Long-time senator, Theodore Francis Green bequeathed a lasting legacy of reform and economic growth to the state. Born in 1867 in Providence to an old Brahmin family, which counted among its lineage Rhode Island’s first governor under the Royal Charter of 1663, Benedict Arnold, and Revolutionary War general Nathanial Greene, Theodore Francis Green attended schools in Bonn and Berlin, Germany. He served in the Spanish-American War and following his discharge, became active in state politics, running first as a member of the Lincoln Party, and then as a reform candidate for the Democratic Party. He finally became governor in 1932 after an unsuccessful run two years earlier, and then won a senate seat in 1936, serving from 1936-1961. During his tenure, he sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for twenty years, acting as its chairman from 1957-1959.
His contributions to Rhode Island’s growth, however, are felt much more deeply. First running as a member of the newly formed Lincoln Party in 1906, Green early on established a legacy of change from the status quo, to a more dynamic people-centered platform.
An ardent New Dealer, Green supported pensions for the elderly, equitable workman’s compensation legislation, and the repeal of prohibition. Responsible for maintaining party cohesion during the tumultuous 1930s, Theodore Francis Green brought Rhode Island much needed stability and prosperity.
As Governor, he along with Lieutenant Governor “Fighting Bob” Quinn, Pawtucket Mayor Thomas P. McCoy, and several others, wrested control of the Rhode Island General Assembly from the Republicans in the so-called Bloodless Revolution of 1935. Thus, by claiming that election returns were fraudulent in two towns (Portsmouth and South Kingstown), Quinn was able to replace two Republicans with Democrats in the upper house, thereby claiming a Democratic majority in the Rhode Island Senate, which implemented a series of reforms including the reorganization of state government from rule by commissions to the present departmental system.
Instrumental in bringing Quonset Naval Air Base and a veterans’ hospital to the state, Senator Green also played a major role in securing absentee balloting for Rhode Island soldiers and sailors during the Second World War.
On behalf of his major contributions to state and local reform movements, Theodore Francis Green was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1972. The state airport in the Hillsgrove section of Warwick has been named in his honor.
For Further Reading:
Erwin L. Levine.Theodore Francis Green: The Rhode Island Years, 1906-1936 and Theodore Francis Green: The Washington Years, 1937-1960. Providence: Brown University Press, 1963 and 1971, respectively.
Debra A. Mulligan