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Why Mass.’s role in the suffrage movement is often overlooked

Lucy Stone, who is the most important Massachusetts women’s suffragist, and her allies supported the 15th Amendment.Friends of Walpole Public Library

The fight for gender equality is far from over. The Women’s March has become a yearly installment, and a multitude of social media movements encourage women to speak out against sexism and other concerns.

But as activists fight new battles, the country has a reason to celebrate: the 100th anniversary this summer of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote.

To learn about our state’s influence on the historic effort, Metro Minute contacted Barbara Berenson, author of “Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement: Revolutionary Reformers.” Berenson, a Newton resident, spoke at the Suffrage Centennial Kickoff Celebration on Tuesday at Faneuil Hall.


Where were some of Massachusetts’ key contributions?

Boston was the home of an entire critical national wing of the movement called the American Woman Suffrage Association. It was the home of the most significant suffrage newspaper, the Woman’s Journal. It was the birthplace of the College Equal Suffrage League. [It was founded by Radcliffe College graduates Maud Wood Park and Inez Haynes Irwin to encourage younger university and high school students to join the cause.]

[Massachusetts] is also where a number of new tactics that were critical to the movement were piloted for the first time, such as open-air campaigns. Those are essentially suffragists taking the show on the road to reach audiences where they might be.

What surprised you about the movement’s history in Massachusetts?

The story was more important than what I had realized. What I’ve explored is why that story has been unfairly neglected by history. One reason is because women in Massachusetts were not enfranchised until the 19th Amendment was ratified. We were not one of the states that acted before the Constitution.

The other reason was that there was a schism over race early in the suffrage movement, right after the Civil War, after the 15th Amendment [which granted African-American men the right to vote]. Lucy Stone (above), who is the most important Massachusetts women’s suffragist, and her allies supported the 15th Amendment. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton refused to support it because women were left out. That led to a schism, and two competing organizations were formed. During those years of schism, Stanton and Anthony wrote a one-sided account of the history of the women’s suffrage movement that minimized the role of Lucy Stone and her allies.


What can we learn from the movement?

They never gave up, they never abandoned hope, even though it took 80 years. Sometimes in our world, we often despair if change isn’t rapid. While I would love to see all change as rapid, we learn the value of never ever despairing and never ever giving up.

Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at