Block Island is a place that holds a strong sense of female energy. One of the first symbols of woman you’ll find right off of the ferry is the Rebecca of the Well Statue right in the center of town. In 1896, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union erected the Statue of Rebecca. Noted in the Book of Genesis, Rebecca of the Well is carrying water for people and animals. This statue was put here by the group in hopes of curbing the alcohol consumption on the island.
While there are countless women that have influenced Block Island, one that comes to mind instantly is Mary Donnelly. She arrived on Block Island in 1958 from Providence with her husband who had plans to start working on the island as the only telephone man. The state of Rhode Island caught wind that Mary D. was a nurse, and at the time there was a high demand for nurses. They got in touch with her and urged her to become the state nurse. Through this, she fell hopelessly in love with the community and the island. After helping many people with funds that came right out of her pocket, the Ecumenical Ministry started the Mary D. Fund to help Mary with her work. The fund is now going over forty years strong. Mary’s daughter Marguerite Donnelly told me “The Mary D. Fund reflects the faith in others. We are not only in the business of second chances, we are in the business of 3rd, 4th, and 5th.” They worked alongside each other for over fifteen years. She explains that the state of Rhode Island and The Department of Health consider Mary Donnelly “a pioneer of public health”. I believe anyone would agree. In fact, she was the last state nurse in Rhode Island to still be making house calls. To be a mother to seven children, the first nurse on a small island in New England, and a safe haven for people that need help is something that everybody can learn from. “There is generational proof in the power of love and giving.”, Marguerite Donnelly tells me. To learn more about The Mary D. Fund, see the link below that will bring you to the website.
Block Island is home to so many women that represent strength, resilience, and have endless “go-getter” energy. To put it into perspective; our town offices are made up of mostly women and our library is run by a team of women including the head librarian. The head of our rescue squad, as well as the squad itself, the dispatch team, and our town manager, to name a few more. Our medical center would not be what it is without the women that work there. Our Harbormaster, too, which in my opinion is monumental. In a male dominated industry, having a woman overseeing and directing harbor operations is something to be recognized. So much is held together because of the women here.
From the moment you step off of the ferry, there’s Water Street with countless retail shops that are owned by women. Then you hit Dodge Street, where almost every single business is also female owned. From Diamond Blue Surf Shop and Lila Delman Real Estate, to The Darius Inn, LazyFish, The Red Bird Liquor Store, The Blue Dory Inn, The Beachcomber, even including The National Hotel whose female general manager has been running the show for the last thirty years. They are a fierce and inspiring group who work together to keep their neighborhood colorful with a vibe that makes sense to Block Island. From restaurants, hotels, retail stores and events, there is a strong chance there’s a strong female behind the success.
Within my research, I found that there are over 60 female owned businesses on Block Island. I am certain that there are more. The culture of women on Block Island didn’t start with Rebecca of the Well or Mary D., and it won’t end with today’s female Block Island leaders; but we all know each generation inspires the next and we expect to see years of smart, creative, and strong women in all walks of Block Island life leading by example.
Stay tuned on our social media for an upcoming, ongoing series about the women-owned businesses of Block Island.
Find us here:
Image source: Circa 1935. “Fountain Square, Block Island, R.I. “, PC7481, Rhode Island Postcard Collection, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI. Source: http://provlibdigital.org/items/show/558