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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 360

Papers of Mrs. William Lowell Putnam, 1887-1935


Correspondence, speeches, programs, etc., of Elizabeth Lowell Putnam, political activist, philanthropist, and pioneer in prenatal care.


  • Creation: 1887-1935

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


14.6 linear feet ((35 file boxes) plus 3 folio folders, 13 folio+ folders, 8 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, part of reel of microfilm (M-101).)

This collection documents Putnam's work in health care and politics through correspondence, speeches, letters to the editor, and clippings. The collection also contains pamphlets, programs, flyers, and other printed materials relating to the numerous organizations in which Putnam was active. Members of the Lowell family burned almost all personal letters and papers; there is therefore almost no family correspondence, and very little family information, in the collection.

Putnam's files were for the most part arranged alphabetically, either by her or by her two secretaries; the folder headings (which have been retained) are in some instances idiosyncratic. The portions of the collection that are chronological have been arranged by the processor except where otherwise noted. In most sections folder titles are Putnam's, and portions added by the processor are in square brackets. Most dates were added by the processor but do not appear in brackets.

Series I, Family papers and writings. This series is divided into three parts: biographical information and family papers; papers about Putnam's published books, including correspondence with publishers, reviews, and letters from readers; and political writings, both published and unpublished. Each section is arranged chronologically; except for portions in quotation marks, folder titles have been supplied by the processor.

Series II, Child and Maternal Health, is divided into seven parts: Milk; Women's Municipal League; American Association for the Study and Prevention of Infant Mortality; American Child Hygiene Association; Child Labor Amendment; Sheppard-Towner Act; and Fearing Research Laboratory.

Most, but not all, papers about milk document the activities of the Massachusetts Milk Consumers' Association. They are alphabetical, except for the last seven folders, which are arranged chronologically. Papers pertaining to the American Association for the Study and Prevention of Infant Mortality, the American Child Hygiene Association, and the Sheppard-Towner Act are arranged alphabetically.

Papers of the Women's Municipal League are divided into four sections: Committee on Infant Social Service; Committee on Pre-Natal and Obstetrical Care; other committees; and miscellaneous. Each section is arranged chronologically. Papers about the Child Labor Amendment and Fearing Research Laboratory are arranged chronologically.

Series III, Other Political Work, is divided into seven sections: Special Aid Society for American Preparedness; Coolidge Women's Club of America; Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary; Prohibition; American Bar Association; and miscellaneous.

Papers of the Special Aid Society are arranged alphabetically. The Coolidge Women's Club papers are divided into two alphabetical sections: the first section is arranged by state, the second by subject.

Papers about the Tercentenary are in two parts: Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary and the Committee on Racial Groups; both are arranged chronologically. Papers on Prohibition, the American Bar Association, and other work are arranged chronologically. The ABA papers were put in this order by Putnam.

Series IV, Scrapbooks. Putnam's scrapbooks contain articles, speeches, reports, letters to the editor, bulletins, pamphlets, clippings, notes, and radio broadcasts either by Putnam or about her activities with the organizations documented in Series II and III. They also contain a fair amount of material relating to Putnam's anti-suffrage work and material about local and municipal issues. The scrapbooks were arranged chronologically by Putnam.

Series V, Correspondence. Putnam's correspondence was divided by her or her secretaries into three parts: personal, business, and political. There is considerable overlap in subject matter among the three parts; correspondents in all three sections include friends, business associates, clubwomen, political colleagues, and politicians. All folders contain letters both to and from Putnam unless otherwise noted. The first section concerns Putnam's health, family, and hobbies but also includes details about her political work, notably club activities, Prohibition, suffrage, elections, medical work, and birth control. The second and third sections relate more closely to Series II and III. Putnam's business correspondence concerns charity work, the Boston Tercentenary, birth control, suffrage, the Republican Party, and various community service projects, as well as such personal business as household management and expenditures. Putnam's political correspondence largely documents her involvement in various Republican organizations.


Elizabeth (Lowell) Putnam, political activist, philanthropist, and pioneer in prenatal care, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. One of five children of Katherine (Lawrence) and Augustus Lowell, she was the sister of the poet Amy Lowell and Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell. In 1888 Putnam married William Lowell Putnam (1861-1924), a distant cousin and noted lawyer. The Putnams resided at 49 Beacon Street in Boston and spent their summers in Manchester by-the-Sea on the North Shore. They had five children: George, Katharine, Roger, Harriet, and Augustus; Harriet died from impure milk at the age of two.

Putnam worked primarily in the interest of child and maternal health. As chairman of the executive committee of the Massachusetts Milk Consumers' Association, she lobbied for milk inspection and purity laws. She also chaired the Department of Public Health and the Committee on Prenatal and Obstetrical Care of the Women's Municipal League of Boston, and served as president of the American Association for the Study and Prevention of Infant Mortality (AASPIM, later renamed the American Child Hygiene Association). All these organizations worked to educate the public on prenatal and infant health care. The first experiment in prenatal care, considered a great advance in preventive medicine, was conducted under Putnam's supervision from 1909 to 1914. In 1928 she founded and endowed the Fearing Research Laboratory for research on toxemia of pregnancy. Putanam's city home served as the offices of the Massachusetts Milk Consumers' Association and the Women's Municipal League.

A noted conservative, Putnam worked for the defeat of the Child Labor Amendment, the Sheppard-Towner Act (which called for federal protection of maternal health), midwifery, the Equal Rights Amendment, and Prohibition. Believing strongly that women's power lay in the private sphere, she was an avid anti-suffragist. She chaired the Education and Organizing Committee of the Women's Anti-Suffrage Association of Massachusetts, the largest committee of that organization. Following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, however, Putnam became an equally avid Republican, declaring that she was acceding to popular will. In 1920 she was elected president of the electoral college of Massachusetts, becoming the first woman to preside over a state electoral college. She served as national president of the Coolidge Women's Club of America and founded state branches of the club from coast to coast. In 1924 she was nominated as a delegate-at-large to the Republican convention; after yielding her place to a war veteran, she went to the convention as an alternate to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Putnam also held office or membership in the Republican Club of Massachusetts, the Republican City Committee, the Republican State Committee, and the Business and Professional Women's Republican Club.

During World War I, Putnam chaired the Relief Department of the Special Aid Society for American Preparedness, an organization set up to help families of American servicemen and to prepare the country in case of natural disaster. Putnam was later appointed by General LeRoy Sweetser to serve as the Acting Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In this capacity she founded the Women's Auxiliary of the Intelligence Bureau. After the war, Putnam headed the Foreign Section of the Adjutant General's office and worked with leaders of various ethnic groups, assisting immigrant communities in Massachusetts with employment, education, and recreation. In 1930 she chaired the Racial Committee of the Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary. Composed of representatives from various ethnic groups, this committee set up exhibits and presented international entertainment at the Tercentenary celebrations.

In addition to her tireless organizing and lobbying, Putnam published six books of poetry and prose. She died in 1935 after a two-year illness.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  4. Series IV. SCRAPBOOKS.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 84-M123, 84-M199

The papers of Elizabeth (Lowell) Putnam were given to the Schlesinger Library in July 1984 by Harriet Bundy Belin, one of Elizabeth Lowell Putnam's twenty-five grandchildren.


  1. Box 1: Folders 1-10
  2. Box 2: Folders 11-32v
  3. Box 3: Folders 33-47
  4. Box 4: Folders 48-61
  5. Box 5: Folders 62-85
  6. Box 6: Folders 86-127
  7. Box 7: Folders 128-142f+
  8. Box 8: Folders 143-163
  9. Box 9: Folders 164-182
  10. Box 10: Folders 183-194
  11. Box 11: Folders 195-207
  12. Box 12: Folders 208-232
  13. Box 13: Folders 233-248
  14. Box 14: Folders 249-255
  15. Box 15: Folders 256-279
  16. Box 16: Folders 280-297
  17. Box 17: Folders 298-313
  18. Box 18: Folders 314-335
  19. Box 19: Folders 336-357
  20. Box 20: Folders 358-373
  21. Box 21: Folders 374-392
  22. Box 22: Folders 393-413
  23. Box 23: Folders 414-427
  24. Box 24: Folders 428-436
  25. Box 25: Folders 437-445
  26. Box 26: Folders 446-450
  27. Box 27: Folders 451-464v
  28. Box 28: Folders 465v-466v
  29. Box 29: Folders 467v-477
  30. Box 30: Folders 478-511
  31. Box 31: Folders 512-533
  32. Box 32: Folders 534-549
  33. Box 33: Folders 550-587
  34. Box 34: Folders 588-601
  35. Box 35: Folders 602-619

Processing Information

Processed: January 1985

By: Martha Hodes

Putnam, William Lowell, Mrs., 1862-1935. Papers of Mrs. William Lowell Putnam, 1887-1935: A Finding Aid
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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