Portia Willis Fitzgerald Papers
"The Prettiest Suffragette in New York State," Portia Willis was born to a well-connected and politically active New York City family, circa 1887. The distinguished Civil War service of her father, Colonel Benjamin A. Willis, led to his election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Her mother, Lillie Evelynn Macauley Willis was prominent in the New York City social scene.
Portia Willis attended the Anne Brown School and took courses at Columbia University and Harvard. She became active in the women's suffrage movement in the early 1910s as a speaker and writer campaigning for New York State suffrage. She was an organizer of the New York State Suffrage Association. Her visible participation in suffrage publicity events, including piloting an airplane that bombarded Long Island with suffrage leaflets, sparked as many references to her beauty as to her cause in the press. Between 1911 and 1917 she took a very active part in the campaign, conducting a lecture tour through New York State, making speeches for the woman suffrage amendment in Massachusetts in 1914, and in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. the following year. She was grand marshal for three suffrage parades. In 1931 New York State placed her name on the suffrage "Honor Rolls" at the State Capitol in Albany.
In 1925 Willis married Captain L. Rodney Berg, an emigre from Lancashire, England, who worked in real estate. After her marriage she changed her name to Portia Willis-Berg. L. Rodney Berg died in 1941. Her second husband was the Prince of Thurn and Taxis who also pre-deceased her. In 1958 she married her third husband, Gerald Purcell FitzGerald.
Portia Willis FitzGerald was involved in many organizations throughout her life. She was an active pacifist, acting as Grand Marshal for the Women's Peace Parade in 1914, and later working in support of the League of Nations in the Women's Pro-League Council. She was a founder and board member of the Greater New York Branch of the League of Nations Association and a member of the New York Board of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She was chairman of the Round Table on the United Nations from 1950-53.
FitzGerald was a founding member of the Women's Roosevelt Memorial Association and was made an honorary member of the Aerial League of America for services to airmen in World War I. She also devoted much attention to Red Cross work during World War I. In 1925 she was elected to the National Institute of Social Sciences (for social work). She was also a member of the Women's City Club and a vice-president of the Woman's Suffrage Study Club. She served as president of the Little Gardens Club of New York City from 1953 on and was also at one time vice-president of the Women's Farm and Garden Association.
FitzGerald had been a popular lecturer on public affairs since her involvement in the suffrage movement and was briefly an Assistant in the Oral English Department at Harvard in 1924. She was also a lecturer on current events at the Barmore School from 1948-50. In her later years she continued to lecture and was frequently asked to reminisce about her suffrage experiences. The exact date of her death is unknown.