Biographical Sketch of Mary M. Angell

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary M. Angell, 1838-1922

By James S. Kabala, Adjunct Professor of History, Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island

Recording Secretary, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association and Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association

Mary McCann Angell was born on May 28, 1838 in Rhode Island. She was most likely born in Providence, although the 1875 state census anomalously listed Johnston as her birthplace. (This was probably confusion with the fact that her mother had been born in that town.) Mary M. Angell was one of ten children of Joseph Sprague Angell (1796-1841) and Hope Hawkins Angell (1800-1885). Her father was descended from Thomas Angell, a companion of Roger Williams and namesake of one of the oldest streets in Providence, and he was also related to the prominent Fenner and Sprague families in Rhode Island. Joseph Angell himself was not wealthy or prominent, though, and was a butcher by profession. In this he took after his grandfather Job Angell, who was said by a nineteenth-century genealogist to have not only been a butcher himself but to have “a large number of [descendants who] have continued in the butchering business.” Joseph Angell died on July 21, 1841. His death possibly led to financial hardship for the family—Providence city directories show that the Angells changed addresses frequently in the years that followed, although most of their moves were made within a small radius in the neighborhood of South Providence.

Mary Angell worked as a teacher until 1872 when she was hired as the assistant librarian by the Providence Athenaeum, a prestigious subscription library on the East Side of Providence. Angell was the first female employee of the Athenaeum. The hiring of a woman was considered potentially controversial at the time, and Angell was at first hired for a probationary term of only a month but the members welcomed her and she was “regarded with approbation by all who have had the occasion to use the library during the year.” In 1883, Angell began the creation of a card catalogue for the Athenaeum. She catalogued every book acquired from that point onward and also began the formidable task of cataloguing every book already owned by the library. She was only able to complete just under ten percent of the project by the time of her departure from the library in 1895; Angell catalogued c. 3,000 volumes out of a total of c. 40,000 pre-1883 volumes. Her handwritten cards are still available in the library's catalogs.

During the twenty-three years Angell worked at the Athenaeum, the library profession became increasingly dominated by women. Three other women were hired at various times to serve alongside Angell as assistant librarians. But the head librarian remained a man, even though Angell served as acting head librarian on three occasions—in 1879 between the death of J. Dunham Hedge and the hiring of Daniel Beckwith, in 1882 when Beckwith took a leave of absence for health reasons, and in 1894 between the retirement of Beckwith and the hiring of Joseph LeRoy Harrison. (Grace Leonard, who replaced Angell as the cataloguer, eventually became the first female head librarian in 1911.) Angell resigned from the Athenaeum in 1895, shortly after Harrison was hired. Historian Jane Lancaster speculates that Angell may have felt that “she had been passed over once too often.”

Angell's retirement from the Athenaeum was not the end of her public career but merely the start of a new phase in which she became a prominent figure in Providence civic life, including the women's suffrage movement. In 1910, Angell succeeded Annie M. Jewett as recording secretary of the Rhode Island Women Suffrage Association (RIWSA). Angell's appointment as secretary is the earliest record of her suffrage activity; however, she was likely a member of the RIWSA before becoming an officer in 1910. In 1915, the Women Suffrage Association merged with the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party and the College Equal Suffrage League to become the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association. Angell continued as recording secretary, a position she held until the ratification of the suffrage amendment. In this capacity she was responsible for keeping of the minutes (as opposed to the corresponding secretary who kept in touch with other suffrage organizations) and writing annual reports. Her extensive, handwritten records of the annual meetings have been a useful resource for historians of the women's suffrage movement in Rhode Island.

In addition to her work as secretary, Angell was active in the suffrage movement in numerous ways. Angell attended a lecture sponsored by RIESA by the noted British suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst in 1911. She helped organize and work at booths at large three-day suffrage bazaars to raise money and awareness in 1913 and 1914. In 1915, Angell added her name to a petition to the United States Senate in support of woman suffrage legislation and was appointed an honorary vice president of RIESA. That same year, RIESA leaders met with the two United States senators from Rhode Island, LeBaron B. Colt and Henry F. Lippitt, to lobby them to support the proposed woman suffrage amendment; Angell gave a speech at the meetings. In 1916, Angell, Elizabeth Upham Yates and Mrs. George D. Gladding led a RIESA effort to conduct a state survey on woman suffrage. According to The Providence Journal, the purpose of the survey was to inform “the people of the State with the work the members of the suffrage association have accomplished.” At a 1916 RIESA meeting, Angell paid tribute to the accomplishments of leading women in the suffrage movement, including Anna Howard Shaw and Alice Park. As the ratification of suffrage approached 1919, Mary M. Angell became a charter member of the new Rhode Island branch of the League of Women Voters, which replaced the RIESA organization. In 1920, in recognition of her service, Angell was invited, with fourteen other suffragists and prominent women, to attend when Governor Robert Livingston Beekman signed the resolution of Rhode Island's ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Besides her suffrage work, Angell was a longtime member of the Rhode Island Women's Club, an organization that shared many members and issues with the suffrage association. She was an original member of the club when it was founded in 1876 and was one of fourteen original members who were still alive and able to be present at the thirty-fifth anniversary luncheon of the Club in 1911. She often led adult education activities that focused on history and biography. In 1902 she and Rev. Anna Garlin Spencer, a suffragist and the prominent female minister of the Unitarian Bell Street Chapel organized “An Historical Evening” in which members of the Women's Club presented papers on aspects of the year 1777 in the American Revolution.

Angell and her mother, with whom she generally lived as long as her mother was alive, continued to move frequently during her adult life, with addresses usually on the East Side near the Athenaeum. Angell died on April 6, 1922 and a funeral was held at her home. She was buried at the North Burial Ground in Providence alongside one of her sisters, Harriet Hawkins Angell (1836-1913). The History of Woman Suffrage recognized Angell for her “devoted service” to the Rhode Island suffrage association as its long-time secretary.

 

Rhode Island Governor signs the nineteenth amendment for woman suffrage, January 7, 1920, from Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925), 7.

Left to Right: Mrs. Clarence Fuller, Miss Mabel E. Orgelman, Mrs. George D. Gladding, Miss Mary Angell, Mrs. Jerome M. Fittz, Mrs. Barton P. Jenks, Mrs. Frank H. Hammill, Mrs. Edward S. Moulton, Governor Livingston Beeckman, Miss Adelaide Esten, Mrs. Edwin C. Smith, Miss Mary B. Anthony, Mrs. Sara M. Algeo, Miss Sarah E. Doyle, Miss Ellen Hunt

 

Rhode Island Governor signs the nineteenth amendment for woman suffrage, January 7, 1920, from Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925), 7. Mary Angell is on the left, with hand on table.

Sources:

Harper, Ida Husted. History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI, 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives, 1922). [LINK]

Lancaster, Jane. Inquire Within: A Social History of the Providence Athenaeum since 1753 (Providence: The Providence Athenaeum, 2003).

Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association Records, 1868-1930, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, Rhode Island.

The Congressional Record—Senate, Vol. 52, Part 2 (January 7, 1915), 1154.

The Providence Athenaeum, https://providenceathenaeum.org/about/history/.

“Mary McCann Angell,” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/8505284/mary-mccann-angell.

“Joseph Sprague Angell,” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/8505233/joseph-sprague-angell.

“Hope Hawkins Angell,” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/8505235/hope-angell.

“Joseph S. Angell,” family tree at Ancestry.com, https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/joseph-s-angell_30933869

1838 Providence City Directory, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Joseph S. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1844 Providence City Directory, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Hope Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1850 United States Census, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1854 Providence City Directory, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Hope Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1860 United States Census, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1860 Providence City Directory, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Hope Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1862 Providence City Directory, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Hope Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1865 Rhode Island Census, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1870 United States Census, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1872 Providence City Directory, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1875 Rhode Island Census, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1887 Providence City Directory, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1900 United States Census, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

1910 United States Census, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Mary M. Angell,” Ancestry.com.

“The Athenaeum,” The Providence Daily Journal, September 23, 1879.

“The Athenaeum,” The Providence Daily Journal, September 23, 1884.

“Women's Clubs,” The Providence Sunday Journal, March 17, 1901.

“Women's Clubs, Local and Other,” The Providence Daily Journal, March 9, 1902.

“An Historical Evening,” The Providence Daily Journal, March 22, 1902.

“Women Suffragists See Encouragement,” The Providence Daily Journal, October 19, 1910.

“R.I. Women's Club Holds Anniversary,” The Providence Daily Journal, February 16, 1911.

“Woman Suffrage Clubs Affiliate,” The Providence Daily Journal, June 11, 1915.

“Senator Lippitt Opposes Suffrage,” The Providence Daily Journal, November 10, 1915.

“Radcliffe Girls to Assist Rhode Island Suffragists,” The Providence Daily Journal, June 15, 1916.

“Suffrage Executive Board Meets at Headquarters,” The Providence Daily Journal, November 22, 1916.

“State House Brevities,” The Providence Daily Journal, April 2, 1919.

“Woman Suffrage Leaders Watching Signing of Rhode Island's Ratification,” The Providence Daily Journal, January 8, 1920.

“A ‘Splendid Victory' for Proud Pioneers,” The Providence Sunday Journal, August 20, 1995.

Angell, Avery F. Genealogy of the Descendants of Thomas Angell, Who Settled in Providence, 1636. (Providence: J. Crawford Greene, 1822).

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