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Isabelle Florence Ahearn O’Neill

(1880-1975) ~ Inducted 2014

Isabelle Florence Ahearn O’Neill, 1880-1975, stage and silent-film actress and suffragette. She was the state’s first female legislator, elected to the House in 1922. She also served as deputy Democratic floor leader in the Senate.

Isabelle Florence Ahearn O’Neill, 1880-1975, stage and silent-film actress and suffragette. She was the state’s first female legislator, elected to the House in 1922. She also served as deputy Democratic floor leader in the Senate.

 

Born in Woonsocket, Isabelle Florence Ahearn O'Neill was moved to Providence in 1892 with her parents and 12 siblings. She studied at the Boston College of Drama and Oratory and then attended Dr. Sargent's classes in Physical Education at Harvard University. 

Her career begen when she established her own Ahearn Shool of Elocution in 1900. Her students gave annual recitals at the Providence Opera House while Isabelle acted in leading and supporting roles in Rhode Island and New York between 1900-1918  In 1915 she joined the Eastern Silent Film Company and acted in several silent films.  

O'Neill then turned her oratory skills to the world of politics. In 1922, she was elected as the Representative from the 15th Assembly District and was the first woman to hold office in the Rhode Island Legislature. She spent eight years in the House before becoming a Senator in 1932. At the request of President Roosevelt, she resigned her membership in the Senate to become the Legislative Representative for the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics, where worked until 1943. Following that time, she returned to her native state's political scene and worked with the Rhode Island Labor Department on the cost of living index. She retired in 1954 and passed away in 1975 at the age of 94.

She was married to John A. O'Neill briefly, before divorcing him and had one child who died at the age of three.

 


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