The Mary Eliza Project: Ward 4 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 4 registers and have added them into our dataset!
In 1920, Ward 4 covered the eastern part of Charlestown, as show in the map above. Over 1400 women living in Ward 4 registered to vote in the summer and fall of 1920.
Almost 1/3 of the women who registered to vote in Ward 4 were born outside of the United States. The vast majority of these foreign-born women (over 75%) were born in Ireland, but we also found women born in Russia, Canada, Germany, Sweden, England, and even New Zealand!
Forty-five year old Agnes McAuliffe registered to vote on October 4, 1920. Agnes seems to have hailed from a family of travelers. Although Agnes gave her place of birth as New Zealand, her father was born in Ireland and was naturalized in the Boston US Circuit Court in 1878, when Agnes would have been only three years old. As a single woman with a naturalized father, Agnes had to produce his naturalization papers to claim her right to vote.
Agnes wasn't alone in producing male relatives' naturalization paperwork to election clerks. Hannah Barry, only a few women ahead of Agnes in the registration line, gave her husband, Edward's, naturalization papers to the Election Clerk. Both Hannah and Edward were born in County Cork, Ireland, but only Edward was naturalized through the courts. Because of a 1907 law linking a woman's citizenship status to her husband's nationality, Hannah gained her citizenship status through her husband's naturalization.
Over half of the women who registered to vote in Ward 4 worked outside of the home. While many women worked in domestic service and factories, we found occupations from bookbinders to artists to accountants. We even found a "goldleaf layer!" We also found women employed at the Charlestown Navy Yard.
The Naval Act of 1916 created a naval reserve force and allowed for white women to work at naval yards. While women could not join the regular navy, white women could join the Naval Reserve Force as a "yeoman (f)." The Naval Reserve Force excluded Black women.
Alice G. Driscoll registered to vote on October 11, 1920. Navy Yard records show that she enlisted as a Yeomen (F) at the Navy Yard on September 19, 1918 at the age of 20. By the time she registered to vote, the ranks of women at the Navy Yard would have been decimated. Many women were discharged from the Naval Reserve Force in November 1918 when World War I ended. By October 24, 1920, just two weeks after Driscoll registered to vote, all Yeomen (F) enlistments ended. Some women did continue to work at the Navy Yard in civilian positions, which may be why Driscoll gave her occupation as "Bookkeeper" rather than listing herself as a yeoman. You can read more about Alice G. Driscoll and other Yeomen (F) women who registered to vote in this article from the National Park Service.
This new addition to our dataset holds many stories waiting to be uncovered! Dive into the dataset and let us know what you find!