Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ethel W. Parks, 1880-1972

By Elisa Miller, Associate Professor, Rhode Island College, Providence, Rhode Island and Kevin Bruskiewitz, Manny Ferro, Abby Katz, Sharon Wang, Brendon Wong, High School Students, Westford Academy, Westford, Massachusetts

Member, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party; Member, Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (formerly Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association); Founding Member, League of Women Voters, Rhode Island State Division; Member, Board of Directors, Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; Board Member, Providence Young Women's Christian Association

Ethel Winant Parks was born on July 8, 1880 in Brooklyn, New York to George Winant Parks and Helen Roberts Parks. She had two younger brothers—George Elton Parks and Roy Robert Parks. Roy Parks died when he was three years old. The Parks family had historic roots in America, with their ancestor Robert Park, a founding Puritan settler of the Massachusetts colony in 1630. Park served as secretary to Governor John Winthrop onboard the ship Arabella from England to Massachusetts. Another Parks ancestor fought in the American Revolution. George W. Parks worked as a jewelry salesman and the family lived with his mother in Brooklyn until 1892 when they moved to Providence, Rhode Island.

In Rhode Island, her father became a prominent and wealthy businessman. He was a co-founder of a jewelry manufacturing company, Parks Brothers and Rogers. When that company was dissolved in 1905, he founded the George W. Parks Silver Company and served as its president until 1919. Parks also became active in Rhode Island politics. He served as a councilman on the Providence City Council from 1900 to 1908, ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate in 1912 as the Progressive Party nominee, and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Providence representing Republican and Progressive parties in 1914. As an adolescent and adult in Rhode Island, Ethel W. Parks had a privileged life. She attended Mary Wheeler's School in Providence and then boarding school at the Miss Masters' School in Dobbs Ferry, New York. In 1901, she was introduced as a debutante in Providence society. Parks traveled extensively, spent long periods visiting friends and family, especially in New York, and usually spent the summers with her parents at the Rhode Island shore in either Watch Hill or Saunderstown.

By 1904, Parks became active in community service in Providence when she served on the board of directors for the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. By 1912, she joined the woman suffrage movement in Rhode Island. Woman suffrage was a family affair for the Parkses. Her mother, Helen R. Parks, served as an officer in the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party (RIWSP) and the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA). Her father, George W. Parks was a strong supporter of woman suffrage in his career as a politician and occasionally attended and gave speeches at suffrage events. In articles about suffrage activity, she is usually listed as "Ethel W. Parks," although occasionally she appears incorrectly as "Ethel M. Parks."

Her earliest reported suffrage activity took place in 1912. That year the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA) engaged in a large publicity campaign and secured a booth for the first time at the Pure Food Fair held by the Retail Grocers' association. This was a prominent event in the community and RIWSA leaders wanted to use it to raise awareness about woman suffrage. Parks was one of the RIWSA members who worked at the booth and the event was very successful for the organization. The History of Woman Suffrage praised Parks and the other volunteers as "unselfish workers" who did "arduous work" and noted that at the event:

thousands of new members were enrolled, tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed, and publicity work was done. The "suffrage map" was in evidence, showing the many States that had been won, an irrefutable argument against the emanations of the anti-suffrage booth. At no other time and place could so many classes of people be reached.

Parks also served RIWSA at the food fair in subsequent years. In 1913, she traveled to Washington D.C. with her mother and served as a Rhode Island delegate at the National American Woman Suffrage (NAWSA) annual convention. Ethel Parks and her mother and several other suffragists were noted as "principal workers" for a three-day bazaar put on by the RIWSP in 1913 to raise money and awareness for the cause. Both Parks's mother and father gave speeches at the event. The following year, Parks supervised the tea table at the suffrage bazaar and sang at the event; she was a talented singer and frequently performed solos at community events.

Ethel and Helen Parks held a suffrage event at their home in December 1914, at which twenty-five of their friends, primarily not woman suffrage supporters, attended to learn more about the cause and hear a speech by Mrs. Barton P. Jenks, a prominent Rhode Island suffrage leader. In January 1915, Parks spoke at a "suffrage symposium" held by RIWSA. At the event, members who were new to the cause (although Parks had been active for almost two years at this point) were asked to speak on the questions: "Why are you a suffragist?" and "When were you converted to the cause?" Parks's answers to these questions were documented in the RIWSA meeting minutes and The Providence Journal. Parks explained that "I must have been a natural-born suffragist but did not realize it until about four years ago." The catalyst, she said, was attending a local lecture on suffrage by Professor Henry S. Nash, of Harvard University. The Providence Journal reported that Parks stated that after the lecture, she became "so enthused upon the subject, that at the earliest opportunity she signed an application for membership to the [RIWSA]." But then she "resigned because she felt she was not sufficiently familiar with political conditions to vote." Parks continued, "After much reading and study I became a suffragist when I began to think." She detailed numerous reasons in support of woman suffrage, including one that The Providence Journal called "a little out of the usual"—that "men need [woman suffrage] because they have too much to do. They desire right conditions, but have not the time to do the detail investigation requisite for reform work. They need us to help them."

Parks was most active in supporting suffrage events such as the fair booth and bazaar. In 1914, she served on a committee that put on a fundraising play, "Fanny's First Play," to benefit the RIWSP, and held a reception for the actors, a visiting troupe from England. The event featured yellow (one of the official suffrage colors) decorations and "Votes for Women" banners. Two years later, she helped organize two fundraising play performances to support the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (a new organization that merged RIWSA, RIWSP, and the College Equal Suffrage League in 1915). She served as a patroness for a RIESA lecture by Carrie Chapman Catt, NAWSA president in 1916. Helen and Ethel Parks also hosted a RIESA reception in honor of Rhode Island suffragist, Maud Howe Elliot, that year. Parks signed a petition in support of woman suffrage that was sent to the United States House of Representatives in 1915. In addition to her activism in Rhode Island, in 1917, Parks was elected to the Rhode Island executive committee of the New England Woman Suffrage Association.

RIWSA, and later RIESA, had been lobbying the Rhode Island legislature for a bill to allow women to vote in presidential elections since the 1890s without success. In April 1917, though, a presidential suffrage bill was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. When Governor R. Livingston Beeckman signed the bill, Ethel and Helen Parks were among twenty-five prominent suffrage supporters who were invited to attend the signing. A photograph was taken of the governor signing the bill surrounded by eleven suffragists. Ethel Parks was most likely in this photograph. (A woman on the edge of the group was partially included in the photograph in The Providence Journal and her name is not listed with the group. Another larger version of the photograph does not have a name listing but fully depicts the woman on the edge of the group. This woman is standing next to Mrs. George W. Parks, Ethel's mother, is roughly Ethel's age, and Parks attended the event. So it is most likely that this unnamed woman in the photograph is Ethel W. Parks).

In addition to her suffrage activism, Parks was involved in the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Providence throughout the 1910s, including as a board member. In 1915, she served on the campaign executive committee for a major membership and fundraising campaign for the YWCA. She helped fundraise for and donated money to the YWCA regularly. Parks had attended the Mary C. Wheeler school as an adolescent and in 1914 she was elected president of the school's alumnae association. In 1917, Governor Beeckman appointed Parks to the board of women visitors to the State Home and School and the Exeter School, two state institutions that served dependent children and adults. As the United States became involved in World War I, NAWSA encouraged suffragists to engage in war voluntarism as a way of demonstrating their patriotism and citizenship and increasing public support for suffrage. In 1917, Parks served as a worker for the Rhode Island branch of the National League for Women's Service as the organization conducted a "military census" of male residents for the draft. In the fall of 1917, Parks spent time living in Manhattan, New York and studying art at the National Arts Club. In addition to her art studies, she also participated in the war relief department there.

In 1919, Parks served on the arrangements committee for the RIESA annual convention and helped plan a dinner and lecture at the convention featuring Mrs. Raymond Brown, vice president of NAWSA and president of the New York Suffrage Association. That same year, as NAWSA prepared for the ratification of the woman suffrage constitutional amendment, it transitioned into the League of Women Voters, an organization to work for the ratification and to provide civic education for new women voters. In Rhode Island, Ethel Parks and her mother were incorporating members of the League of Women Voters, Rhode Island State Division organization that emerged out of the RIESA. Parks' involvement with the organization, though, was limited. The league received its charter in April 1919 and Parks moved with her parents to Detroit, Michigan several months later when he took a job as president of an automobile company. The Parkses lived in Detroit until 1922 when George Parks retired; they then moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. George W. Parks died in 1929 and soon after Ethel Parks and her mother moved to Santa Barbara, California. They subsequently moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and Whitefield, New Hampshire. Her mother died in 1932 and Ethel Parks briefly returned to Brookline before moving back to Providence. She lived in Providence until 1937.

When she was fifty-six years old, Ethel W. Parks married Elbert Spicer Barlow on May 7, 1937 in Manhattan, New York. Barlow was a widower with adult children, who was a Columbia University graduate, a prominent Christian Scientist, and vice president at the Hedden Construction Company. In his prominent career as a builder, he had supervised the building of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower in Manhattan and a memorial to Mary Eddy Baker, founder of the Christian Science Church, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Barlow later was a vice president of the Pease Elliman real estate firm. The couple lived on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Elbert Barlow died unexpectedly in December 1948. By 1952, and possibly earlier, Ethel Parks Barlow moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where she lived for the rest of her life. She died on March 31, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut and is buried with her husband and parents in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


Rhode Island Governor Signs the presidential suffrage bill, April 18, 1917. Left to Right: Miss Ethel W. Parks (probable), Mrs. George W. Parks, Mabel Orgelman, Senator Henry B. Kane, Mrs. Barton P. Jenks, Governor R. Livingston Beeckman, Elizabeth Upham Yates, Mrs. Edwin C. Smith, Nettie E. Bauer, Representative Richard W. Jennings, Mildred Glines. From A. G. Spencer, History of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI.


"Miss Ethel Winant Parks," The Providence Journal, February 19, 1937. John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, RI. Copyright @ 2018 The Providence Journal. Reproduced by permission.


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

Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925).

A. G. Spencer, History of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI.

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

"George Winant Parks," Find A Grave,

"Helen R. 'Nellie' Roberts Park," Find A Grave,

"Elbert Spicer Barlow," Find A Grave,

"Ethel Winant Parks Barlow," Find A Grave,

Frank Sylvester Parks, ed., Genealogy of the Parke Families of Connecticut; IncludingRobert Parke, of New London, Edward Parks, of Gilford, and Others (Washington D.C., 1906).

Record of Meetings - September 10, 1908 - February 11, 1915, Folder 21, Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association Records, 1868-1930, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, RI.

Acts and Resolves Passed by the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at theJanuary Session, A.D. 1920 (Providence, RI: E.L. Freeman Company, Printers, 1920).

Forty-Fifth Annual Report of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association, 1913 (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1913.

Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Sixty-Third Congress, Third Session (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1915), 92.

"New England Officers Chosen," The Woman's Journal 48, No. 20 (May 19, 1917), 117.

"Women Preparing for State Census Work on June 11," The Evening Bulletin (Providence, RI), May 25, 1917.

"Election Day in Westerly," The Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), November 6, 1917.

"Barlow-Parks," The New York Times, May 8, 1937.

"Elbert S. Barlow," The Montclair Times (Montclair, NJ), December 9, 1948.

"Deaths," The New York Times, April 2, 1972.

"What is Doing in Local Society," The Providence Sunday Journal, January 27, 1901.

"Asked for Assistant; Agent Thurber of R.I.S.P.C.C. Said He Needed One," The Providence Journal, January 21, 1904.

"Woman Suffrage Party Opens Three Days Sale," The Providence Journal, December 17, 1913.

"Reception to Players; Representatives of Women's Societies Honor English Visitors," The Providence Journal, May 2, 1914.

"Miss Parks Heads Wheeler Alumnae," The Providence Journal, May 28, 1914.

"Personal and Social," The Providence Journal, October 16, 1914.

"Woman Suffrage Party Opens Bazaar at Hotel," The Evening Bulletin (Providence, RI), December 3, 1914.

"Suffrage Gatherings," The Providence Sunday Journal, December 20, 1914.

"'Suffrage Symposium,'" The Providence Journal, January 14, 1915.

"Explain Why They Are Suffragists; New Members Talk to R.I. Women's Suffrage Association," The Providence Journal, January 15, 1915.

"Y.W.C.A. to Start Double Campaign," The Providence Journal, February 22, 1915.

"Personal and Social," The Providence Journal, February 12, 1916.

"Pure Food Fair Opens To-night," The Providence Journal, February 14, 1916.

"State House Brevities," The Providence Journal, April 13, 1917.

"Governor Beeckman, Prominent Woman Suffrage Workers and General Assembly Leaders Land Passage of Bill by Rhode Island Legislature," The Providence Journal, April 18, 1917.

"Governor Beeckman Signing Act Granting Rhode Island Women the Right to Vote for President of the United States," The Providence Journal, April 19, 1917.

"Governor Signs Suffrage Measure," The Providence Journal, April 19, 1917.

"State Suffragists to Hold Convention," The Providence Journal, June 2, 1919.

"Miss Ethel Winant Parks," The Providence Journal, February 19, 1937.

"Miss Ethel Winant Parks to Become Bride in New York," The Providence Journal, May 7, 1937.

Keren Mahoney Jones, "Proud Pioneers; A 'Splendid Victory' for Proud Pioneers," The Providence Journal, August 20, 1995.

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