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The Mary Eliza Project: Boston Women Voters in 1920

We’re making a searchable database of the more than 50,000 women who registered to vote in Boston in the months after they gained voting rights from the Nineteenth Amendment (1920).

Whether your interest is in genealogy or mapping, statistics, or storytelling, we hope you will follow our progress and make use of these rich sources!

About the project

Boston's first women voters included:

  • housewives, factory workers, office and sales clerks
  • immigrants who had naturalized as U.S. citizens
  • Black women from the South and the Caribbean, and
  • twentysomethings and octogenarians.

These new voters were a cross section of the many different women who lived in Boston. All of them were making history by claiming their right to vote. Their records help fill in family histories as well as:

  • Boston and Massachusetts history
  • women’s history, and
  • the history of political participation in the U.S.

This project transcribes 160 handwritten volumes of General Registers of Women Voters from the City of Boston (August to October 1920). The transcribed data will be available to the public as a fully searchable and sortable excel spreadsheet.

We will also be researching people and places connected to the voter registrations. This includes some of the women voters themselves, and telling their stories here along the way.

We named this digital initiative The Mary Eliza Project in honor of Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926). The pioneering African American nurse and civil rights activist is one of the many Boston women who registered to vote in 1920. 

The Mary Eliza Project began in 2021 as a collaboration between the Boston City Archives and Simmons University. Special thanks to Dr. Laura Prieto, Alumni Chair in Public Humanities and the Gwen Ifill College in Media, Arts, and Humanities at Simmons for funding research, writing, and the transcription of records for Wards 6, 8, and 13. This partnership continues to develop and supports public programming, events, research, and writing that focuses on the transcribed voter registrations. A collaborative digital exhibit will follow after the transcriptions are complete.

Moving forward, ongoing transcription of the Women's Voter Registers is supported by a grant from the Community Preservation Act and overseen by the Boston City Archives.

Mary Eliza Mahoney
Mary Eliza Mahoney, circa late 1800s

View the dataset

The City Archives has 160 voter registers, organized by historical City ward. Thus far in the project, we have transcribed the registers for Wards 1- 6, 8, and 10-15,, and 17-18, and 21. This covers parts of Back Bay, South End, Roxbury, East Boston, South Boston, Charlestown, and Dorchester. 

Use the Dataset

You can see the ward boundaries and maps using our digitized ward maps. 

View Ward Maps

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