The Mary Eliza Project: Ward 12 Voter Records Now Available
In August of 1920, the month that Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment, the women of Boston began registering to vote. Women registered by the thousands, and on October 13, 1920, the last day to register before the 1920 presidential election, over 50,000 Boston women had registered to vote.
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 have just finished transcribing the registers for Boston's Ward 12!
In 1920, Ward 12 covered the eastern part of Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. Over 1100 women from Ward 12 registered to vote between August and October of 1920.
Transforming the Ward 12 Women Voters Registers into a dataset gives us new information and insights into the lives of Roxbury's women. While most of the women who registered to vote in Ward 12 were born in Massachusetts, we found almost 130 Irish born women voters. We also found significant numbers of women from Canada's Maritime provinces and England as well as women born in Sweden, Germany, Eastern Europe, and Scotland.
Ward 12 women voters had a wide variety of occupations. We found musicians, seamstresses, stenographers, telephone operators, department store workers, shoe factory workers, and even two Anglican nuns! Behind each voter registration entry, there is a story!
Fifty-one year old Sara Selby missed the October 13 deadline to vote in the 1920 presidential election but registered about a month later on November 24, 1920. Sara lived at 3 Woodville Street and listed her occupation as a "teacher." Sara's registration caught our eye because she provided her own naturalization information rather than providing a male relative's naturalization information. Typically women received their citizenship status from either a husband or a father, so Sara being naturalized on her own accord is a little unusual. We looked up Sara's teaching record to find out more.
Sara's teaching record reveals that she began teaching for Boston Public Schools in 1903. She was already an experienced teacher when she started teaching in Boston's school system. Her record shows that she taught in St. John's, Newfoundland for at least two years before emigrating to the United States. Since she emigrated to the United States as an adult and didn't marry, she was free to pursue naturalization on her own rather than having to obtain her American citizenship through a husband or father. In addition to revealing information about when she moved to the United States, her record notes her special interest in "vocal and instrumental music, ancient history, and the study of the poets."
Alice McEttrick's entry also caught our attention. Alice lived at 436 Dudley Square and listed her place of work as the South End Library. Unlike Sara Selby, 33-year-old Alice hadn't ventured far from home, listing her place of birth as Roxbury. The 1920 List of Officials and Employees records that Alice began working for the City of Boston 18 years earlier, in 1902. By 1920, she had been at her position at the South End Library since 1906.
This photo of the South End Library shows an employee telling stories to neighborhood children. Could it be Alice?
Sara and Alice's stories are just two of the many stories waiting to be uncovered in Boston's Women Voter Registers. Dive into the dataset and let us know what you find!