Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Minnie Mabel Chamberlain Carpenter, 1868-1958
By Kaitlyn Anderson and Dena Miller, Undergraduate Students, Saint Anselm College
Suffragist; Community Leader; Founder, Girl Scouts of Rhode Island
Minnie Mabel Chamberlain Carpenter was born on February 21, 1868, in Norwich, Connecticut to William Tyler Chamberlain and Mary Elizabeth (Russell) Chamberlain. She had an older sister, Elora G. Chamberlain, and a younger brother, Melvin Russell Chamberlain. Her father worked as a machinist. The family descended from one of the Pilgrims from the Mayflower but which relative is unclear.
Minnie Chamberlain was educated at Norwich Academy. At the age of twenty-four on November 29, 1893, she married Gilbert Congdon Carpenter in Norwich, Connecticut and together they moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Gilbert Carpenter was a graduate of Cornell and Brown Universities and worked as an assistant treasurer. In 1894, Gilbert Carpenter joined the Christian Scientist Church and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a well-respected reader and leader. From 1905 to 1906 he served the founder of the church, Mary Baker Eddy, as her associate secretary at her Pleasant View home in Concord, New Hampshire. Minnie Carpenter also joined the Christian Scientist movement, visiting different community churches and reading from Eddy's works. Census list Gilbert Carpenter as employed as a practitioner of Christian Science and he accumulated an estimated net worth of $48,200, the equivalent of approximately $466,000 today. As Minnie Carpenter did not have her own income, his salary was enough to support their multiple servants and five children, Mary Elizabeth, Gilbert Jr., Harriet, Francis, and Victoria, and pay for an expensive membership to the Providence Plantation Club.
Carpenter was a supporter of woman suffrage and was active in the Rhode Island campaign by at least 1914, usually recorded as “Mrs. Gilbert C. Carpenter.” That year she chaired a subcommittee for the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA) in support of a bazaar to raise money and awareness for woman suffrage. She also was active in the patronage, organization, and planning of teas, bridge parties, and dances for the RIWSA organization. In 1915, the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association merged with the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party and the College Equal Suffrage League and became the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA). She served as auditor of the new organization in 1915, a position she also held in 1916 and 1918. She joined a contingent of Rhode Island suffragists to march in a 1915 Massachusetts suffrage parade.
The merger of the suffrage groups was an uneasy one and later in 1915, Carpenter and several other members filed official documents to reestablish the Woman Suffrage Party as an individual organization. She continued to work with RIESA though in numerous capacities. Right before the 1916 election, Carpenter and another suffragist, Nettie E. Bauer, visited Rhode Island Governor R. Livingston Beeckman to lobby him on woman suffrage and ask him to support adding suffrage to the state Republican platform. In 1917, the Rhode Island government passed a bill giving women the right to vote in presidential elections. When the law passed, The Providence Journal quoted Carpenter as saying, “I am very pleased...Women are entitled to the vote as American citizens as well as men.” She went on to say that she favored “a civic league similar to the one in Portland, Or., at which all people interested in the civil welfare can meet to discuss the problems of the city. That is the best way to bring about the greatest good for the people. We can accomplish this if we have full suffrage.” Later, in 1919, RIESA named Carpenter an honorary vice president, as the suffrage victory drew near.
Once women gained the right to vote, she continued to play an active role in Rhode Island politics. She was a supporter of the Rhode Island Republican Party, serving as the secretary of the Republican City Committee of Providence in 1920. Throughout the 1920s, Carpenter was also an active member of the United League of Women Voters, a new organization that emerged out of the Rhode Island suffrage groups after ratification.
Outside of her work in suffrage, Minnie Carpenter was an advocate for a number of social issues. She co-founded the Rhode Island Girl Scouts in 1919, served as its first state commissioner, and remained active in the organization for several decades. She also co-founded the Elizabeth Beeckman Emergency Fund Inc. that worked to help the poor, by providing necessities such as food, clothing, and fuel. Carpenter served in leadership position as president of the Providence Animal Rescue League for many years, member of board of governors for the English-Speaking Union, and a director for the Rhode Island Consumers' League. Minnie Carpenter had a lifelong passion for music and culture, which is evident in her membership and leadership in multiple musical and cultural organizations within Providence. These included singing in her Church's choir, serving as presidents in the Chopin, Chaminade and Handicraft Clubs, and holding membership in the Dante Alighieri Society and the Providence Musical Association.
On July 8, 1958, Minnie Mabel Chamberlain Carpenter died in Providence, Rhode Island at the age of ninety due to arteriosclerotic heart disease. She was survived by her husband, one of her sons, Francis, and two of her daughters, Mary Elizabeth and Harriet. She was cremated at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.
“Mrs. Gilbert C. Carpenter,” The Providence Journal, April 10, 1922.
“Mrs. Gilbert C. Carpenter, The Providence Journal, July 10, 1958. Copyright @ 2018 The Providence Journal. Reproduced with permission.
A record of Minnie Mabel Chamberlain Carpenter's birth, parents, and family tree information can be found on Ancestry.com under the “Chamberlain Family Tree,” https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/159275555/family. While there was not enough information to stretch the family tree back far enough to see which of her ancestors came over on the Mayflower, her obituaries mention that she was a lifetime member of the Mayflower Association. A qualification of membership is a relation to an original pilgrim, which can be used to infer the connection.
Minnie Carpenter is included on page of 162 of Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, published in 1915 [LINK]. In her paragraph write up, a record of her education and public involvement is listed. Though her education is listed as “Norwich Academy”, there is no evidence in the Norwich Records to support the claim. After her time at Norwich Academy, she married Gilbert Carpenter at the age of twenty-four, as documented in the Record of Marriage in the Town Norwich in 1893. Gilbert C. Carpenter and Minnie's involvement in the Christian Science Movement and business with Mary Baker Eddy are documented in numerous sources: https://christiansciencehistory.typepad.com/blog/2010/05/a-less-seen-side-of-mary-baker-eddy.html, https://mbeinstitute.org/author/carpenter-gilbert-c/gilbert-c-carpenter-christian-science-index.html, http://www.christianscience.org/index.php/unpublished-items/108-about-the-carpenters. His estimated net worth from his occupation, list of servants, and the names of their children are all documented in census records, most notably the 1900, 1920, 1925, and 1930 census.
Her work with the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association is documented in Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922), 569 [LINK].
A record of Mrs. Carpenter as one of the incorporators of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party can be found on page 616 in The Acts and Resolves Passed by the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the January Session, A.D. 1916, published in 1916 or at https://books.google.com/books?id=vYRCAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA616&lpg=PA616&dq=%22minnie+c+carpenter%22+and+suffrage&source=bl&ots=g1CxnjPcuH&sig=ACfU3U2qJ15duffFwuQ_n0w8H2b7emvbew&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjAq5v3__DgAhUDT98KHY_6D4IQ6AEwAHoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22minnie%20c%20carpenter%22%20and%20suffrage&f=false. Records of her involvement in the organization of events and functions for the party and other suffrage organizations can be found in The Providence Journal archives, in the February 14, 1916, May 9, 1914, and December 5, 1915 issues. Carpenter's election to the auditor position in the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association is recorded on page 569 of the History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 6. Her further political work can be found in The Providence Journal as well, in the October 10, 1920 and September 25, 1923 articles.
Carpenter is mentioned as one of the incorporators of the Girl Scouts of Rhode Island in the December 7, 1919 issue of The Providence Journal, and the inference about the time she held the position is based on her letter to the editor of the newspaper which appeared in the July 3, 1921 edition. No further information of her time as commissioner could be found on the Girl Scouts of Rhode Island website http://www.gsri.org/aboutUs_OurHistory.html. All other mentions of her civic engagement and musical interests comes from The Providence Journal articles from November 2, 1917, February 23, 1921, March 6, 1938, and her obituary from July 10, 1958. Her membership in the Providence Musical Association was found on page 135 of The Providence Society Blue Book, Including Suburbs in Rhode Island Together With Fall River and the Attleboros, Mass published in 1905 or at https://books.google.com/books?id=VAQDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA135&lpg=PA135&dq=%22Mrs.+Gilbert+C.+Carpenter%22&source=bl&ots=6g6UD0wnY7&sig=ACfU3U0At4J2GfmOz7IBYamVYSHSRJrmgg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiv1Lmd9ubgAhXLmuAKHfUmBKcQ6AEwAHoECAEQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Mrs.%20Gilbert%20C.%20Carpenter%22&f=false.
Her cause of death, the date on which she died, and the location of her cremation can be found at the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission, http://rihistoriccemeteries.org/newgravedetails.aspx?ID=379169.