1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Inventory

5.   Subjects

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 Providence Franklin Society Records

 Scientific organization, of Providence, R.I.

 Records, 1826-1922

 Size: 1 linear foot

 Catalog number: MSS 162

 Processed by: Rebecca Custer, July 1993

Updated by Rick Stattler, July 2002

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            The Providence Franklin Society originated in 1821, but under the name of the Philosophical Society. It began when store owners William T. Grinnell and Joseph Balch, Jr. talked about forming a society for the purpose of members "mutually aid(ing) each other in the investigation of philosophical subjects". The group met weekly, and eventually on January 28, 1823, they petitioned the General Assembly to incorporate the Providence Franklin Society. Their objective, stated in an October 10, 1826 resolution was: "to embrace the whole range of the sciences and of general literature".

            The Society met in "Dr. Brown's building on South Main Street". After they lowered the admission fees, from five to three dollars, the group had a large increase in membership. In order to follow their objectives, they invited several more prominent members of Providence society to join. Included were: Benjamin Dyer, Albert G. Greene, Samuel B. Tobey, Sylvanus Tingley, Thomas H. Webb, and others. A May 23, 1871 by-law admitted "ladies of scientific attainments as corresponding members. These women included: Mrs. William A. Griswold, Miss Sarah A. Dean, Miss Julia A. Osgood, Ellen Aldrich, and Ella Tripp.

            Meetings consisted mainly of lectures on nearly any topic worthy of scientific review. The Society would occasionally go on popular excursions or "field meetings" around New England. They also sponsored a course of public lectures; some speakers in the 1830s include John R. Bartlett, George Curtis (father of George W. Curtis), and W. S. Patten, who spoke on "Rights and Disabilities of Women".

            The Society began an extensive collection of all sorts of materials (plants, insects, animals, sketches, minerals, and even a "tattooed New Zealander's head"). Both members as well as the general public donated these items. In fact, the public showed a great deal of support for the Society, not only by attending the lectures and donating artifacts, but also by donating money. On January 22, 1833 Isaac Brown presented three hundred dollars, as a donation from three individuals of this city, who were probably Moses B. Ives, Robert H. Ives, and John Carter Brown.

            Like many nineteenth century literary and scientific groups waned in the twentieth. The group eventually disbanded in 1922, and left their scientific collection to the Roger Williams Park Museum of Natural History.


Brown, Welcome O. The Providence Franklin Society: An Historical Address by the President. Providence: J.A. & R.A. Reid, 1880.

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Scope and content:

            The collection dates from 1826 to 1922. Lists of donations and donors began as early as 1826. However, in his speech of 1880, President Brown bemoans the fact that the tradition of these careful lists is beginning to slip. The collection also includes minutes, including lecturers's topics, letters, and newspaper clippings. The minutes carefully details most of the lecturers' topics and notices of meetings. Membership lists also list dues and fees. The collection holds the charter and constitution and by-laws, as well as annual reports and paid bills from 1878 to 1888..

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            Upon its dissolution, the Providence Franklin Society gave its core records to the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1922. In 2002, several folders of additional loose papers dated 1878 to 1888 were purchased from Samuel J. Hough.

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Charter / membership

Folder 1. Charter, constitution and membership, 1832-1906. 1872 copy, continued through1906.

Folder 2. Membership roll / treasurer's book, 1897-1919

Record books (meeting minutes)

Folder 3. 1841-1880

Folder 4. 1881-1910

Folder 5. 1910-1916

Folder 6. 1917-1920 (disbound)

Folder 7. 1920-1922 (disbound)

Record of donations

Folder 8. 1826-1878

Annual reports

Folder 9. Cabinet Keeper, 1879-1887

Folder 10. Librarian, 1879-1888

Folder 11. President, 1880, 1881, 1885

Folder 12. Standing Committee, 1878-1888

Folder 13. Treasurer, 1879-1888

Bills paid

Folder 14. Coal and gas, 1880-1887

Folder 15. Collection and lecture expenses, 1883-1887

Folder 16. Printing and advertising, 1881-1887

Folder 17. Rent and maintenance, 1880-1888 (Abram and William H. Hall, janitors)

Folder 18. Supplies, etc., 1880-1887


Folder 19. Letter, 10/25/1879, from Raphael Pumpelly of the U.S. Geological Survey, seeking volunteer to collect statistics

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Museum of Natural History (Providence, R.I.)

Natural history - Study and teaching - Rhode Island

x Providence Philosophical Society

Pumpelly, Raphael, 1837-1923

Science - Study and teaching - Rhode Island

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