Catherine R. Williams

"You might have heard a leaf move in the forest..."

A crowd of 1,500 had gathered in Millville on a late fall day in 1842 to show their support for their exiled hero, Thomas Wilson Dorr. One of the most well-known women in the crowd was Catherine R. (Arnold) Williams (1790-1872), who, despite some apparent misgivings about doing so, approached the podium to speak.

She later wrote to Dorr, “You might have heard a leaf move in the forest, so profound was the attention given.” The crowd had learned that Williams had recently visited Dorr and were eager to hear news of their leader. Williams writes of herself in the third person: “To my confusion, she was called for by so many voices at once, she was obliged to show herself. Literally forced to the stump. Thank heaven, women never are at a loss for words, and finding herself thus compelled, the Lady in question, threw off her cloak and stepped forward to the front of the Stand and gave a brief and I trust intelligible history of her visit to our exiled Governor.” 

Williams had come of age when White women were granted as yet unparalleled access to education and independence, and so it is fitting that she would have become a fierce public advocate for Thomas Wilson Dorr and close confidante. In fact, Dorr and Williams had much in common. Like Dorr, Catherine Arnold was born into a family with deep roots in Rhode Island, yet was devoted to the cause of common men (and women, in Catherine’s case). 

Note on Location: Former site of Arnold family home where Catherine spent her childhood and later years

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99 Roger Williams Green, Providence, RI 02906