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Lowell Stories: Women's History

Frances Lucas (1873-1944)

From Dorothy W. Gifford, Lincoln School: The First Century (Providence, RI: Lincoln School, 1984), 8., Lincoln School, Providence, RI.

Frances Lucas (1873-1944) by James S. Kabala, Rhode Island College

Frances Henderson Lucas was born on January 6, 1873, in Kanpur, India.

“Frances was the daughter of James Joseph Lucas and Mary Evaline Sly. James Lucas was born in 1847 in Dublin, Ireland and immigrated to Danville, Kentucky, when he was a small child. He graduated from Centre College in Danville in 1865 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1870. He was then ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Mary Sly was a native of either Boltonville, Vermont. The Lucases devoted their lives to missionary work in Allahabad, a city in northern India in the present-day state of Uttar Pradesh. Frances Lucas was born in Kanpur, another city in Uttar Pradesh, during her parents' missionary service. The parents occasionally visited the United States but always returned to India and still resided in Allahabad in 1922. The Lucases later moved to be with their son E.J. Lucas in Lahore, in present-day Pakistan. Mary Lucas died in Lahore in 1931 and James Lucas in 1939.

Frances Lucas left her family in India and came to the United States for her education at the age of eight. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1893. Wooster, Ohio, was given as her hometown in Wellesley records. At Wellesley, Lucas was an active member of the student body, serving as a class officer, with the title of Second Historian, a literary editor of the Wellesley Magazine, a member of the Shakespeare Society, and a member of the College Settlements Association, which sponsored settlement houses similar to the famous Hull House in Chicago.

After graduation, Lucas taught at several different schools in the northeastern United States during the period 1893 and 1911 with a special interest in the subjects of history and economics. She was a teacher in Troy, New York, and Blairstown, New Jersey, as well Providence, Rhode Island at the Moses Brown School. She resided for several years in Lowell, Massachusetts, and taught at Rogers Hall School for Girls, Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1911, Lucas returned to Providence when she was appointed principal of the Lincoln School, a girls' school that served day and boarding students. Lucas was a controversial hire at first. Some people disapproved of her “rather advanced” progressive ideas and others found Lucas objectionable because she was “from away.” This apparently referred merely to her having come from Lowell rather than to her connection to Kentucky or Ohio, let alone India. She was also criticized for her preference for wearing green or purple velvet rather than conservative clothes.

Besides her education career, Lucas became active in the community in the 1910s. She regularly served on committees to support cultural events and worked as a supervisor to raise money for the Providence District Nurses Association. Lucas was elected first vice president of the Providence Plantations Club, a prominent organization that offered intellectual, social, and physical activities for women. Lucas served on the membership committee of the newly-formed Rhode Island branch of the Women's Peace Party in 1915. She attended a Women's Peace Party meeting in New York where Jane Addams spoke. Lucas reported back to the Rhode Island members about the event, stating that Addams had “a “quiet and convincing personality.” Lucas continued her support for peace following World War I. She gave a speech where she stated, “War is not inevitable...I challenge the statement ‘human nature cannot be changed'...Human nature has been changed in its preparation for war, in its learning the psychology of hate.”

Lucas became well known as a public speaker in Rhode Island, lecturing on social and political issues. In 1917, Lucas gave a series of lectures on current domestic and international issues to raise money for the Providence Day Nursery Association. She spoke before many women's groups, including the Brown Alumnae Association, for whom she analyzed the final days of the Great War, and the Rhode Island Association of Working Women's Clubs, for whom she examined relations between Japan and Russia.

Lucas's drew on her educational and public speaking skills to advance the suffrage cause by serving as chair of the committee on civics for the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA) and offering many lectures throughout 1919 for the organization on various social and political issues. The lectures were reportedly well attended and included topics such as “The Modern State, Its Powers and Responsibilities,” “The Industrial Question from a National and International Viewpoint,” “America's Danger in Relation to the League of Nations,” and “Women in Politics.”

Following the ratification of the suffrage amendment, Lucas joined the United League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, served as its educational supervisor, and continued giving political lectures at the organization. In addition to her speeches, Lucas held a study group for the League of Women Voters where she led members in an exercise to read, analyze, and understand the Rhode Island Constitution in order to become better voters and citizens.

Lucas resigned as principal of Lincoln School in 1920 and at forty-nine years old married William Edwards Henderson, a professor of chemistry and dean of the Liberal Arts College of the Ohio State University. After her marriage, Lucas moved to her husband's residence in Columbus, Ohio. She continued to give public lectures on “international questions” in Ohio.

Lucas died on December 25, 1944, at her home in Columbus, Ohio. She had suffered from a heart condition for the previous two years. In addition to the lengthy obituary in The Providence Journal, her death was considered sufficiently notable that many newspapers across the country printed a brief obituary that noted Lucas had been “a prominent figure in eastern educational circles.”

Resource: Frances Lucas, Alexander Street