10 Rhode Island Heroes to Celebrate This Women’s History Month
Every Rhode Islander should know these names.
Rhode Island has no shortage of remarkable women through history, but not all have been recognized by historians.
Russell DeSimone, director of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, says the disparity among the Hall of Fame’s own inductees came into sharp focus when he was considering last year’s cohort.
“It was quite evident that the preponderance of people in the Hall of Fame were men,” says DeSimone, also a co-author of the book Remarkable Women in Rhode Island.
To combat this uneven representation, DeSimone set out to mark the centenary of the women’s right to vote with the induction of six suffrage leaders in 2020.
“These ladies were remarkable and they were unheralded, frankly,” says DeSimone, adding, “we helped level the playing field but there’s still a preponderance of men.”
So, this Women’s History Month, commit these ten names to memory: suffragettes, yes, but also musicians and entrepreneurs and abolitionists and athletes who shattered glass ceilings so generations of women could change history — and be recognized for their work, too.
Christiana Carteaux Bannister
Bannister was a successful hair doctress and entrepreneur who supported her husband, famed artist Edward Mitchell Bannister, early in his career. She helped facilitate Boston’s Underground Railroad operation, raised funds for the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of Black soldiers amid the Civil War and founded the Home for Aged Colored Women in Providence. (Photo credit: Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame)
Ida Lewis, 1842-1911
The Newport lighthouse keeper saved at least eighteen shipwrecked sailors while on duty at Lime Rock Lighthouse and earned the title of “The Bravest Woman in America.” (Photo credit: Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame)
Princess Red Wing, 1896-1987
The Narragansett and Wampanoag leader was an expert on Indigenous culture. She founded and edited the Narragansett Dawn tribal newspaper, represented her tribe in a United Nations presentation and founded and curated the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island's only museum dedicated to Indigenous culture. (Courtesy of the Tomaquag Museum)
Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, 1853-1933
The Newport socialite, who hosted women’s suffrage meetings out of her Marble House mansion, founded the the Political Equality League. In 1923, she became the president of the National Woman’s Party and used her wealth to buy the Sewell House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for its headquarters. (Photo credit: Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame)
Rev. Anna Garlin Spencer, 1851-1931
Rev. Spencer was the first ordained female minister in Rhode Island. She was also a newspaperwoman, a Providence public school teacher and a feminist who served as president of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association, was a founding sponsor of the NAACP and an officer in the Free Religious Association. (Photo credit: archive.org)
Sissieretta Jones, 1869-1933
Ms. Jones, whose stage name was "Black Patti," was a famous concert singer and the first Black artist to perform at the Wallack's Theatre in New York. She toured the world, performed for national leaders and played Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden.
Lizzie Murphy, 1894-1964
The self-titled “queen of baseball” and Warren native was the first woman ever to play in a Major League Baseball competition and who, for more than three decades, held positions on otherwise all-male professional, semi-professional, and amateur baseball teams. (Photo credit: Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame)
Bertha G. Higgins, 1872-1944
The social reformer, an accomplished dressmaker trained in the U.S. and in Paris, was also a leader in the Rhode Island Union of Colored Women’s Clubs and became the state’s leading advocate for women's suffrage in the Black community. She was also a founding member of the Providence Woman’s Suffrage Party and was a founding member of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters. (Photo credit: Getty)
Elizabeth Buffum Chace, 1806-1899
The antislavery activist — her home was on the Underground Railroad — was also an early advocate for women’s suffrage and, later, a temperance advocate who urged reforms in factories and prisons. (Photo credit: Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame)
Catharine R. Williams, 1790-1872
Williams, a major literary figure of her time, published books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction/history, including the Biography of Revolutionary Heroes and Neutral French, or the Exiles of Nova Scotia. She was also a fervent supporter of universal suffrage. (Photo credit: Getty)
Information courtesy of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.