Lillie Chace Wyman was the eighth child born into the Quaker family of Samuel Buffington Chace and Elizabeth Buffum Chace on December 10, 1847. 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 Central Falls, where Lillie was born and raised, was a stop on the underground railroad where escaping slaves paused on their journey to freedom.
Lillie’s upbringing was significantly influenced by her reform-minded parents. House guests included some of the country’s leading activists 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 April 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. Unfortunately this constitutional change was soundly rejected 21,957 votes to 6,889 at a time when a three-fifths vote of approval was required to amend the state constitution.
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 to show 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 Rhode Island. She served for ten years on the board of trustees for the Rhode Island Institute for the Deaf to advance her cause.
In addition to her works of fiction, Lillie and her son, Arthur, co-authored a two-volume biography of her mother, Elizabeth Buffum Chace: Her Life and Its Environment. Published in 1914, this biography provides an important account of life and social reform in 19th century New England.
Lillie married John C. Wyman, a Civil War Union officer, on October 29, 1878; the couple had one child, Arthur Crawford Wyman who was born in 1879. Lillie died at her Newtonville, Massachusetts home on January 10, 1929 and was laid to rest at Swan Point cemetery in Providence.
Russell J, DeSimone