportunities that afforded these women a chance to pursue a career, rather than simply fulfill their previously expected roles as housewives and mothers.
Alice De Warenne Little (1883-1956), who grew to adulthood in Hannibal’s environment, was one of those women.
Her father, the Rev. Edward Porter Little, served the Trinity Episcopal Church in Hannibal for 15 years, until his resignation at the beginning of 1908. (Her mother, Henrietta Grimshaw Little, died in Hannibal in 1900, when Alice was 17.)
During the summer of 1909, Alice paid a visit to her maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. T.C. Grimshaw, in Pittsfield, Ill., and soon thereafter, the 26-year-old was residing in New York, working as a fashion artist.
Census records suggest that in 1910 she was living at or near the Three Arts Club in Manhattan.
Three Arts Club
Under the auspices of Grace (Episcopal) Church in New York, the Three Arts Club was conceived in 1902, in order to offer affordable housing for unmarried women under the age of 30, who were pursuing an education in the fields of music, art and drama. Jane Harris Hall, formerly a deaconess of the old St. Mark’s Church in New York, was one of the founders.
The original facility, a flat located at 325 West Fifty Sixth Street, housed five young women in a seven-room apartment, furnished primarily from Miss Hall’s private possessions. The club itself was modeled on the American Girls’ Club of Paris, of which Deaconess Hall had visited the year prior.
When Alice Little lived at or near this club in early 1910, it was located at 536 West End Avenue. During the (estimated) years 1905-1909, there were 237 different young women in residence, coming from every state in the union and many foreign countries. The women were charged $7 per week for room and meals. (Los Angeles Herald June 25, 1909)
In 1910, the club moved to an elevator building at 338-340 West 85th St., where it continued in operation until finally closing.
Jane Harris Hall
The New York Tribune featured the club in its Dec. 5, 1903 edition.
“When you speak of the Three Arts Club you speak of Deaconess Jane Hall. Deaconess Hall is the Three Arts Club. The club has been made possible only through Deaconess Hall’s initiative, through her experience in running the Students’ Club at St. Mark’s and the trip she took to Europe last summer for the express purpose of studying the club in Paris.”
There were few affordable housing options in Manhattan for single women at that time.
The Tribune quoted Miss Hall:
“These girls either go to one of the institutions designed for self supporting women, where there are usually so many restrictions that they afford little of the home environment, or else they go into the hall bedroom in the cheap lodging house – dingy, cold and cramped. They frequently suffer great hardships and even indignities. To give such girls a pleasant home at prices they can afford is the primary object of the Three Arts Club.”
Girls’ Club residents
Beginning in 1908, and at the time of Alice DeWarrene Little’s residency, the Three Arts Club was located on the southwest corner of West 86th Street and West End Avenue.
Among the tenants listed with Alice Little in the 1910 census was Lillian L. Hodghead, 23, music student, birthplace, California. In 1945 Miss Hodghead was director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Famed actress Ruth Gordon was an early resident of the Three Arts Club, staying there in 1914, when she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York at the age of 17. Miss Baker went on to work in the industry for more than 50 years.
Cover of Vogue
Archives of the long-running Vogue magazine show that Alice Little did reach a level of success in the city. In each of the years 1916, 1917 and 1918, Miss Little is credited with the cover art for an edition of Vogue Magazine. The census in both 1910 and 1920 make mention of her status as artist, specifically in the fashion industry.
On Jan. 1, 1918, her Vogue Magazine cover art depicts popular French lingerie.
The magazine text explains the fashion trends of the day.
“The modern silhouette has led to the abolition of the stiff brassiere and heavily boned corset. The Parisienne now wears, instead of a brassiere, a delicate affair made of lace – perhaps of Irish crochet, with silk elastic bands to give it substances, - and her hip corset is of very simple tricot.”
As early as 1886, the extended Little family had ties to the arts mecca of Nantucket, an island located about 30 miles south of Cape Cod, Mass.
Rev. Little served as rector of St. Paul’s Church on the island for seven years, until 1893. His son, Harold Little*, was born there. From Nantucket, the family moved to Hannibal.
Alice and her sister, Margaret Little, maintained a relationship with the island throughout their lives. The sisters lived together at various places in New York during the winter, and then headed for Nantucket from May through September. Their Nantucket home was located at 7 Summer Street.
Their father, the Rev. E.P. Little, made frequent visits to the island, as did their sister, Isabella Little Share, who made her home in Clayton, Mo. Their brother, Harold, lived nearby on the mainland.
Siblings Isabella, Harold and Margaret are buried together at Prospect Hill Cemetery on the island. Alice, who died in 1956 while visiting her sister in Clayton, Mo., is buried at Valhalla Cemetery, Bel-Nor, St. Louis.
Jane Harris Hill, who is credited with the establishment of the Three Art Club, later turned her focus to the wellbeing of young actresses, establishing The Rehearsal Club in New York’s theater district in 1913. Similar to the Three Arts Club, the goal was to provide safe and affordable housing for young women who were in pursuit of a career in the theater.
The Rehearsal Club remained a safe haven for actresses for many years. Among those who lived there during their early acting years were Carol Burnett, Blythe Danner and Kim Cattrall. The facility closed in 1979.
Cynthia Darlow, who plays Joel Maisel’s substitute secretary on Amazon’s hit comedy, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” is now working toward bringing back the concept of The Rehearsal Club in New York, raising awareness by writing a book about The Rehearsal Club. She lived there when she arrived from Virginia in 1973 to look for work on Broadway.
In 2018, the New York Performing Arts Academy quoted Darlow: “The Rehearsal Club saved our lives … It was a real sisterhood.”
Harold Little was among the boys suspended for performing pranks at Hannibal High School in 1907. See related stories published in the Hannibal Courier-Post dated: March 28 and April 4, 2020.
While no direct connection was found to link Miss Little to the Three Arts Club, the census listed her address in 1910 as a girls’ club, 538 West End Avenue; and the Three Arts Club was located at 532-536 West End Avenue. Her status as the daughter of an Episcopalian rector further suggests that she might have been affiliated with this Episcopalian-sponsored girls’ club.
Jane Harris Hall died in November 1934 in Roseland, N.J., at the age of 84.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com