Alice Davenport, a beloved former teacher at Germantown Friends School as well as the first African American teacher in Norristown in 1952, was a community activist, tireless volunteer and winner of countless honors and awards for her dedication to others. She died at the age of 103 on Feb. 1 at her home in Sunrise of Lafayette Hill, a retirement facility.
Among her numerous awards, Davenport won the 1982 Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library Award of Appreciation, 1998 Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Humanitarian of the Year, 1999 Montgomery Bar Association Outstanding Public Service Award, and 2009 NAACP Award for Education and Community Service.
“Aunt Alice was such an unforgettable woman. Brilliant and beautiful and funny and opinionated, just like the rest of the women in our family, no matter if they were related by blood or marriage,” said Nikky Finney, a cousin. “All those aunts left such a fierce impression on me. We are from a club of women the earth will never see the likes of again.”
One of Davenport’s three daughters, Nina, told us, “When I think of my mom, I think of an instinctively creative human being. She brought that creativity to everything she touched — her teaching plans for her students, holiday decorations, her personal sense of style, letter writing, even the day-to-day dishes we used — beautiful, rough-hewn, ceramic plates and bowls created by her teaching assistant, Lottie Porter.
“Though mindful of propriety, my mom had no interest in being ordinary. She had a broad range of friends and relationships and greatly enjoyed out-of-the-box thinkers. I think if she’d been born later in an era when women inherently had more freedom of expression, she would have challenged societal norms more than she already did.”
Born in 1919, Alice Iola Latney grew up in Washington, D.C., attended many Negro League baseball games with her father and graduated from high school in 1936. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Miner Teachers College, now the University of the District of Columbia, and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling later at West Chester University. She gave the commencement address at West Chester when she earned her master’s degree.
She met Horace Davenport through a mutual friend, and they married in 1944. She remained in Washington while he took graduate classes at the University of Pennsylvania, and joined him in Philadelphia later. They had daughters Alice, Bev and Nina, and son Champ. Alice Davenport’s husband, the grandson of an enslaved person, became the first Black judge in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas history. He died in 2017 at age 98. Her “cousin-in-law,” Ernest Finney, became the first Black chief justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina in 1994.
Alice Davenport’s daughter, Bev, said last week about her mom, “I would like people to know that she was a kind person with many creative gifts that she never thought were 'good enough.' She was always trying harder and succeeding … For her, giving back was a sense of duty.
“I always claimed that I learned to cook from her, which she modestly denied. She was also very health conscious, especially for the 1950s, '60s and '70s. We ate salads at every dinner, rarely had bread with meals and drank skim milk way back then.”
Davenport recorded one of the highest scores ever on her teacher certification exam in Washington and took additional advanced education classes at the University of Pennsylvania, Vassar College, Howard College, and Northwestern and Temple universities. One summer she studied whales in Massachusetts, and she and her husband participated in Italian culture study programs during several summers in Italy. She also served on numerous boards of directors for area nonprofit organizations and was active for more than 70 years at Siloam Baptist Church in Norristown.
Davenport's son, Champ, told us, “She was a teacher at heart, whose work, whose art, came from her heart. She had a genuine love for young children, fresh, impressionable young souls, and felt that her conveyance of that love to those children was as important as the conveyance of the basic academic skills ...
“On a separate note, my mother's social circle centered around friends who lived in Mt. Airy, and she absolutely loved Chestnut Hill. I know it would mean the world to her to be honored this way. To this day, I can still recall exploring with her, shopping
for a blazer at Joseph Condello’s or … back in 1966, at what was then a lovely little Guatemalan-focused curio shop, El Quetzal.”
In addition to her children and cousin, Davenport is survived by three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and other relatives.Two sisters and two brothers died earlier. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org