Catharine Read (Arnold) Williams (1790-1872) of Providence was one of Rhode Island’s major literary figures of the nineteenth century. She was the daughter of Alfred Arnold, a sea captain, and Amey Read. Her mother died when Catherine was a child, so the oft-absent father entrusted her education and upbringing to two of her aunts. Catharine left their sheltered household at age twenty-three, after the death of one aunt and the marriage of the other. In 1824, Catharine married Horatio N. Williams, a descendant of Rhode Island’s founder. The couple had one daughter, but the short-lived and unhappy marriage ended in divorce./>
Beginning in 1828 with a volume of poetry, she published twelve works of history, fiction, and verse including The Biography of Revolutionary Heroes (1839), which contained valuable sketches of the lives of General William Barton and Captain Stephen Olney. In 1842 she published a study entitled Neutral French, or the Exiles of Nova Scotia, on a theme which anticipated Longfellow’s Evangeline. She was a close ally of Thomas Wilson Dorr in his crusade for political reform and organized a women’s group dedicated to his liberation. Mrs. Williams had the distinction of being elected an honorary member of several Rhode Island learned societies–an honor not conferred, she once remarked, upon females in Rhode Island.
After 1845 Williams stopped publishing, though she furnished her autobiography to antiquarian Sidney S. Rider, who later used it in writing his Biographical Memoirs of Three Rhode Island Authors (1880).