Ever since the original Providence Proprietors started dividing up their land in 1638, Rhode Islanders have been forming private groups to accomplish their goals. Our manuscripts holdings include records of a wide variety of organizations: charitable groups such as Dexter Asylum, the Providence Shelter for Colored Children; social service and activist groups such as Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE); civic groups such as the Providence Board of Trade and the League of Women Voters; clubs and societies including the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Rhode Island Medical Society and the Ann Eliza Club. Special attention should be devoted to our extensive collections of church records, labor union records, and records of women’s groups.
The Library has manuscript records of many Rhode Island churches, with particular strength in records of Baptist and Congregational churches. Among the most comprehensive collections are the General Six Principle Baptist Archives and the records of the First Universalist Church of Providence, Congdon Street Baptist Church, and the First Congregational Church of Providence. The extensive archives of the First Baptist Church in America are on deposit and can be accessed only with permission of church historian Dr. J. Stanley Lemons, History Department, Rhode Island College, 600 Mount Pleasant Ave., Providence, Rhode Island 02908.
The Archives of the New England Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) are housed at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library. They are a separate institution, but the collection can be accessed via the RIHS staff and most of the early vital records can be accessed via microfilm in the Reading Room. The records cover most of the Quaker meetings in New England from 1676 to the present, and consist mainly of vital records and meeting minutes. Questions can be directed to the NEYM Archivist firstname.lastname@example.org. The 113-page Guide to the Records of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in New England was published in 1997 and is available for sale at the Rhode Island Historical Society. For more information about theNew England Yearly Meeting, visit their website.
The Rhode Island Historical Society began collecting the records of labor unions in the 1970’s and has developed an extensive collection with the support of the Rhode Island Labor History Society and labor historian Scott Molloy. The records now extend back to the founding minutes of the Providence Typographical Union in 1856, and include the records of more than thirty unions, such as locals of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen and theAmalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Also included are personal papers of activists such as Larry Spitz and Joseph Coldwell. Most of these resources are explained in more detail by A Guide to the Historical Study of Rhode Island Working People, published in 1996 by the Rhode Island Labor History Society. Many of the extensive business records are also useful for examining the other side of the business-labor relationship, and they often include personnel records for researching specific workers.
Almost thirty women’s organizations, ranging from the Providence Female Charitable Society (established 1799) to the Women’s Liberation Union (established 1970), are represented in manuscripts collections. The largest collections are from the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), theWomen’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the League of Women Voters. Also noteworthy are the records of the Providence Physiological Society, an 1850’s group founded by Paulina Wright Davis which held lectures on women’s rights and anatomy.
The most comprehensive access to manuscript materials is through a paper card catalog located in our Reading Room. A complete listing of our manuscript collections and detailed inventories for many of them are available in the Reading Room. Electronic versions of the detailed inventories are also available through the Master List of Finding Aids page. Please contact the Reference Librarian for more details about the manuscript collections for which there is no detailed inventory available on this website.
Other related papers can be found elsewhere in the collection. In particular, many collections of personal papers have similar content. If you are looking for something in particular, please contact the Reference Librarian so we can consult our extensive catalogs at the library.