Mary Priscilla White Taylor

Mary Priscilla White Taylor

1868 – 1970

Mary Taylor and lamp from an unlabeled newspaper clipping. Courtesy of Caroline Wilkie Wordell.

Mary Priscilla White Taylor was born on December 21, 1868 in Little Compton.  She was the daughter of Thomas E. and Maria W. Simmons White, tracing the family roots to Peregrine White, who was born on the Mayflower.  The White family lived on the Great West Road.  Mary was a farmer’s daughter, and was quite proud of it, telling stories of riding with her father to collect eggs from neighboring farms, and bringing them to Bristol Ferry to a dealer who would sell them in Providence.  She was educated in Little Compton schools and was a graduate of the Rhode Island Normal School.  She returned to Little Compton to teach for thirteen years in three of the town’s ten one-room schools.

Mary married Andrew S. Taylor, the son of George M. and Sarah Jane Dean Taylor, in Little Compton on November 25, 1889, and together they had one child, a daughter named Minnie.  Mary became a widow three years after her marriage, and then moved to Providence with her daughter to be with her younger sister who was attending college there. She had planned to stay only three years, but ended up staying until 1924.  Her sister died a few months after Mary arrived in the city, and she was left alone with her child.

She was a dressmaker for over a decade, happening into that quite by accident.  Friends were about to do some extensive traveling and their regular dressmaker was not available, so Mary stepped in.  While in Providence, Mary also worked as a librarian in the children’s department of the Providence Public Library for twenty cents an hour, assisted Dr. Ellen Stone in the school office of the Providence Department of Health for $9.50 per week, and worked for a while as a secretary in the Bureau of Public Health and Nursing.

Having enough of the city life, she returned to Little Compton in 1925, where she owned and operated a tea house for five years.

Mary loved to tell the story of her grandfather, Orrin W. Simmons, who brought the first kerosene burning lamp into Little Compton back in 1860.  The whole town gathered outside their home to see the “new thing” light, but only a few were brave enough to venture into the house, thinking it would explode!  Mary was the proud “keeper” of this lamp.

Mary lived in a snug little two story bungalow on the South of Commons Road.  She did not drink or smoke, and in fact she had a sign at her front door stating “Leave cigarettes outside.”  She was an expert rug hooker, receiving requests for her rugs from throughout the country, and some of them were exhibited at the Cleveland Art Center in the mid- 1950’s.  She was also not shy about admitting that it was her rugs that “kept the wolf from the door.”  Even after she became legally blind, Mary continued hooking her artful rugs.

Mary Taylor died on December 11, 1970, ten days shy of her 102nd birthday, and is buried in Union Cemetery.

Caroline Wilkie Wordell

April 2020


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