1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Inventory

5.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 Isabelle Ahearn O'Neill Papers

 Actress and politician, of Providence, R.I.

 Papers, 1897-1984

 Size: 0.25 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 1077

 Processed by: Karen Eberhart, October 2001

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Isabelle Florence Ahearn O'Neill was born in 1880 as the 13th and youngest child of her parents Daniel Ahearn and Mary J. (O'Connor) Ahearn. The family moved to Providence in 1892. Isabelle was educated at the Boston College of Drama and Oratory and attended Dr. Sargent's classes in Physical Education at Harvard University. Isabelle married John A. O'Neill in 1907 and they had one child who died at the age of three in 1911. She later divorced her husband.

            She began her career as an orator and actress by establishing her own Ahearn Shool of Elocution in 1900. Her students gave annual recitals at the Providence Opera House. Isabelle played leading and supporting roles in several plays throughout the period of 1900-1918 in Rhode Island and New York. Her career moved to the big screen when in 1915 she joined the Eastern Silent Film Company and acted in several silent films.  

            Mrs. O'Neill used her considerable elocutionary skills with great success in the world of politics. She was elected as the Representative from the 15th Assembly District in 1922, the first woman to hold office in the Rhode Island Legislature. After eight years in the House she became a Senator in 1932. She resigned her membership in the Senate to become the Legislative Representative for the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics at the request of President Roosevelt. She worked for the Bureau until 1943 after which she worked with the Rhode Island Labor Department on the cost of living index. She retired in 1954 and passed away in 1975 at the age of 94.

Return to top

Scope and content:

            The most comprehensive item in the collection is the scrapbook of her work as an elocution teacher and actress for the years 1897-1918. The remainder of the collection is tidbits from her life as a politician and amateur poet with the most informative being the newspaper clippings and articles.

Return to top


            These papers were donated in 2001 by Bill Langlois. His grandmother, Rosella (Ahearn) Flemming, was a sister of O'Neill, and his mother Rosalind (Flemming) Langlois was O'Neill's niece and god-daughter.

Return to top



box 1, folder 1 Autobiography                                                          c.1955

box 1, folder 2 Certificate of Baptism, Mary A. Ahearn                   1956

box 1, folder 3 Correspondence                                                         1929, 1933

box 1, folder 4 Deed, Mary Ahearn to Anne Duffy                           1902

box 1, folder 5 Legislation                                                                1927, 1932, n.d.

box 1, folder 6 Newspaper clippings and articles                              1908-1984, n.d.

box 1, folder 7 Poems                                                                        1949, n.d.

box 1, folder 8 Political material                                                       1924-35

box 1, folder 9 Writings                                                                    1904, 1928

box 1, folder 10 Scrapbook                                                                1897-1918


State Returning Board - Certificate of election as Representative to General Assembly, 1922

State Returning Board - Certificate of election as a Senator to General Assembly, 1930

Return to top


Actresses - Rhode Island

Ahearn, Isabelle F. (1880-1975) 

Politics - Rhode Island

Rhode Island General Assembly

Women in politics - Rhode Island

End of finding aid - return to top