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 mother was the leading abolitionist and woman suffragist of Rhode Island having served as president of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association from 1870 until her death in 1899. The Chace home in which Lillie grew up in was a stop on the underground railroad.

Lillie’s upbringing was significantly influenced by her reform minded parents. House guest included some of the country’s leading reformers including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison and Susan B. Anthony. Following her formal schooling she served as her mother’s secretary and herself became active in the woman suffrage movement.

In 1887 when a proposed Rhode Island constitutional amendment allowing for female suffrage was to be placed before the electorate for ratification Lillie undertook publication of a new newspaper The Amendment in support of ratification.

In addition to her active role in the woman suffrage movement Lillie was an accomplished author. Her short stories appeared in the Atlantic Monthly as well as other periodicals. William Dean Howells, noted editor of the Atlantic Monthly, once said her works contained “absolute and unswerving realism”. Her writings usually portrayed the downtrodden, the immigrant, the poor and those individuals marginalized within American society; these stories were often in a setting depicting New England factory life. Her accounts were intended to expose inequality within American society and how that society had failed to uphold its promise of justice for all. In 1886 some of her previous short stories were published under the title Poverty Grass. This book and her short essay “The Child of the State’ were credited with bringing about institutional reform in the state.

Her interest in social reform led her to serve for ten years on the board of trustees for the Rhode Island Institute for the Deaf.

In addition to her works of fiction, Lillie co-authored with her son a two-volume biography of her mother, Elizabeth Buffum Chace: Her Life and Its Environment, published in 1914 thus providing an important account of life and social reform efforts in 19th century New England.

Lillie was a native of Central Falls, Rhode Island.  She married John C. Wyman, a Civil War Union officer on October 29, 1878; the couple had one child, a son Arthur Crawford Wyman born in 1879. Lillie died at her Newtonville, Massachusetts home on January 10, 1929 and is buried at Swan Point cemetery in Providence.

Russell J. DeSimone

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