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History Bytes

History Bytes: The Circus

This week marks the final appearance of the Ringling Brothers Circus in Rhode Island, as it prepares to fade into the sunset nationally. Circuses have been coming to Newport for over two centuries, beginning with a performance of skilled horsemanship in 1774. On 24 May of that year,  equestrian Christopher H. Gardner attracted as many three thousand residents to watch his trick riding and comedic equestrian skits at an enclosure in the north end of Newport. Later, circuses traveled with menageries of exotic animals and birds (living natural curiosities). Over time the menageries were trained and incorporated into the circus performance. 

Image: Menagerie, featuring The Great Indian Elephant (Rhode Island Republican, 7 May 1828)

History Bytes: Susan B. Anthony’s Rhode Island Roots

Susan Brownell Anthony (1820-1906), the most recognizable of American social reformers and women’s rights activists, was the product of eight generations of Quaker teachings. From the establishment of the Quaker religion, women in the Society of Friends had complete equality in the worship service and governance of the congregation. This practice of equality was passed down through generations and must have shaped Susan’s strong support of abolitionism, suffragism, property rights and fair wages for women and more. Susan’s ancestry can be traced to John Anthony (1607-1675), who settled in Portsmouth, Rhode Island around 1640. Through intermarriages, her ancestors include Potters, Clarkes, Shermans, Coggeshalls and other founding settlers of Rhode Island. Over time, her family followed very typical Quaker migration routes from Portsmouth to Dartmouth and Adams, Massachusetts, through the Nine Partners region of Dutchess County, New York, finally settling in Rochester.

Image: Early Anthony family death entries from the records of the Rhode Island Monthly Meeting of Friends

History Bytes: Dr. Harriett Alleyne Rice

Dr. Harriett Alleyne Rice was born in the Rice family homestead at 33 Spring Street, then near the corner of Touro Street. Her father, George A. Rice, was a steward for the Newport Steamship Company. Harriett attended public schools and graduated from Rogers High School in 1882. She later distinguished herself as the first African American graduate of Wellesley College and of the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. Her brother George, graduated from Dartmouth and was granted a medical degree in Edinburgh, Scotland. During World War I, Harriett served in hospitals throughout France and won awards for her “immense services.” She returned to America as a practicing physician, and died at Worcester, MA in 1958. She is buried in the Rice Family Plot in the God’s Little Acre section of Newport’s Common Burying Ground.

Image of Dr. Harriett Alleyne Rice courtesy of Gilded Age in Color