Frances Whipple Green McDougall (1805-1878)was one of Rhode Island’s most significant mid-nineteenth century writers and reformers. She was born in Smithfield where she spent her childhood in modest circumstances despite her membership in two of Rhode Island’s pioneering families.
Frances began her writing career by publishing her poems in local newspapers and by editing, in 1829, two issues of a local interest periodical which she entitled The Original. By the late 1830s, the reformist spirit of America’s “Age of Equalitarianism” turned her interest increasingly towards some of the causes of that period, especially temperance, abolition, and workers’ rights. She published The Memoirs of Elleanor Edridge, a narrative of a free black woman; edited the Wampanoag, and Operatives’ Journal, a magazine designed to improve the condition of female factory workers in Fall River (which then was partly in Rhode Island), and she was the most prolific antislavery writer in Providence, contributing to William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator and other periodicals.
From a Rhode Island perspective, Whipple’s book Might and Right is her most important treatise. In this work she persuasively defended the Dorr Rebellion with logic and fervor. Her support of Dorr’s efforts contrasted markedly with the position of her first cousin John Whipple, the attorney who teamed with Daniel Webster before the U. S. Supreme Court to repudiate Dorr’s movement for constitutional change.
Whipple left Providence for the New York City area and turned her attention to the writing of works on spiritualism and a textbook on botany. Then this talented but restless woman moved to California in 1861. There she met and married her second husband William C. McDougall, a former California assemblyman. In her new setting she lent her pen to the cause of women’s rights and assumed the role of a medium, speaking and writing messages dictated to her from the spirit world. She died in Oakland, California in 1878.