Category: Writings

The Theaters of Providence

Pleasure the means, the end virtue. By Russell J. DeSimone Once upon a time, and in living memory, at least for some of us, there were a number of movie houses in the downtown Providence area; and most city neighborhoods had a movie theater as well. I was one of the lucky ones, not only

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How a RI sports promoter helped build a Celtics Dynasty

By Ken Dooley On April 20, 2024, the Boston Celtics will go after their eighteenth NBA championship. The Celtics are regarded as one of the most successful teams in NBA history and are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most NBA championships with seventeen. Louis Pieri was co-owner of the NBA’s Providence Steamrollers, one

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The Fleeting Scepter

Pat Conley Each nation’s meteoric rise Implies the certain dread demise Of the very one that fickle Fate Had chosen first to elevate. Proud Egypt, Babylonia Assyria then Greece Enjoyed a transitory reign Ere their domination ceased. Resplendent Rome attained the crest Controlling all by force of sword Till corrupted from within It bowed before

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President of Brown University Helped Shape Foreign Service

In 1954, John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower’s first secretary of state, named Dr. Henry Wriston as chairman of a public committee on personnel to reorganize the State Department and its Foreign Service. At the time, many State Department officials whose duties concerned foreign policy were under the civil service system. They were not required to

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Born on the third of July

Dr. D. Scott Molloy If George M. Cohan had been more truthful in Yankee Doodle Dandy, he would have reported his birth date as July 3, and not the “born on the Fourth of July” claim reported in his song.  Admittedly, his truthfulness would have reduced its punch. A birth certificate from St. Joseph’s Roman

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An Olympic Swimmer Without an Olympics

By Russell DeSimone It would not be easy to list the highlights of Doris Brennan Weir’s athletic career without omitting some accomplishment, title, or record. She was simply among the finest female swimmers in the world. It would have been perfect if this brilliant young lady could have completed her competitive career by performing in

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Bishop James De Wolf Perry

Bishop James De Wolf Perry, a leader of the Episcopal Church in America, is one of several family members bearing the name James De Wolf Perry. It is not surprising, however, that those names have been perpetuated. Bishop Perry was the great-great-grandson of the famous (and also infamous) Bristol merchant, slave trader, and preeminent War

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Sophia R. Little (1799 – 1893)

Sophia Little was born in Newport in 1799, the daughter of Asher Robbins. Her father was a prominent Rhode Island politician who served as U.S. Attorney General for Rhode Island and then in the state legislature before serving as U.S. Senator from 1825 to 1839. Not much is known about Sophia’s early education other than she

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Sara M. Algeo (1876 – 1953)

Sara Louise Algeo was born on June 13, 1876 in Cohasset MA, the fifth child to John and Sarah (Clemens) MacCormack. Following her education in the Cohasset public schools she attended and graduated from Boston University. Upon graduation she came to Rhode Island in September 1899 to teach at Cranston High School. She would remain

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Roberta J. Dunbar (1868 – 1956)

Roberta Dunbar was born in Narragansett, Rhode Island on July 10, 1868 to John and Louisa Cartwright Dunbar. By 1870 the family was living in Providence and Roberta attended the English High school. She worked in a number of professions including dressmaker, masseuse and hairdresser but her work of note was as an activist dedicated

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Mary Francis “Fanny” Purdy Palmer (1839 – 1923)

Fanny was an author, poet, and social activist. She was born in New York City on July 11, 1839 to Henry and Mary (Sharp) Purdy. Following the death of her father when she was only seven, she grew up in upstate New York.  She attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Buffalo and graduated

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Maria Kindberg (1860 – 1921) and Ingeborg Kindstedt (1865 – 1950)

The names of Maria Kindberg and Ingeborg Kindstedt are irrevocably intertwined in the woman’s suffrage movement not only in Rhode Island but nationally because of their accomplishments during the early decades of the twentieth century. Maria Albertina Kindberg was born in Ryd near the town of Skövde, Sweden, on October 12, 1860; she arrived in

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Florence P. Simister (1913 – 1981)

Florence Parker Simister was an author, historian, and radio personality. Born on December 13, 1913 in Providence to George L. and Bertha Zinner Parker she attended the local public schools graduating from Classical High School in 1931. Following high school, she enrolled in extension courses at both Brown University and the University of Connecticut. Her

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Florence Markoff (1917 – 2017)

Florence Markoff was born on August 24, 1917 in Attleboro, MA to David and Molly Shapiro. She lived her entire life in Rhode Island, graduating from Hope High School and Emerson College in Boston. Upon graduation from college she gave private elocution and drama lessons in Rhode Island. She was a pioneer in radio broadcasting,

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Elizabeth “Lillie” Buffum Chace Wyman

Born: December 10, 1847 Died: January 10, 1929 Suffragist, social activist and author. Lillie Wyman was the eight child born into the Quaker family of Samuel Buffington Chace and Elizabeth Buffum Chace. Her maternal grandfather was Arnold Buffum the noted Rhode Island abolitionist, a co-founder and first president of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. Her

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Bertha G. Higgins (1872 – 1944)

Bertha was born in Danville, VA on November 18, 1872 to Horace and Barbara Dillard. She was married twice, first to Walker Thomas in 1887, but following his death in 1897, she married Dr. William Higgins. In 1903 the couple moved to Providence, Rhode Island where Dr. Higgins practiced medicine. Bertha was an accomplished dressmaker

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Anna W. Spencer  (1799 – 1884)

Anna’s life is somewhat of a mystery, but her accomplishments are significant in the history of social reform, especially that for women’s equality and suffrage. In 1852 she began the publication in Providence of the newspaper The Pioneer and Woman’s Advocate; the newspaper’s motto was “Liberty, Truth, Equality, Temperance.”  Anna’s newspaper is significant since it

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Anita Tyng (1838 – 1913)

Anita E. Tyng, the daughter of Charles A. and Anna A. (McAlpine) Tyng, was a medical doctor and surgeon.  She was born in Massachusetts on February 4, 1838.  Her father’s ancestors dated back to the early years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Little is known of Anita’s childhood or adolescent years.  What is known is

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Alva Vanderbilt Belmont

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, a Newport socialite, was born on January 17, 1853 in Mobile, Alabama, one of six children to Murray and Phoebe Smith. She was married twice, first to William K. Vanderbilt and later to Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont. Following the death of her second husband in 1908, Alva moved back to Marble House,

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Ada Sawyer (1892 – 1985)

Ada Sawyer was Rhode Island’s first female lawyer. She went to Providence English High School, where she graduated with honors in 1909. The day after graduating, she was hired as a stenographer at the law office of Charles E. Salisbury and Percy Winchester Gardner. While at the firm, Ada showed an interest in “reading law.”

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STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: The Politics of Race in Antebellum Rhode Island

12.19.09 “Making the right of citizenship identical with color, brings a stain upon the State, unmans the heart of an already injured people, and corrupts the purity of Republican Faith.” (1841 Petition from the “Colored Citizens of Rhode Island to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention”) Early in the morning of May 18, 1842, Thomas Wilson

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Rhode Island: A State For Sale

by Lincoln Steffens The most infamous article ever written about Rhode Island is almost certainly the article by the legendary muckraker Lincoln Steffens, which ran in the February 1905 edition of McClure’s Magazine. Steffens found the Ocean State rotten with corruption from Providence and Pawtucket to Bristol and Block Island, with individual citizens selling their

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The Political Transformation of Rhode Island, 1920–1940

By Dr. Patrick T. Conley In 1972, Providence College archivist and historian Matthew J. Smith conducted a dozen lengthy interviews in Providence with former governor Robert Emmett Quinn just after he had stepped down as the first chief judge of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals. Eight years later, the politically knowledgeable Smith became Speaker

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN – THREE STRIKES FOR STATE HISTORY AND HERITAGE

The following essay, published in the Providence Journal in 2017, was yet another futile attempt to gain state support for our state’s history. I feel like the man who keeps banging his head against the wall because it feels so good when he stops. ************************** Rhode Island’s government does not support the observance of Rhode

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN – TAKING DOWN THE INDEPENDENT MAN

In 2016 and 2017, a temporary craze swept the nation that advocated the destruction of statutes, monuments, and memorials that had been erected to honor an array of nationally prominent white males. Most of the mayhem was directed against those involved either with slavery or with the admittedly disgraceful treatment of Native Americans. The hit

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SAVE OUR MILLS

It is more than tragic that less than four years after I published the following essay as a Providence Journal commentary extolling the virtues of Rhode Island’s industrial landscape, the bungling administration of Governor Donald Carcieri persuaded a supine General Assembly to curtail the state historic tax credit program. Our leaders perpetrated this shortsighted blunder

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Rhode Island’s Lost Ships

This essay appeared as a Providence Journal commentary on August 9, 2008, in the midst of another summer season during which the Sloop Providence rested in a restricted private shipyard rather than on my dock for the public to view and visit. The Providence Maritime Heritage Foundation (on which I once held the vice presidency)

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR – HERITAGE HARBOR: PAST and FUTURE PLANS

My long-time friend and historical colleague Albert T. Klyberg and I collaborated in writing the following synopsis of our 40-year effort to promote the teaching and study of Rhode Island history from my creation of the Ethnic Heritage subcommittees of the state bicentennial commission (ri76) and the short-lived Rhode Island Heritage Commission, through Al’s determined

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN – LABORATORY FOR THE LIVELY EXPERIMENT

The year 2013 marked the 350th anniversary of Rhode Island’s Royal Charter of 1663. Governor Lincoln Chafee took the initiative in appointing a 35-member 1663 Colonial Charter Commission that sponsored several commemorative initiatives, most notably the creation of a beautifully appointed, climate controlled Charter Room on the first floor of the State House. Dr. Ted

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CHAPTER THREE – JULY 19, THE REAL RHODE ISLAND INDEPENDENCE DAY

From 1974 to mid-1977 when I served as volunteer chairman of the Rhode Island commission to celebrate American independence (ri76), one thorny issue involved the correction of the long-held belief that Rhode Island declared its independence from England on May 4, 1776. Glen LaFantasie, my director of publications, refuted this hyperbolic claim in a scholarly

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CHAPTER EIGHT – BRISTOL, BROWNELL, AND THE GASPEE

In June 2019 I made a presidential discretionary grant of $2,000 from the Heritage Harbor Foundation to the Bristol Fourth of July committee for its 234th annual celebration. Along with the grant, I presented the committee with a suggestion that they join in the 250th anniversary of the burning of the British naval vessel, the

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STATEHOOD: BRISTOL LED THE WAY!

            The highest civic honor that can be conferred upon a resident of Bristol is the position of chief marshal of the Fourth of July parade, an event first held in 1826.  The local observance of independence actually began much earlier.  It dates from 1785, entitling Bristol to claim that it stages the oldest consecutive

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POKANOKET

Dear Editor:     In 2007 my husband and I bought the so-called King Philip House on Bristol’s Mount Hope, the former summer home of Rudolph Haffenreffer, Jr. It sat on a two-acre parcel surrounded by about 450 acres of additional land that the Haffenreffers gave to Brown University via several donations in the 1950s.  

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THE IRISH IN RHODE ISLAND: THE PROTESTANT PIONEERS

     The Irish presence in Rhode Island dates from the late 1630s. Most early Irish Rhode Islanders were Protestants-mainly Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, or Anglicans– and those few with Catholic antecedents soon lost their religious affiliation for lack of Catholic clergy within the colony. Among the handful of seventeenth-century Irish Rhode Islanders were Nicholas Power,

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