Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Rowena Peck Barnes Tingley, 1851-1919
By J. Stanley Lemons, Professor Emeritus of History, Rhode Island College
President, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (1907-1909); Temperance Activist
Rowena Peck Barnes Tingley (1851-1919) was born in Glocester, Rhode Island on June 20, 1851, daughter of John and Susan (Peck) Barnes. She married Xenophon Demosthenes Tingley on July 28, 1873. Her husband was born in Providence in 1844, served in the 11th RI Regiment in the Civil War, graduated from Brown in 1868, and became a teacher. He taught school in West Virginia and California between 1869 and 1874 before moving back to Rhode Island in 1874 where he taught at Pawtucket and Central Falls (1874-1884). He then served as the grammar school principal at Newburyport, Massachusetts from 1884 to 1914 while she lived in Providence with her four children.
Tingley became involved in the woman suffrage movement in the 1880s. By 1889, she became the secretary of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, subsequently the state affiliate of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In October 1907, Tingley succeeded Mrs. Jeannette S. French as president of RIWSA and served until 1909. As president of the RWSA, she testified before the Rhode Island legislature in 1908 trying to gain women the right to vote in presidential elections. In her testimony, Tingley stressed that “women were as well qualified as men to vote.” She continued that “the home is being swept back and now there are very few things that are produced in the homes. The wife can't make her own clothes unless she has special education, and no man would wear clothes made at home. It is natural for us women to follow the professions once found in the homes, out into the world. Therefore we are qualified and ready to vote. We want to be the people to elect to office persons who will enforce the laws and protect our rights.” The presidential suffrage bill in Rhode Island failed in 1908 but was later passed in 1917. Related to her woman suffrage work, Tingley criticized a new tariff in 1909 on gloves and hosiery as unfair taxation on women. She explained, “I am opposed to any unjust discrimination which adds to the hardship of women.” In May 1909 she was elected vice-president of the New England Woman's Suffrage Association at the same time that Julia Ward Howe was president.
Tingley also worked diligently for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union as it and the suffrage association were closely allied in Rhode Island. She served as vice-president of the Rhode Island WCTU. As with her woman suffrage activism, Tingley testified before the Rhode Island legislature on behalf of the temperance cause. In 1883, she addressed the Rhode Island assembly on the need for a constitutional amendment prohibiting sale and manufacture of alcohol. She stated, “The object of all free government rests with the people. The State gives to the government its power, but it is still under obligations to maintain justice and the welfare of the people. Believing this, we ask that 1344 dram-shops shall no longer ruin 270,000 of our people, nor eight and one-half millions of dollars be taken for a means to support this infamous traffic...The first section of our national constitution declares the right of citizens to make and form this government. We ask you to consider if prohibition is not justified by sound morality; and if so, ought it not to be incorporated into the law of our State?” In both her suffrage and temperance activism, Tingley firmly believed that Americans should have a strong voice in their government.
Rowena P.B. Tingley died on September 6, 1919 at sixty-eight and was survived by her husband and four children. She died four months before the Rhode Island state government ratified the federal woman suffrage amendment.
Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association records, 1868-1930. Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, RI.
Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]
“Rhode Island Women Oppose Payne Tariff,” The Providence Daily Journal, April 6, 1909.
“Woman's Plea for Constitutional Amendment,” The Providence Journal, March 7, 1883.
“Woman's Suffrage Association,” The Providence Sunday Journal, May 30, 1909.
“Woman Suffragists Plead for Franchise,” The Providence Journal, April 4, 1908.