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COLLECTION Identifier: A/A1825

Papers of Barbara Ackermann, 1978-1979


Correspondence, legal documents, legislation, clippings, etc., of American politician Barbara Ackermann.


  • Creation: 1978-1979

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Barbara Ackermann, as well as copyright in other papers in the collection, may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


1 folder

The papers of Barbara Ackermann mainly document her lawsuit to halt the distribution of matching state funds in her 1978 campaign for Massachusetts governor. The papers include correspondence, affidavits, complaints; memorandum and legislation; clippings; and related research. There is some biographical material and papers related to fundraising efforts.


American politician and activist Barbara Hulley Ackermann was the first woman to serve as Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was born on March 1, 1925, in Stockholm, Sweden, to Joan and Benjamin Hulley. Her father was an American foreign service officer and the family lived in Sweden, Ireland and France. In 1941 the family returned to the United States and settled in Connecticut where Ackermann attended local schools. She graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC, and earned a BA in Greek and Latin from Smith College in 1945. Soon after graduation, she married Paul K. Ackermann, who was a conscientious objector during World War II, and later a Professor of German Literature at Boston University. From the mid-1940s through the early 1960s, Ackermann held various jobs, including proofreader for the Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, teaching English at the Harvard Extension School, and working as a translator. She was also a freelance writer. The couple became Quakers eventually moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they raised their two children, Richard and Joan.

In 1962, Ackermann's work on the local Parents Teacher Association led her to join the Cambridge, Massachusetts, School Committee. She was responsible for ensuring equal access to school services, which included meeting the needs of children with learning disabilities and providing occupational education. Ackermann began her political career in 1968 when she was elected to the City Council. During this period she chaired and supported committees with far-reaching impact, including transportation, affordable housing, health and hospitals, food distribution centers, and crime control. She played an important role in establishing the Cambridge Commission on Women and from 1972 to 1973, served as Cambridge's first woman mayor. In addition to her work on the City Council, Ackermann was involved in many social justice issues and was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.

In 1978, Ackermann campaigned as a Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor but ran into difficulties with campaign finance laws. Citing discriminatory practices used against candidates with limited funds, she filed a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to halt distribution of $50,000 in matching state funds awarded to her opponents Edward J. King and Michael Dukakis. Despite her efforts, she was unable to have the law suspended and all parties agreed to dismiss the case. Despite this setback, Ackermann continued to work with disadvantaged communities and promote various social causes. Barbara Ackermann died at the Kimball Farms Nursing Home in Lenox, Massachusetts, in July, 2020. Tributes established in her honor include the Barbara Ackermann Health Clinic for her work in making health care more accessible, and the Barbara Ackermann room in Cambridge City Hall in recognition of her successful term as Mayor.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 82-M257

The papers of Barbara Ackermann were given to Schlesinger Library by her former attorney, Ellen Schwartz, in December, 1982.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see the portrait of Barbara Ackermann, (PC 596-1-3 ).

Processing Information

Processed: January 1983

Susan Noz

Updated and additional description added: March 2021

By: Emilyn L. Brown, with assistance from Susan Earle

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit. Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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