The Mary Eliza Project: Ward 11 Voter Records Now Available
In 1920, after the passage of the 19th Amendment, Boston's women registered to vote by the thousands. The 1920 Women's Voter Registers now live at the Boston City Archives and document women's names, addresses, places of birth and occupations. Sometimes women provided additional information about their naturalization process to become a US citizen, including where their husbands were born because in 1920, a woman's citizenship status was tied to her husband's nationality.
The Mary Eliza Project, named after African American nurse, civil rights activist, and Boston voter Mary Eliza Mahoney, is transcribing these valuable handwritten records into an easily searchable and sortable dataset. We've recently finished transcribing the Ward 11 registers and have added them into our dataset. Transforming the Ward 11 Women Voters Registers into a dataset gives us new information and insights into the lives of women in northern Dorchester. The ward map below shows the boundaries of Ward 11.
Most Ward 11 women voters were born in Massachusetts, but we also found large numbers of women born in Ireland and Canada. Women born in Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, Norway, Poland, and more also make an appearance.
Ward 11 women voters were working as stenographers, teachers, book binders, bookkeepers, librarians, housekeepers, factory workers and more. Behind each voter registration entry, there is a story!
We decided to dig into the story of Helen Warren. Twenty-three year old Helen Warren lived at 14 St. Margaret Street in Dorchester. On August 20, 1920, she registered to vote. She listed her occupation as a teacher at the High School of Practical Arts in Roxbury.
We wondered what more there was to Helen's story. The voter register also told us that she was born in Dorchester and had lived at 14 St. Margaret Street the year prior. The two women directly ahead of her in line, Caroline and Helen MacLean, were also Boston Public School teachers. We wondered if she knew them and if they chatted while they waited to register together.
To learn more about Helen, we looked her up in the City Archives' Teacher Qualification Records. These records document information about Boston's public school teachers including their education and employment history.
Helen's record showed that before she was a teacher at the High School of Practical Arts, she was a student, graduating in 1915. She immediately transitioned into working at the high school. The following year, 1916, the high school hired her as an assistant. Her area of expertise and instruction seemed to be sewing and dressmaking.
In 1920, Boston's schools often trained students in practical, vocational skills, as well as academics. Classes such as sewing, millinery, cooking, drafting, and carpentry were offered at schools like the High School of Practical Arts, the Trade School for Girls, and the High School of Mechanical Arts. Helen Warren would have been one of many Boston women who received a vocational education through the Boston Public School system.
Helen's story is just one of many waiting to be uncovered in Boston's Women Voter Registers. Dive into the dataset and let us know what you find!