Providence Nun Was the Nation’s First Female Attorney General
Arlene Violet was elected Rhode Island Attorney General in November 1984. Violet served one term as AG from January 1985 until January 1987.
What was unusual about Violet's election was that she was a woman – the first woman ever elected Attorney General in United States history – and she was a nun.
Arlene Violet was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1943 into a middle-class, French-Catholic, "Republican voting" family. Violet attended Providence College before entering the Sisters of Mercy convent in 1961. She took her final vows eight years later, in 1969.
After earning a bachelor's degree from Newport's Salve Regina University in the 1970s, Violet taught school before enrolling in Boston College Law School.
After graduating from BC in 1974, Violet clerked and became an intern, then worked for the consumer protection division within the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office. She rejoined the convent in an administrative position until the early 1980s.
In 1984, Violet was elected Attorney General of Rhode Island as a Republican after losing a race in 1982 to longtime Democrat incumbent Dennis Roberts. Violet became the first elected female Attorney General in the United States.
During the campaign, the Bishop of Providence ordered Violet to withdraw from the race. She refused and instead left the order.
Once elected, Violet took on issues of organized crime, victims' rights and banking reform. Violet sounded the alarm about the state's looming banking crisis, but members of the General Assembly ignored her warnings.
In her autobiography Convictions: My Journey From the Convent to the Courtroom, Violet recalls picketing a Fall River Catholic daycare center targeted for closure by the Bishop. Violet was threatened with excommunication until the Diocese backed down.
Since leaving office in 1987, Violet has hosted wildly successful radio talk programs, appeared regularly on local television, written books, newspaper columns,and a play, and has starred in Nunsense at the Providence Performing Arts Center.
Violet has been included in Marquis Who's Who, The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame and The Rhode Island Radio and Television Hall of Fame, among other honors.
A long-time resident of Barrington, Rhode Island, Violet is an active attorney who continues to tease the idea of seeking public office.
Violet is affectionately referred to by some Rhode Islanders as "Attila the Nun."