Biographical Sketch of Frances Lucas

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Frances Lucas, 1873-1944

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

Principal, Lincoln School; Chair of Civics, Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association; Educational Supervisor, Rhode Island United League of Women Voters

Frances Henderson Lucas was born on January 6, 1873, in Kanpur, India. Some sources give her name as Frances E. Lucas, but this appears to be an error. On her marriage to William Henderson she changed her name to Frances Lucas Henderson, but the name Frances Henderson Lucas is not an accidental transposition of this; references to her name as Frances Henderson Lucas long predate this later-in-life event. (Census records indicate that one Charles Henderson was probably her great-grandfather.)

Frances was the daughter of James Joseph Lucas and Mary Evaline Sly. James Lucas was born in 1847 in Dublin, Ireland and immigrated to Danville, Kentucky, when he was a small child. He graduated from Centre College in Danville in 1865 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1870. He was then ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Mary Sly was a native of either Vermont or Michigan. The Lucases devoted their lives to missionary work in Allahabad, a city in northern India in the present-day state of Uttar Pradesh. Frances Lucas was born in Kanpur, another city in Uttar Pradesh, during her parents' missionary service. The parents occasionally visited the United States but always returned to India and still resided in Allahabad in 1922. The Lucases later moved to be with their son E.J. Lucas in Lahore, in present-day Pakistan. Mary Lucas died in Lahore in 1931 and James Lucas in 1939.

Frances Lucas left her family in India and came to the United States for her education at the age of eight. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1893. Wooster, Ohio, was given as her hometown in Wellesley records. At Wellesley, Lucas was an active member of the student body, serving as a class officer, with the title of Second Historian, a literary editor of the Wellesley Magazine, a member of the Shakespeare Society, and a member of the College Settlements Association, which sponsored settlement houses similar to the famous Hull House in Chicago.

After graduation, Lucas taught at several different schools in the northeastern United States during the period 1893 and 1911 with a special interest in the subjects of history and economics. She was a teacher in Troy, New York, and Blairstown, New Jersey, as well Providence, Rhode Island at the Moses Brown School. She resided for several years in Lowell, Massachusetts, and taught at Rogers Hall School for Girls in nearby Haverhill. In 1911, Lucas returned to Providence when she was appointed principal of the Lincoln School, a girls' school that served day and boarding students. Lucas was a controversial hire at first. Some people disapproved of her “rather advanced” progressive ideas and others found Lucas objectionable because she was “from away.” This apparently referred merely to her having come from Lowell rather than to her connection to Kentucky or Ohio, let alone India. She was also criticized for her preference for wearing green or purple velvet rather than the plain clothes favored by her predecessor, Margaret Gilman. Furthermore, Frances Lucas was said to be not “afraid of anyone or anything.” In her first year, 1911, the school experienced a drop in its enrollment, allegedly due to Lucas's controversial reputation. Soon after, though, she developed into a respected figure in the Providence community and led the school until 1920. She also became a close friend of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, a noted pioneer of industrial management and motion studies and author of Cheaper by the Dozen.

As head of the school, Lucas implemented changes, such as establishing a student government and a parent-teacher organization. Lincoln School had been founded in 1884 but had never been formally incorporated. Margaret Gilman, Lucas's predecessor, developed the original initiative to incorporate the school but Lucas “enthusiastically carried out” the plan and assembled a group of prominent male and female citizens to serve as the official incorporators of the school. Lucas also purchased land for a new and larger building that could house both the day and boarding students. The school moved to the new location in 1913 and is still located there today.

Besides her education career, Lucas became active in the community in the 1910s. She regularly served on committees to support cultural events and worked as a supervisor to raise money for the Providence District Nurses Association. Lucas was elected first vice president of the Providence Plantations Club, a prominent organization that offered intellectual, social, and physical activities for women. Lucas served on the membership committee of the newly-formed Rhode Island branch of the Women's Peace Party in 1915. She attended a Women's Peace Party meeting in New York where Jane Addams spoke. Lucas reported back to the Rhode Island members about the event, stating that Addams had “a “quiet and convincing personality.” Lucas continued her support for peace following World War I. She gave a speech where she stated, “War is not inevitable...I challenge the statement ‘human nature cannot be changed'...Human nature has been changed in its preparation for war, in its learning the psychology of hate.”

Lucas became well known as a public speaker in Rhode Island, lecturing on social and political issues. In 1917, Lucas gave a series of lectures on current domestic and international issues to raise money for the Providence Day Nursery Association. She spoke before many women's groups, including the Brown Alumnae Association, for whom she analyzed the final days of the Great War, and the Rhode Island Association of Working Women's Clubs, for whom she examined relations between Japan and Russia.

During World War I, Lucas belonged to the women's committee of the Council of Defence, serving on its Americanization committee. During the war, many Americans feared the negative effects of immigration and foreigners. The Americanization committee offered classes to teach English to foreign-born adults to increase assimilation into American society. Lucas also supported the war effort by giving lectures on current events, especially those related to the war, to raise money for the Lincoln School's war work with the Red Cross.

Lucas's colleagues on many of these committees included prominent Rhode Island suffragists. The first evidence of Lucas working for woman suffrage movement in the Rhode Island took place in 1919, although she was likely a supporter of woman suffrage earlier than that. She drew on her educational and public speaking skills to advance the suffrage cause by serving as chair of the committee on civics for the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA) and offering many lectures throughout 1919 for the organization on various social and political issues. The lectures were reportedly well attended and included topics such as “The Modern State, Its Powers and Responsibilities,” “The Industrial Question from a National and International Viewpoint,” “America's Danger in Relation to the League of Nations,” and “Women in Politics.” Lucas's lectures were free and open to any women in the community, not restricted to members of the RIESA,. In the 1919 National American Woman Suffrage Association handbook, Mary B. Anthony, the RIESA president, detailed how successful Lucas's civics lectures had been. She explained that “So comprehensive has been this study of government that other organizations, notably the Congress of Mothers, are now studying the course prepared by the Civics Committee. This course has been sent for from many States and has been put in several public libraries.”

In 1919, RIESA held a dinner in honor of its 51st annual meeting, the centenary of Julia Ward Howe's birth, and the recent victory for the suffrage amendment in the United States Senate. At the event, Lucas's significance in RIESA was demonstrated by her placement at the head table with Mary B. Anthony, the RIESA president; Mrs. Raymond Brown, president of the New York State Suffrage Association and vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; and several other Rhode Island suffrage and political leaders.

Following the ratification of the suffrage amendment, Lucas joined the United League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, served as its educational supervisor, and continued giving political lectures at the organization. In addition to her speeches, Lucas held a study group for the League of Women Voters where she led members in an exercise to read, analyze, and understand the Rhode Island Constitution in order to become better voters and citizens.

Lucas resigned as principal of Lincoln School in 1920 and at forty-nine years old married William Edwards Henderson, a professor of chemistry and dean of the Liberal Arts College of the Ohio State University. The ceremony on April 2, 1922 was timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of her parents' wedding. It took place at the Dorr Mansion, the home of Margarethe Dwight, a close friend whose mother had founded the Lincoln School and a fellow suffragist. The Providence Journal described the wedding as “the climax of the social events of the week.” Several weeks before her wedding, Lucas gave the last of her political lectures in Rhode Island at a League of Women Voters' event. In her parting statement, Lucas advised the audience, “In dealing with any great question be sure to hear both sides, get the facts and base your opinion, not on prejudice or self interest.” She continued that they should, “Remember that America is still the land of opportunity with ideals worth while and we should think about America as the servant of the race and friend to the world.” These words embodied Lucas's dedication to civic education and engaged citizenship. As she prepared to marry and depart Rhode Island, the League of Women Voters threw a reception for Lucas and presented her a silver platter in honor of her service.

After her marriage, Lucas moved to her husband's residence in Columbus, Ohio. She continued to give public lectures on “international questions” in Ohio. She was an active member of the local Wellesley College alumnae group and served as the official representative of Wellesley at the 1940 inauguration of Howard Landis Bevis as president of the Ohio State University. She also established the Frances Lucas Henderson Award at Lincoln School, which is still awarded to this day to a senior student who has done outstanding work in the subject of history.

Lucas died on December 25, 1944, at her home in Columbus, Ohio. She had suffered from a heart condition for the previous two years. In addition to the lengthy obituary in The Providence Journal, her death was considered sufficiently notable that many newspapers across the country printed a brief obituary that noted Lucas had been “a prominent figure in eastern educational circles.”

 

Photograph of Frances Lucas from Dorothy W. Gifford, Lincoln School: The First Century (Providence, RI: Lincoln School, 1984), 8. Reprinted with permission from the Lincoln School, Providence, RI.

 

Advertisement for United League of Women Voters' Lectures, The Providence Journal, November 1, 2021.

Sources:

Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]

Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Jubilee Convention (1869-1919) (New York: National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company, Inc., 1919).

Calendar of the President [Mary B. Anthony], 1918-19, Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association Records, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, Rhode Island.

Gifford, Dorothy W. Lincoln School: The First Century. (Providence: The Lincoln School, 1984),

Lancaster, Jane. Making Time: Lilliam Moller Gilbreth: A Life Beyond Cheaper by the Dozen (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004).

“Mary Evaline Sly (1849-1931),” family tree at Ancestry.com,https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/mary_evaline_sly_52006883.

1850 United States Census, Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky, digital image s.v. “James J. Lucas,” Ancestry.com.

1870 United States Census, Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky, digital image s.v. “James J. Lucas,” Ancestry.com.

1900 United States Census, Troy, Rensselaer County, New York, digital image s.v. “Frances Lucas,” Ancestry.com.

1908 Lowell City Directory, Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, digital image s.v. “Frances Lucas,” Ancestry.com.

1916 Providence City Directory, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Frances Lucas,” Ancestry.com.

1920 United States Census, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, digital image s.v. “Frances Lucas,” Ancestry.com.

“U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” s.v. “James Joseph Lucas,” digital image available at Ancestry.com.

“New York Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” s.v. “Frances Lucas,” digital image available at Ancestry.com.

General Catalogue of the Centre College of Kentucky (Danville: The Kentucky Advocate Printing Company, 1890).

“The Wellesley Legenda 1893” (1893) The Wellesley Legenda. 5, http://repository.wellesley.edu/legenda/5.

Calendar of Wellesley College, 1894-95 (Boston: Frank Wood, 1894).

Missionary Review of the World (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1888-1939), vol. 55 (1932) and vol. 62 (1939).

“Program on the Occasion of the Inauguration of Howard Landis Bevis as President of the [Ohio State] University,” (1940), https://library.osu.edu/sites/default/files/collection_files/biographical_files/Bevis_Howard_Landis.pdf

“Miss Gilman to Retire,” The Providence Daily Journal, March 23, 1911.

“‘Peace Day' Plans Include Schools,” The Providence Daily Journal, May 6, 1915.

“Woman's Peace Party Resolutions Reported,” The Providence Daily Journal, December 11, 1915.

“Miss Lucas Speaker,” The Providence Daily Journal, March 7, 1918.

“Women's Committee Council of National Defence,” The Providence Daily Journal, June 23, 1918.

“Personal and Social,” The Providence Daily Journal, October 16, 1918.

“Brown Alumnae Autumn Guest Day Meeting Held,” The Providence Daily Journal, November 17, 1918.

“Suffrage Association Will Give Courses in Civics,” The Providence Daily Journal, January 18, 1919.

“Society,” The Providence Sunday Journal, June 8, 1919.

“Personal and Social,” The Providence Daily Journal, October 24, 1919.

“Hallowe'en Parties,” The Providence Sunday Journal, November 2, 1919.

“Women Voters End Convention,” The Providence Daily Journal, October 5, 1921.

“Back from Summer Sojourns,” The Providence Sunday Journal, October 16, 1921.

Advertisement for United League of Women Voters' Lectures, The Providence Journal, November 1, 1921.

“Miss Lucas to Conduct Study of State Constitution,” The Providence Sunday Journal, December 4, 1921.

“Miss Lucas Urges Viewing Questions from Both Sides,” The Providence Journal, March 11, 1921.

“Committee of Women Discuss Disarmament,” The Providence Journal, October 14, 1921.

“Society,” The Providence Sunday Journal, March 12, 1922.

“Society,” The Providence Sunday Journal, April 2, 1922.

“Miss Lucas Weds Dean of Liberal Arts Institution,” The Providence Journal, April 3, 1922.

“Providence Educator an April Bride,” The Providence Sunday Journal, April 16, 1922.

“Woman Educator Dies in Columbus,” The Providence Journal, December 26, 1944.

“Mrs. Frances Henderson,” Lansing State Journal (Lansing, Michigan), December 26, 1944.

“Mrs. Henderson, Once Teacher in Troy, Dies,” The Troy [N.Y.] Record, December 26, 1944.

“Margarethe L. Dwight, Kin of 3 Old Rhode Island Families, Dies,” The Providence Journal, June 23, 1962.

“The Thoughtful Thirties,” The Columbus Wellesley Club, 2015. https://columbus.alum.wellesley.edu/article.html?aid=107#thirties.

back to top