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Portsmouth Women: Librarian Ruth Lunan

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Ruth Lunan at age 17. Image from Ancestry.

The Portsmouth Free Public Library is a central gathering spot for our community.  The librarian and staff have an important role in encouraging our children to read, providing resources for education and enabling lifelong learning for adults.  One of the librarians that filled that role for twenty-three years was Ruth Coggeshall Lunan.

Ruth was born in 1895 and was the daughter of Leander and Jennie Brownell Coggeshall.  In 1913, at the age of eighteen, Ruth married Clarence Lunan of Fall River.  They had three daughters, Elaine, Madeline and Ethel.  In 1934 Clarence died suddenly while driving a firetruck from a fire at Montaup Golf Club.  Ruth was left a widow and it was about that time that she began to serve the community as librarian of the Portsmouth Free Public Library.

During her twenty-three years of service, Ruth presided over many changes at the library.  The library lacked funds for many of the years Ruth served, but she was credited with providing the services and improvements needed to get by.  The yearly librarian report for 1954 shows that Ruth served 875 adult patrons and 390 children.  Total book circulation was 24,581 volumes.  Edith Taylor Nicholson became aware of the needs of the library and donated a gift to improve the library.  Ruth worked to use that gift wisely for the library and its patrons.  The schedule for library services in 1957 included hours Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons from 2 to 5PM.  Evening hours were Thursday and Saturday nights from 6 to 8PM.

Ruth resigned from her duties in July of 1958, but she continued to serve as a Friend of the Library.  In 1966 when a new wing was dedicated in the name of longtime benefactor Edith Bishop Taylor Nicholson, Ruth was on hand assisting staff during the open house and dedication.

Newspaper clippings show Ruth as an avid Contract Bridge player and she was active in the Methodist Church.  She and Fred Harper were granted a victualler’s license for Sherman Spa on Quaker Hill.

Sometime later Ruth moved to Florida and she died there in 1980,

Alice Anthony Webb and the Ladies of St. Paul’s Church

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Do you remember going to Cherry & Webb department stores?  A Portsmouth woman, Alice Anthony, provided a local connection to the stores.  When Alice, the daughter of prominent seed farmer Henry C. Anthony and Eldora Wilcox Anthony, married department store owner Frederick Webb in 1910 it was one of the highlights of Portsmouth’s social year. The Webbs were married at the residence of the groom on East Main Road.  Many of you may remember the house as the location of the Seafare Inn restaurant.  After a wedding breakfast the bride and groom took a honeymoon tour of the South and West.  According to the newspaper account, “The bride was the recipient of many beautiful and costly presents.”

Alice Anthony Webb

Alice ( 1886-1960) was active in Portsmouth life.  She was a delegate for the Republican party and she served on the board of St. Michael’s School in Newport.  She was especially active at St. Paul’s Church in the Guild and the Ladies Association.  She was president of the Girl’s Friendly Society which was an Episcopalian society that sought to help girls – especially working girls.  Alice and the women of St. Pauls held fundraisers like whist parties which helped them donate to homes for these young girls.  One newspaper clipping in 1927 records that they were donating to “St. Virgin’s Home” in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Alice was part of a dedicated group of women who worked to make St. Paul’s an active church.  Alice hosted the annual meeting of the Ladies Association in 1914 and the list of names of officers and committee members helps us recognize some of the “worker bees.”  You will note the number of  Anthony family women who were active.

President:  Miss Hattie G Anthony; Vice President, Mrs. William B. Anthony; Secretary, Miss Abbie Anthony: Treasurer, Miss Fannie Hicks; Collector, Miss Grace Hicks; Work committee, Mrs. Benjamin C. Sherman and Miss Grace Hicks; Fancy work, Mrs. John Eldredge, Mrs. George Anthony, and Mrs. Frank Chase; Other workers included – Mrs. Benjamin S. Anthony, Mrs. John Borden, Mrs. David B. Anthony, Mrs. William Grinnell, Mrs. Berton Storrs and Mrs. Clara Manchester.

The Portsmouth Temperance Ladies: Eunice Greene and Lillian Borden

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Photo includes some of the WCTU women – Josephine Sweet, Etta Sherman and Lillian Borden

What is your image of people who were active in the temperance movement? Do you think of them as radicals like Carrie Nation swinging their axes around saloons?  As I read through vintage newspaper articles about the Portsmouth chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), I’ve formed quite a different image.  These women fought for their cause by organizing, petitioning the Town Council and General Assembly, praying, educating the young, reaching out to soldiers and sailors and working for Women’s Suffrage.  They were the “church ladies” like Lillian Borden and community leaders like Eunice Greene.

The Rhode Island chapter of the WCTU formed in 1875 just two years after the national chapter began.  Phebe Hathaway of Portsmouth was one of the state leaders.  By 1888 the organization had experienced great growth and great failure.  Every town in Rhode Island had a chapter.  In 1886 a statewide prohibition referendum had passed, but there was a vote for repeal in 1889.  In the 1890s the organization regrouped to work on a national prohibition.  The Portsmouth group honored National president, Frances E. Willard, who led the organization for 19 years (1879-1898).  Willard promoted other causes that impacted women such as suffrage, equal pay for equal work, and the eight hour work day.  Local newspaper articles reveal that the Portsmouth chapter would read Willard’s writings at meetings and celebrated her long after her death.

Once National Prohibition passed, the cause faded away in many areas, but the Portsmouth group kept meeting. Sarah Eddy, a noted artist and reformer, hosted a meeting in 1929 at her home on Bristol Ferry Road.  Fifty WCTU members gathered to hear National leaders from many states.  Rhode Island did not ratify the 18th Amendment for Prohibition and our coastland was a well known area for bootlegging.  Even with national Prohibition laws, the “evils of alcohol” still impacted local men and their families.

Vintage newspaper articles give us some clues to the activities of our local WCTU chapter.

  1.  Meetings were religious and ecumenical.  Hymns, devotions, and scripture readings were always part of the gathering.  All the local Protestant churches and ministers seemed to participate.  These included the Trouts of the Friends Church, Kathryn Cooper (Pastor of the Methodist Church), Pastors Macy and Loucks (Christian Church)  and Episcopal Rev. Dennis who held services in Portsmouth over the summer.  I have not seen any mention of the Catholic pastors.  The Temperance movement arose from Protestant revival roots urging that society be reformed.
  2. Activities were varied and there was a Supervisor for each of these areas.  Among these committees in 1914 were “Evangelistic Work”;  “Sunday School Work”;  “Literature”; “Work Among Foreigners” ; “Peace”; “Social Purity”; “Medical Temperance”; and “Scientific Temperance Instruction.”  This instruction involved going into the town classrooms to teach temperance to the school children.
  3. Do you want to be Efficient? pamphlet for military

    In other articles I found outreach to Soldiers and Sailors.  Special pamphlets aimed at young military recruits were included in “comfort bags” that were given out in a war relief effort.  One such booklet was called “Do You Want to be Efficient?”  You can read this pamphlet online from the collection of Brown University.  It typifies the “scientific” bent of the Temperance movement.  Men were urged to make choices based on the science and with all the facts rather than purely moralistic.   https://library.brown.edu/cds/catalog/catalog.php?verb=render&id=1096893563508500&colid=7&view=pageturner

Eunice Chase Greene (1842-1921) was the President of the Portsmouth group for 40 years.  She was married to Dr. Benjamin Greene and she had a house at the foot of Quaker Hill.  For many years she was an Elder in the Friends Church.  In her younger days she taught music – both vocal and instrumental.

Lillian Collins Borden (1869-1933) became President of the Portsmouth WCTU when Eunice Greene became ill.  She was the wife of Alonzo Borden and the couple were very active in the Christian Union Church. This church (now the home of the Portsmouth Historical Society) hosted many temperance meetings throughout the years.   Lillian was active in the community and served on the Portsmouth School Board.

Dorothea Dix in Portsmouth

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Dorothea Dix

Who was Dorothea Dix and what is her connection with Portsmouth, Rhode Island?  Dix is one of those names that you may have heard but can’t quite place. She was a social reformer who was active nationally and internationally from the the 1840s to her death in 1887. She is most known for championing the cause of the mentally ill who at that time were usually locked away in prison like conditions. Dix was a frequent visitor to Portsmouth and her visits here were an important part of her development as a reformer.

Dorothea Dix first came to Portsmouth as part of the household of William Ellery Channing.  Channing was a noted early figure in the Unitarian Church.  He had deep roots in Aquidneck Island and would summer at Oakland Farm off of East Main Road.  Oakland Farm was close to the little Union Meeting House and Channing would meet with the farm families of the congregation weekly during the summers.  During the spring and summer of 1827, Dix came from Boston with the Channing family as the governess to the Channing daughters.  Dix was recovering from tuberculous and could no longer practice her occupation of teaching.

The Channing daughters described her as “strict and inflexible in her discipline,” but they appreciated this strictness later in life. They wrote “At the little Union Meetinghouse which adjoined Oakland, our place on Rhode Island, Miss Dix always had the class of troublesome men and boys, who succumbed to her charm of manner and firm will.”  Indeed Dorothea Dix started the Sunday School at the Union Meetinghouse and came back to visit whenever she stayed with the Channing family.  Her visits to the Sunday (Sabbath) School were recorded in newspaper articles and church reports.  One account shows Dix bringing two young men with her to Newport to bring back an organ she bought for the school.  With that organ, music became a more integral part of the services and school.  Concerts and singing of the psalms began.  Later one of the Channing daughters would also donate an organ in her father’s name.

The Channing daughters describe her as a “constant visitor” after the death of her grandmother. “She delighted to drop in unexpectedly, and then suddenly receiving a letter from a poor soldier at Fort Adams, would start off at a moment’s notice to right this wrong and persuade the government to improve the arrangements for the comfort of the men.”

On one visit to the area Miss Dix talked to someone who made her aware of the plight of Abram Simmons, who was confined to a dungeon in Little Compton.  An article in the April 10, 1844 Providence Journal attributed to Dix, illustrates the treatment of the insane in Rhode Island at that time. Here is how the situation of Abram was explained.

“His prison was from six to eight feet square, built entirely of stone–sides, roof and floor–and entered through two iron doors, excluding fresh air, and entirely without accommodation of any description for warming or ventilating.  At that time the internal surface of the walls was covered with a thick frost, adhering to the stone in some places to the thickness of the half of an inch, as ascertained by actual measurement. The only bed
was a small sacking stuffed with straw, lying on a narrow iron bedstead, with two comforters for a covering. The bed itself was wet,  and the outside  comforter was completely saturated with drippings from the walls and stiffly frozen. Thus, in utter darkness, encased on every side by walls of frost, his garments were constantly more or less wet….”

Dix persuaded Dr. Cyrus Butler to donate $40,000 toward the establishment of a facility for the poor insane as long as matching public funds were raised. Butler Hospital for the Insane was created from that gift.
Efforts to ensure humane treatment for the mentally ill in Rhode Island and even in Portsmouth were not always successful. Dorothea Dix joined Thomas Hazard of Portsmouth in trying to move a young carpenter named Dennis from the Portsmouth Asylum into a hospital for real care. Appeals to Asylum supervisors and even the town council were unsuccessful. Hazard writes that “It was some weeks or months after the failure of this effort to relieve poor Dennis, that I visited the Portsmouth Asylum in company with that inestimable friend of humanity, Dorothea L. Dix. “ They helplessly watched as poor Dennis died while they were there. Even in Portsmouth it was difficult to shake prejudice against the mentally ill.

Dorothea Dix came to Portsmouth to restore her health, but she left her mark on the community. She used her teaching talents to begin a Sunday School that continued for almost a hundred years. The gift of an organ enabled the church to emphasize music education for all. Some of her early work in social reform benefited mental health in Rhode Island. Dorothy Dix left her mark on our community.

Portsmouth Women: Gertrude Macomber and the Girls Scouts

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Last year when we featured Ruth Earle as a Portsmouth woman of note , we highlighted her involvement in the Girl Scouts among her achievements. This year we introduce Gertrude Macomber Hammond – the woman who was Ruth’s Girl Scout Leader and a founder of the scouts in Portsmouth. There are so many interweaving of our Portsmouth women that it is not unusual for us to find them in each other’s stories.

Gertrude Macomber was leading the “Bluebird” Girl Scout troop in Portsmouth in 1921. She wasn’t alone in this effort. Fifteen women met in 1922 to form a troop committee to aid the Portsmouth scouting movement. They lent their support to provide money and assistance to Gertrude and the thirty-five girls who regularly attended the weekly meetings.


In a 1923 Newport Mercury article we find ladies formally calling themselves “The Portsmouth Girl Scout Aides.” These women were meeting to support the efforts of a Girl Scout troop in Portsmouth and “Captain” Gertrude Macomber gave a talk on her recent camp and convention experiences in Washington. Mrs. John Eldredge, a school superintendent and director of the Social Studio, was there to serve tea.

Under the auspices of “Captain” Gertrude Macomber, newspaper accounts show the Girl Scouts engaging in some creative activities. A Girl Scout Circus was held in 1925. Miss Mary Chase acted as ringmaster. There was a chariot race between two girls in kiddie cars and Marjorie Hall did a tight rope act with the rope stretched over the floor. The girls played homemade musical instruments made from curtain rods, funnels and frying pans. There was a parade with animals like monkeys and ducks – perhaps girls in costumes?

By 1926 the Girl Scouts had grown large enough to have two patrols in the troop. The “Monkey Patrol” had a camp at Gertrude’s home to work toward a cook badge. Gladys Gibson made a meatloaf, Hope Manchester made a fruit salad, baking powder biscuits were created by Margaret Martin and a mystery cake was make by Ruth Peckham.

That same year Gertrude opened “The Quaker Hill Tea Room and Craft Shop” in her home. She added a “glassed-in piazza” to the north side of her house so that her customers would have “a wonderful view of the Seaconnet River to the Stone Bridge and the northwest part of the Island and Narragansett Bay.” – according to a 9/11/26 Mercury article.

Gertrude was the daughter of Isaac Macomber and the grand-daughter of Joseph Macomber who brought the Aylers and other families to Portsmouth. In 1931 Gertrude became the bride of Noel Hammond who leased and farmed her father’s land. She continued with her Tea House and lived a long life in Portsmouth

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How many of these 13 requirements for a “Cook Badge” could you master today?

Girl Scout Cook badge, 1918-1927

Girl Scout Cook Badge from the 1920s
  • Build and regulate a fire in a coal or wood stove, or if a gas range is used know how to regulate the heat in the oven, broiler and top.
  • What does it mean to boil a food? To broil? To bake?
  • Why is it not advisable to fry food?
  • How many cupfuls make a quart? How many tablespoonfuls to a cup? Teaspoonfuls to a tablespoon?
  • Be able to cook two kinds of cereal.
  • Be able to make tea, coffee and cocoa properly.
  • Be able to cook a dried and a fresh fruit.
  • Be able to cook three common vegetables in two ways.
  • Be able to prepare two kinds of salad. How are salads kept crisp?
  • Know the difference in food value between whole milk and skimmed milk.
  • Be able to boil or coddle or poach eggs properly.
  • Be able to select meat and prepare the cuts for broiling, roasting and stewing OR be able to clean, dress and cook a fowl.
  • Be able to make two kinds of quick bread, such as biscuits or muffins.
  • Be able to plan menus for one day, choosing at least three dishes in which leftovers may be utilized.

From: Useresourceswisely.com

Portsmouth Women Pastors: Elizabeth Trout

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In 1950 the Friends Church on East Main Road in Portsmouth celebrated the retirement of their longtime pastor, Elizabeth Trout.  She had tried to submit her resignation in 1943 and 1949, but her congregation would not accept it.  By 1950 she was no longer able to attend to all the pastoral duties and she desired a rest to visit family.  Elizabeth was so dedicated to her flock that it was her intention to visit every family in the church before she left on her journeys.

Friends corner at time of the Trouts

In 1918 Elizabeth Trout and her sister Ada came to work at the church.  Both women alternated the work of the church until Ada died in 1934 and Elizabeth continued on with the work by herself.

Miss Trout was well prepared for the work.  Elizabeth was born in Pennsylvania in 1879.  She graduated from the Cleveland Bible Institute and she attended and taught at the Evangelistic Institute in Chicago.  She had experience working as a teacher.

Three years after they came to Portsmouth, Ada and Elizabeth reached out to establish a mission at the Coal Mines.  At first they established a summer mission in a tenement, but the cold prevented them from holding winter meetings.  Three years later they established a year round mission at the old school house at the Coal Mines and continued that mission until Ada’s death in 1934.

Education was important to the Trouts, so in 1925 they established a primary school in the basement of the Quaker Meeting House.  They passed on the teaching to Annie Sherman who continued the school until her death in 1940.  At her retirement Miss Trout reflected that the Moses Brown School had started there are well before it moved to Providence.

Elizabeth lived a good long life in retirement.  Until her death she continued to live in Portsmouth with her sister-in-law.   She died in 1975 and is buried at the Friends Cemetery – close to her place of ministry.

Portsmouth Women: Ellen Gustin, Preacher and Suffrage Pioneer.

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Vintage image of Christian Union Church

Maybe Portsmouth welcomes women preachers and pastors because Anne Hutchinson is part of our heritage.  I knew that Julia Ward Howe had “supplied the pulpit” at the Christian Union Church (now the headquarters for the Portsmouth Historical Society). As I went through church records I was surprised that in the 1870s the church welcomed a woman preacher who did more than guest preach.  Rev. Ellen Gustin was an evangelist who had more of a pastoral role in a time when the congregation had lost a strong pastor.

Ellen led a long and productive life.  When she died at age ninety in 1924, the New York Times carried an obituary that claimed she was the third woman in America to be ordained in the ministry.  She was born in Frankfort, Maine and delivered her first sermon in a school house at the age of eleven.  She toured as an evangelist before she joined the Christian denomination.  The Christian Union Church in Portsmouth was part of this loosely connected group.  Anti-slavery leader Stephen Hopkins was one of the originators of the Rhode Island Christian Church.  The church was progressive and offered a welcome to everyone and sought to work for peace and justice.  Ellen Gustin worked as President of the Women’s Board of Foreign Missions – part of the national organization of the denomination.

From Church Records, George Manchester Clerk

Rev. Gustin supplied the pulpit and served unofficially as a co-pastor from 1872 to 1878.  Church records show no concerns about a woman taking on such a leading role in the congregation.  Ellen was a friend of Julia Ward Howe and shared her work in the Suffrage movement.  In 1872 the Executive Board of the church voted to allow a lecture on suffrage at the church.  Ellen spoke at major meetings of the Woman Suffrage Association in New England.

Julia was even a little jealous of Ellen’s abilities.  Sunday, September 29, 1872, Julia writes:

“Reverend Mrs. Gustine to dine.  I afterwards to church to hear her.  A sweet woman, called of God, with a real power.  Her voice, manner, and countenance, most sweet and impressive.  Intellection not remarkable, I think, but tone, feeling and effect very remarkable.  No one, I think, would doubt the reality of spiritual things after hearing her.  I asked myself why I am not jealous of her, as she preaches far more effectively than I do.  Well, partly because I believe in my own gift, such as it is, and partly because what she does is natural, genuine, and without pretense or pretentious.  Her present Society was much disturbed by strife when she was called to its care.  No man, she told me, could have united the opposing parties.  A true woman could.  This shows me a work that women have to do in the Church as well as elsewhere.  Where men cannot make peace, they can.  Mrs. Gustine says that by my writings and example I have helped her a good deal. I am glad to hear this, but pray to do far better than I have yet done…Thought much about Mrs. Gustine, who, without any of my training and culture can do what I cannot.  I can also do what she cannot – think a subject out. She can only shadow and suggest, yet how powerful is the contact of her soul, and what a good power!”

Recorded in:  Julia Ward Howe. Compiled by  Richards and Elliott – Houghton Mifflin, 1916 page 387.

A short Newport Mercury article from November 11, 1878 shows another one of her causes.

“Rev.  Ellen Gustin has been holding services and speaking at temperance meetings at the Christian Church with great acceptability.  She is a favorite with the people of this congregation and has done much good.”

Ellen continued on to pastor churches in Attleboro and Mansfield, Massachusetts.  Even though Ellen Gustin stayed and ministered in Portsmouth only a few years, she had a remarkable gift of evangelization that recharged the Portsmouth community.

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