WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse helped pass a bill to rename Central Falls’ post office after a leader in the Rhode Island abolitionist and suffrage movements. Late last night, the full U.S. Senate approved S. 1272, which Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse introduced on May 1, to name the United States Post Office at 575 Dexter Street in Central Falls in honor of Elizabeth Buffum Chace, a committed activist and humanitarian who fought for greater equality as a leader in the abolitionist and suffragette movements.
The idea to rename the building was first proposed by Central Falls Mayor James A. Diossa and companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen David Cicilline and James Langevin.
Born in Providence to a large Quaker family in 1806, Elizabeth Buffum Chace lived in several locations throughout New England as a child. After being educated at the Friend’s Boarding School in Providence, she began a noteworthy career fighting for women’s rights. She spoke out against discrimination and was president of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, the American Women's Suffragist Association, and the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association.
Chace was a well-known abolitionist and philanthropist who was active in anti-slavery efforts and regularly harbored fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. She also helped to organize a Female Anti-Slavery Society in Fall River, Massachusetts.
In addition to women’s suffrage and anti-slavery work, Chace fought throughout her life on behalf of those in workhouses and prisons. She served on the Ladies' Board of Visitors to the Penal and Correctional Institutions of the State, which examined the conditions in the state prison and reported back to the legislature about them. She was deeply committed to improving the lives of others and became a prominent citizen of Central Falls, seeing it incorporated as a city in 1895.
“In her day, Elizabeth Buffum Chace earned the reverential title of being ‘the conscience of Rhode Island.’ An activist in every sense of the word, she was a champion for equality and a passionate advocate for justice,” said Senator Reed. “Her work in the anti-slavery movement and pioneering efforts on behalf of women’s rights, children, and workers still resonates. Naming this post office in her honor is further recognition to her many contributions to communities across Rhode Island. I thank Mayor Diossa, Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin, and Senator Whitehouse, and all who were involved in this effort.”
“Elizabeth Buffum Chace was a courageous abolitionist and suffragist,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Dedicating the Central Falls Post Office in her honor will further cement her place in Rhode Island’s history. I’m proud to join Senator Reed, and Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin who introduced this legislation in the House, in celebrating her legacy.”
In 2012, the U.S. Postal Service floated a cost-cutting plan to close the Dexter Street post office -- which is the only post office in Central Falls -- along with thousands of others nationwide. Then-Councilman James Diossa led the fight to save the post office and contacted Senator Reed and members of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation, who helped successfully lobby to save the post office and keep it open for the people of Central Falls. As Mayor of Central Falls, Diossa sparked the idea to name the post office after Elizabeth Buffum Chace in tribute to her legacy as an abolitionist and suffragist.
“Elizabeth Buffum Chace was a giant in the fight to end slavery and give women the right to vote. We are proud to call her one of our own and honored to have her legacy commemorated at our Post Office,” Mayor Diossa said. “Renaming this Post Office will establish a lasting landmark for the work she did.”
Chace died on 12 December 1899 at the age of 93 and is buried in the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. In 2002, she became the first woman to be memorialized with a statue in the Rhode Island State House.
Now that it has passed the U.S. Senate, the bill must be taken up and approved by the U.S. House of Representatives before it can be sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.