The Rhode Island Publications Society Observes Its 40th Birthday, 1974–2014

The Rhode Island Publications Society (RIPS) celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. During that span it has published or co-published more than eighty volumes on various aspects of Rhode Island history and heritage and distributed the books of several local historical societies, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, the Rhode Island Historical Society, and the Diocese of Providence. In addition, it has disseminated books about the state produced by university presses and commercial publishers.

RIPS had its origins in 1974 as the Publications Committee of the Rhode Island Bicentennial [of Independence] Commission (ri76). As Commission chairman, I created this committee as one of nearly fifty boards designed to provide greater awareness of Rhode Island’s Revolutionary heritage and to encourage widespread public participation in the celebration of American independence. I appointed historians Glen LaFantasie, since made an honorary fellow of the Rhode Island Historical Society, and Paul R. Campbell, now Providence city archivist, to direct the publications program of ri76.

After the observance came to a close, I kept the Publications Committee in operation; expanded its scope to include all aspects of Rhode Island history; retained Dr. Hilliard Beller, a meticulous editor; persuaded Gail Cahalan to serve as volunteer office manager; incorporated the Society as a Rhode Island non-profit business organization; and secured for RIPS a 501(c)(3) designation from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

The first major task of RIPS in its expanded role was the distribution of numerous titles published in previous decades by the Rhode Island Historical Society. In this successfully completed project, RIPS worked closely with Al Klyberg, historical society director and a board member of RIPS. During these early years, when small local bookstores were numerous, Ron Tracey and then Pat Conley, Jr., styling himself “Willie Loman,” went around the state peddling books as sales representatives of RIPS.

In the ensuing years RIPS published a constant stream of books including several to coincide with such statewide observances as the 350th anniversary of the founding of Rhode Island (1986), the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights (1987–91), the bicentennial of Rhode Island statehood (1990), and the sesquicentennial of the state’s famed Dorr Rebellion (1992). During our forty-year effort, secretaries Phyllis Cardullo, Linda Gallen, and Anna Loiselle handled the typing chores on nearly all of RIPS publications.

In 2006, the Society acquired its present location in a National Historic Register building (Conley’s Wharf) at 200 Allens Avenue in Providence where it shares space with the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame and the Heritage Harbor Museum Corporation. Its spacious headquarters prompted RIPS to inaugurate an outreach program whereby it created a d/b/a called The Fabre Line Club — so named because of the proximity of its headquarters to State Pier No. 1 where the trans-Atlantic Fabre Line brought 84,000 immigrants to the Port of Providence from 1913 to 1934.

The Fabre Line Club eventually reached a membership (paid and honorary) of 424, including two recipients of the Pulitzer Prize in History (Gordon Wood and Jack Rakove), a recipient of the Bancroft Prize in History (Jim Patterson), a bishop (Daniel P. Reilly), two former governors (Joe Garrahy and Bruce Sundlun), a U.S. congressman (Bob Tiernan), two Supreme Court chief justices (Joseph Weisberger and Frank Williams), an associate Supreme Court justice (Bob Flanders), the presiding justice of the Superior Court (Joe Rodgers), two former House Speakers (Matt Smith and John Harwood), a Senate president (Teresa Paiva Weed), an attorney general (Arlene Violet), the state adjutant general (Reggie Centracchio), the chief of state police (Brendan Doherty), and three mayors (Henry Kinch, Dr. Robert McKenna, and Joseph Walsh). In addition, the club attracted a wide array of other community leaders — clergy, judges, lawyers, physicians, governmental officials, generals, business persons, academicians, journalists, and authors. Twenty members have been inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. For one brief shining moment the club and the Publications Society flourished.

During its seven years of operation (2007–13) the Fabre Line Club, under the presidency of Dr. Pat Conley, sponsored 60 book presentations, including a dozen of its own productions, held 60 public lectures, staged 14 exhibits and video presentations on local history, and conducted 8 narrated historic tours of Providence harbor aboard the 49-passenger Providence Piers tour boat (which now graces Boston’s harbor). During its seven-years of operation, the club and its chefs served nearly thirty lavish ethnic heritage buffets featuring the cuisine of those countries that brought large numbers of immigrants to Rhode Island — and it did not overlook the Native Americans in presenting these sumptuous cultural events.

The club closed at the end of 2013 with a ceremony celebrating the publication of a book written by Dr. William Jennings and myself detailing the history of the Fabre Line and Rhode Island’s own Ellis Island at State Pier No. 1. The literal scrapping of that adjacent historic site was a major factor in the Fabre Line Club’s demise.

Despite this setback, RIPS continues its mission to publish and disseminate books, pamphlets, and educational posters pertaining to the history of Rhode Island. Its 40th anniversary production is a blockbuster. Fabre Line Club member, Phil West, former director of Common Cause, has written an insightful and revealing account of modern Rhode Island politics. This 800-page volume, provocatively and accurately entitled Secrets and Scandals: Reforming Rhode Island, 1986–2006, will be released in October 2014. For RIPS, its presen­tation is a real birthday bash at Rhode Island’s pervasive culture of political corruption, but West’s thick tome also praises the state’s many public-spirited citizens who have worked tirelessly for reform.

I hope (our state’s motto), that the Rhode Island general public will avail themselves of RIPS books more enthusiastically during the next forty years. Otherwise RIPS will become an acronym for Rest in Peace Soon! For our current catalog call 401-272-1776 or view it on this website.

(Dr.) Patrick T. Conley
Historian Laureate of Rhode Island
Chairman, Rhode Island Publications Society

The Independent Man