Women have played a significant role in Rhode Island, beginning with Anne Hutchinson’s founding of Portsmouth in 1638. A century later, Ann Franklin, sister-in-law to Benjamin, received the commission to print the official General Assembly records; in 1762 she became the first female newspaper editor in America.

Women were also active in the abolition and suffrage movements, and were ardent supporters of the arts and education. Elizabeth Buffum Chace, active in all of these areas, led the fight for women’s suffrage with her 1867 petition to the General Assembly. She and other Rhode Island women worked for decades in order to secure the right to vote.  Learn more about the women who contributed to our state, and the path to women’s suffrage in Rhode Island by visiting our interactive timeline.

Christiana Carteaux Bannister
Christiana Carteaux Bannister

Primary Source Documents

Click on the thumbnails below to zoom in and explore these documents.

  • Ann Franklin’s petition, 1736
    Ann Franklin’s petition, 1736

    In 1736 Ann Franklin, the sister-in-law of Benjamin Franklin, petitioned the General Assembly for the commission to print the records of state government.

    Read a transcript.

  • Petition for women’s suffrage, 1867
    Petition for women’s suffrage, 1867

    Elizabeth Buffum Chace submitted the first petition for women’s suffrage to Rhode Island’s General Assembly in 1867. It would take more than 50 years for women to fully gain the right to vote, but this petition was an important step for women’s suffrage in Rhode Island

    Read a transcript.

  • Address to a woman’s suffrage reception, 1889
    Address to a woman’s suffrage reception, 1889

    In this 1889 address to a gathering of women’s suffrage supporters, Elizabeth Buffum Chace discusses the important role women played in the anti-slavery movement and connects it to contemporary activism around suffrage.

    Read a transcript.

  • Back our girls, 1918 Poster
    Back our girls, 1918

    This World War I poster, featuring a woman serving in the armed forces, asks Americans to support the United War Work Campaign to raise money for the troops.

    Read more about this poster.

  • For every fighter, a woman worker, 1918 Poster
    For every fighter, a woman worker, 1918

    This poster highlights the role played by women who joined the workforce to fill positions left vacant by men serving in World War I.

    Read more about this poster.

Discussion Topics and Classroom Activities

4th grade and up
  • What else can you learn about Ann Franklin?

  • Why didn’t women have the right to vote until 1920?

6th grade and up
  • Try to learn more about one of the women named in Elizabeth Buffum Chace’s address to the woman suffrage reception and supper and write a short biography about her.

  • The 19th amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1920, over 50 years after Elizabeth Buffum Chace’s 1867 petition. What happened during that time period that might have affected the decision to allow women the right to vote?

  • What can you learn about women during World War I from looking at the United War Work posters? Can you find out more about what women did during World War I to support the war effort?