Elizabeth Buffum Chace

Old women seated with young girl leaning up against her
Elizabeth Buffum Chace with her daughter Lillie.

Elizabeth Buffum Chace was born on December 9, 1806 in Smithfield, Rhode Island. She was a well-known activist in the anti-slavery, women’s rights, and prison reform movements.

Throughout her life, Chace was surrounded by the influence of anti-slavery Quakers. Her father was the first president of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. Elizabeth also received a Quaker education at Friends’ Boarding School in Providence, Rhode Island. After her family moved to Fall River, Massachusetts, she met textile manufacturer Samuel Buffington Chace, who owned several textile mills throughout New England. Elizabeth and Samuel were married on April 4, 1828. She gave birth to ten children; only five of them survived to adulthood.

Her anti-slavery beliefs radicalized during her marriage. The personal loss of several children strengthened her sympathy for enslaved mothers, whose children were in danger of being separated from them in both slave and free states. Chace joined the anti-slavery movement under the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison. In 1835, Chace and her sisters founded the Fall River Female Anti-Slavery Society. Despite backlash from other members, Chace fought for African American women to be allowed to serve as members.

House on a street. Black and white photograph
The Chace's home in Valley Falls, Rhode Island. The house was a station on the Underground Railroad

In 1839, they moved to Valley Falls, Rhode Island, where Samuel resumed management of the Valley Falls Mill in the Blackstone River Valley. Their Valley Falls home became a stop on the Underground Railroad. Her work as a radical abolitionist attracted the attention of other famous anti-slavery activists. Frederick Douglas, Wendell Phillips, and Sojourner Truth spoke at events held at Chace’s Valley Falls home.

Chace also focused on expanding the rights of women. She attended the first national women’s rights convention which was held in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850. She became a tireless activist, fervently fighting for women’s suffrage in Rhode Island. She went on to serve as president of the Rhode Island Woman’s Suffrage Association. Chace remained an integral part of the women’s rights movement until her death in 1899. In her later years, she also advocated for prison reform and education for disenfranchised groups.

Last updated: June 19, 2022

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