Josephine Field Wilbur

Josephine Field Wilbur

1885 – 1923

After attending Little Compton’s one-room schools, Josephine Field left town to study at the RI Normal School (later RI College). She graduated in 1896 and worked as a teacher and high school principal in Vermont and Massachusetts for 13 years. In 1909 Josephine returned to teach at the Union School on the Commons and married Ellis Wilbur. Josephine became the driving force for modernization in Little Compton’s schools, pushing for graded classrooms, bus transportation, and a high school.

To help ensure proper school funding, Josephine ran for town treasurer and tax collector in 1921 and was elected in a hotly contested race with State Representative Fredrick R. Brownell. The Providence Journal said Republican “henchmen” were out in force but could not sway voters against her. This was one of the first elections since women secured the right to vote. Josephine was the first RI woman to occupy a town office that was not school-related.

Josephine’s fight for Little Compton’s schools stopped abruptly in 1923 when pneumonia ended her life. Local residents took up the cause and opened a modern, centralized school with a high school in 1929, naming it in her honor.

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

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