Susan H. Allen Brownell

Susan H. Allen Brownell

1841 – 1929

In 1884, 36 years before the 19th Amendment, the men of Little Compton elected Susan H. Brownell as Superintendent of Schools for a one-year term. Her salary was $40, the same as male superintendents. The Providence Journal described the election as “somewhat spirited,” and wrote, “Mrs. Brownell is well qualified to fill the position and will no doubt do herself credit.” Anna W. Brownell was also elected to the school committee. They were the town’s first female elected officials. That day Sarah Soule Wilbour wrote in her diary, “The work of women’s enfranchisement goes slowly but surely onward.”

During and after her term, Susan worked tirelessly to improve Little Compton’s schools. She increased school funding and established a town-wide school committee rather than multiple district committees. She also sent a petition to the General Assembly for Women’s Suffrage in 1885. They tabled it.

Susan and her husband Richmond Brownell had no children. In 1900 Manuel and Isabelle Silveira boarded with them, and Susan formed a lifelong attachment to their daughter Mary. Susan remembered all the Silveiras in her will and made Mary her principal heir.

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Outdoor exhibit panel from the 2020 special exhibition, The Little Compton Women’s History Project.