Monday, September 24, 2012

The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Massachusetts

This past August 26th marked the 92nd anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States! In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was passed, which prohibits the denial of any citizen’s right to vote based on sex. While 92 years seems like such a long time ago, in retrospect it’s still very much recent history. Massachusetts was a hotbed for suffragist activities during the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the state was home to many notable women leading and influencing the cause. For example, in 1870, after forming the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 (later becoming the National American Woman Suffrage Association), activists Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, and other supporters of the movement formed the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. These groups worked together, sharing goals and partaking in the same educational, promotional, and legislative lobbying activities that helped push the topic of women’s enfranchisement forward on both state and national levels.

Here are a few more interesting facts about suffrage activities in Massachusetts:

• In 1850, the first National Women's Rights Convention was held in Worcester.

• In 1868, the New England Women’s Club and the New England Woman Suffrage Association were founded in Boston.

• In 1869, a Joint Special Committee on Woman Suffrage was formed by the Massachusetts legislature. A list of committee members can be found in the 1869 manual of the General Court.

• In 1871, William Claflin became the first governor of Massachusetts to speak publicly and directly about woman’s rights as a citizen.

• In 1879, Massachusetts passed a law that allowed women to vote for school committee members. In that same year, Louisa May Alcott was the first woman to register to vote for the Concord School Committee election in Massachusetts.

• In 1888, an act was passed to incorporate the National Woman Suffrage Association of Massachusetts, founded by Harriet Hanson Robinson.

• In 1895, an act was passed that authorized persons qualified to vote for school committee members to vote on the question of granting municipal suffrage to women at the next state election—this act meant that women could now vote on the issue.

The library has a large collection of materials on the history of women’s suffrage. Some of the most interesting items are bound pamphlets supporting and opposing the movement. One pamphlet’s title, published by the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association of Massachusetts, glaringly claims “Woman Suffrage a Menace to Social Reform”. Another pamphlet from 1909 by the Illinois Association Opposed to the Extension of Suffrage to Women states, “Unable in spite of heroic efforts for the past twelve years to gain a noteworthy legislative advance, [Suffragists] have been at last impelled to call in the aid of the militant Suffragists of England, and in New York and Massachusetts are adopting, to a certain degree, their noisy and ill-mannered tactics.” A great example regarding British Suffragettes is Nelson Harding’s 1914 “Ruthless Rhymes of Martial Militants”. A note from the author describes his disdain for militant Suffragettes:

Grimly vindictive, the militant rages
In pitiless wrath through the following pages
Benighted termagant, seeking applause
In the name of an honest and suffering cause

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, September 17, 2012

Massachusetts Real Estate Atlases Now Online

The State Library recently completed the scanning of forty-five real estate atlases covering communities throughout Massachusetts. These atlases are now available online through the library’s institutional repository and its Flickr site. This is part of a grant-funded project to digitize the approximately 200 real estate atlases in the State Library’s collection. The items that are now available include a statewide atlas and municipal volumes that cover cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth, from Attleboro to Pittsfield.

The image on the top detailing the area where the Mystic River and Chelsea Creek flow into Boston Harbor is from the 1892 Atlas of Massachusetts published by Geo. H. Walker & Co.

These atlases are a useful tool for genealogists, architectural consultants, and those researching the history of their homes, as they provide information about property boundaries, plot size, ownership and building shapes and materials. The image below, taken from the City atlas of Lowell, Massachusetts (published by G. M. Hopkins in 1879) illustrates properties, including mills and other industry along the Concord River in Lowell.

Some of the atlases also include drawings of prominent homes, schools and other important buildings. An example of this is the residence of Wm. Whiting found in the 1884 Atlas of Holyoke City, Massachusetts published by Geo. H. Walker & Co.

The Massachusetts real estate atlas digitization project, to be completed by the summer of 2013, has been developed with federal funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Brown Bag on The Civil War Papers of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Join us for a Brown Bag Lunch
on Thursday, September 20th
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442, State House
12 until 1:30 PM

Bring your lunch and join us to hear Elaine Grublin, Head of Reader Services at the Massachusetts Historical Society, speak about the Civil War papers of the Society. She will place an emphasis on manuscripts relating to the Battle of Antietam which was fought 150 years ago, on September 17th, 1862.

To register, please go to:

You may also register by calling the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or by e-mailing to

Future Brown Bags will include: 
  • Thursday, October 25th
    Alexandra S. Barker, The U.S. Census Bureau, The 2010 Census
  • Thursday, November 15th
    Dr. Marcia Hohn, The Immigrant Learning Center, Massachusetts Immigrant Entrepreneurs
  • Tuesday, December 11th
    Dr. Beryl Rosenthal, Executive Director, The Waterworks Museum, The History of Water in Massachusetts

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

“The Time of Action has Come” Introducing Pure Water into the City of Boston

Brookline Reservoir
image from Ballou's Pictorial vol. 16, 1859.

This exhibition chronicles the history and development of Boston’s water supply from the earliest public water works of the 19th century to the “accidental wilderness” of the current reservoir areas. It covers many of the extensive public works projects undertaken during the 19th and early 20th centuries in order to bring pure water to the city of Boston.

The exhibit runs from September 10 through December 28, 2012 and can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Can't make it to the library? View the digital exhibit on the library's Flickr site!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Latest Census Information Released 1940 --- Find Your Family

The Census Department released individual records obtained in its 1940 Census. This was the first time that a random sample of the U.S. population was asked new questions in addition to standard questions (name, age, gender, race and education). Some of the new questions included: place of birth of one’s parents, mother tongue, veteran status, occupation, industry and the class of worker, whether or not there were Social Security deductions made from wages, and for all women who had been married more than once age at first marriage.

The Great Depression effects were measured by the questions asked in 1940. One’s income, highest level of school completed, and unemployment history were among those questions that were asked.

There were a total of 34 questions asked of all households and an additional 16 asked of the one in 20 sample.

The 1940 Census enumerators were told to visit every house, building, tent, cabin, hut or place where a person might be living. Publicity was by radio and newspapers as well as civic organizations. Results were in printed reports and state bulletins.

The Census is available online at: or at The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) which holds Census documents has a Boston office located at 380 Trapelo Road in Waltham. Their email address is: There is a toll free number: (866) 406-2379 and a local number (781) 613-0144.

The State Library invites you to view the materials on line in room 341 or room 442 on Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 5 pm.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Everything that’s Old is New Again: The State Library Then and Now

One of the most frequently asked questions when people visit the State Library in room 341 of the State House is: “What is that?” referring to a blue patch with a fleur de lis on the ceiling.

We have discovered through research that the design was on the entire ceiling in 1899. This image  originally published in the February 1899 issue of The New England Magazine shows the fleur de lis pattern on the ceiling. 

The pattern is three dimensional as shown in the image below and was rediscovered in the 1980’s by historians who wanted to know what was underneath the painted layers.

The part of the State House where the library is was built between 1889 and 1895 and was designed by architect Charles E. Brigham. If you get a chance, come to the State Library to see part of the historic ceiling in person.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian