Left to right: Letitia Lawton, Cora Mitchell and Emeline Eldredge

When Emeline Eldridge died at eighty years of age in 1934, her obituary mentioned many ways she made a difference in Portsmouth.  She had been Superintendent of Schools in an era when that was a rare role for a woman.  Emeline (also known as Mrs. John Eldredge) was a long time board member of the Portsmouth Library Association.  She was an active member of St. Paul’s Church and the Ladies Association.  For many years she was in charge of the Social Studio at Bristol Ferry “where (said the obituary) young people used to gather for dancing lessons, instruction in wood carving and other work.”

The Social Studio was founded by Emeline’s friend and neighbor Sarah J. Eddy around 1900.  It was a gathering place for youth in Portsmouth.  Emeline had no children of her own, but she worked with young people at the Social Studio for twenty years or more.    A 1913 Newport Mercury article mentions that Emeline was directing a group of twenty two girls called the “Girls Industrial Club” which met at the Social Studio.  The girls learned basketweaving, leather work, wood-carving, embroidery and other useful arts.

Can you picture this School Superintendent, library supporter, craft teacher and church lady as a suffrage agitator?  Her obituary doesn’t mention anything about her efforts to secure the vote for women, but newspaper articles lead us to believe that she was an integral part of the Newport County Woman Suffrage League that was founded in 1908.  A group of Bristol Ferry area friends and neighbors was  (according to Elizabeth Cady Stanton) “among the nerve centers of suffrage activity in Rhode Island.” Among the members of this group were Emeline Eldridge, Cora Mitchell, Sarah J. Eddy,  Julia Ward Howe and her daughters Maud and Florence, Mrs. Oscar Miller and Mrs. Bertram Storrs and Mrs. Barton Ballou.  In Cady’s book on the History of Woman Suffrage, she compliments the women because “All rendered priceless service to what was then an unpopular and unfashionable cause.”  “..It took some courage in fashionable Newport to ‘come out’ for woman suffrage.  Emeline hosted some events by the Newport County Women Suffrage League at the Social Studio.  Emeline may not have been a nationally recognized figure in the suffrage movement but she certainly contributed to it here in Portsmouth.

Children working on crafts at the Social Studio

 

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