Frances E. Henley and Providence Plantations Club

Women Power

The consolidation of the image of the only independent female architect working in Rhode Island for more than 25 years.

How to become respected and how to keep your femininity when doing a male's job? This was quite a burden for Rhode Island's first female architect, starting 1897 when she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Henley was probably one of the few women designers to request equal social rights with men in her profession. As a lifetime member of the Providence Plantations Club, she succeeded to make herself even more visible in the public sphere of Rhode Island through 'women power.'

The women who gathered under this society were businesswomen, as well as women interested in the social and economic life and political life, at a moment just before they were granted the official right to vote by the US Constitution in 1920. The club was a success, starting with about 150 members and it reached more than 1300 members, just one year after its inception. As the only female architect of the society, Henley got involved in promoting the Club in terms of its visuals and interior design.

Since the commencement of the club in 1916, which gathered in different locations, the members envisioned a building to host the meetings and tea parties, including rooms for rent for women who came from different corners of the state. The lot on Abbott Park finally came into the possession of the association in 1923 and Henley was named in the Building Committee for the construction of the new building. The chosen project was built following the design project of the Boston-based firm Andrews, Jones, Biscoe and Whitmore in August 1926.

Henley was commissioned with the interior design for several parts of both buildings that were planned for hosting the variety of functions necessary for the new space: the dressing room of the swimming pool, found at the basement level of the building, the dormitories placed on the 5th floor, and an apartment for Marion Louise Simon Misch, one of the important members of the club, on the 4th floor. Misch’s apartment contained a “music room.” Mrs. Misch was not the only member of the society that Henley designed a cozy, fancy place for. Clara B. Earterbrooks, who occupied the position of chairman of the Finance Committee, and was also part of the Building Committee of the Providence Plantations Club, sought out Henley's services to design her little house in Hortonville, Massachusetts.

Henley was aware of the tremendous advantage of connections that this society had to offer. Linking her name with the design of the building where this society was gathered, a place of multiple connections and possibilities, provided Henley with a portal to attract clientele. Being part of this society which grew to more than 2500 members was an efficient way to present her creations and to make her visible as the only independent female architect in the public sphere of the state. The club's space was also an opportunity for Henley to teach young women interested in the profession of architecture how to overcome the societal prejudices. With the decline of the society, the building was sold to Morris Gaebe and Edward Triangolo in December 1962 and made part of the Johnson & Wales University campus.



Providence Plantations Club, Providencepdf / 214.11 kB Download


8 Abbott Park Pl Providence, RI 02903 ~ Private Property, Johnson & Wales University