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COLLECTION Identifier: M-120

Albums of Molly Dewson, 1861-1962


Photographs, correspondence, clippings, etc., of Mary "Molly" Williams Dewson, suffragist, reformer, and head of the Women's Division of the Democratic Party.


  • Creation: 1861-1962


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Access. Available only on microfilm; use microfilm M-120.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Molly Dewson 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.


3 microfilm reels

In Partner And I: The Life of Molly Dewson, New Deal Politician, Susan Ware describes these albums as follows:

"These meticulously assembled compilations of photographs and memorabilia...document the life that Molly Dewson and Polly Porter shared for more than five decades....[T]he two women used the scrapbooks to portray the fullness of the world they inhabited together, a world that was predominantly (although not exclusively) peopled with other women. In the scrapbooks are their friends and acquaintances, their extended family circle, their professional colleagues, their dogs, and even their cows."

Although photographs, correspondence, and clippings make up the bulk of the material, such other items as invitations, programs, and campaign literature are also present. Ten volumes contain only photographs, but there are also photographs in the remaining 13. The correspondence consists mainly of Christmas and birthday cards, with some actual letters. Only a very few letters by Dewson are included; most are manuscript copies or drafts. Many clippings are obituaries of friends, colleagues, and others (most of them women) who participated in reform and political activities.

The albums provide information about Dewson's ancestors, childhood, student years, and political interests and involvement, and about Dewson's and Porter's travels, life in Castine, pets, friends, and families. There is, however, little documentation of the years 1897-1917 or 1920-28; albums covering these years are privately held by members of Porter's family.

The names and dates (not always quite accurate) on the albums were supplied by Dewson and Porter and in the inventory appear in quotation marks. The processor has arranged the volumes in two groups: photographs and memorabilia, with one titled "Everything" providing the link between the two. Within each group the arrangement of albums is chronological.

Researchers should note the following:

  1. 1. The inventory is not exhaustive, listing only some of the correspondents and some of the people shown in the photographs.
  2. 2. Greeting card writers are listed only if a substantial message is included.
  3. 3. Photographs of Dewson and Porter appear in nearly all the albums.
  4. 4. The albums include loose photographs and other loose items dated through 1967, but those dated after 1962, the year Dewson died, were not microfilmed.


Mary ("Molly") Williams Dewson (February 18, 1874 - October 21, 1962) was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, to Edward Henry Dewson and Elizabeth Weld (Williams) Dewson. After earning her A.B. degree from Wellesley College (1897), Dewson was hired as secretary of the Domestic Reform Committee of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union in Boston. She left this position in 1900 to become the superintendent of parole at the Massachusetts State Industrial School for Girls, Lancaster, where she remained until 1912. There she met Mary ("Polly") G. Porter (1884-1972). Mary G. Porter, a student at the Boston School for Social Workers, began an internship under Dewson's supervision in 1909. When her internship ended, she withdrew from school, choosing to remain at the Industrial School as a volunteer. By 1910, Dewson and Mary G. Porter had come to think of their relationship as a "partnership"; it was to last for 52 years.

After a brief stint running a small dairy farm with Porter, Dewson returned to reform work, a field that occupied her for the next two decades. She was particularly active in the woman's suffrage movement, and in the National Consumers' League's campaign to secure passage of minimum wage laws for women and children. During World War I Dewson and Porter spent 15 months with the American Red Cross's Bureau of Refugees in France. Between 1917 and 1938 the two women lived in New York City, spending summers at the Porter family's house in Castine, Maine. While Dewson was working in various reform movements, the independently wealthy Porter bred and raised Sheltie dogs at a kennel she owned in Connecticut.

By the late 1920s, Dewson became convinced that needed reforms could best be accomplished from within organized political parties; she therefore initiated efforts to increase the number of women active in the Democratic Party. She organized women to work in Alfred E. Smith's presidential campaign (1928); and for Franklin D. Roosevelt's New York State gubernatorial race (1930), and his subsequent bids for the presidency. In 1933, thanks to the influence of Eleanor Roosevelt, her political ally and personal friend, she was appointed to head the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. She is credited with securing leadership positions for many women within the Democratic Party and the Roosevelt Administration. In 1937 she was appointed to the Social Security Board, but she resigned from the position the following year.

Dewson and Porter spent the early years of their retirement in Castine, Georgetown (Connecticut), and New York, but eventually established permanent residence in Castine (1952), where Dewson died in 1962.

For additional biographical information, see Notable American Women: The Modern Period (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980), Who Was Who in America (1961-68), and Partner And I: The Life of Molly Dewson, New Deal Politician, by Susan Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These albums were lent to the Schlesinger Library for microfilming by Virginia (Weis) Bourne, Mary Dewson's grandniece, granddaughter of her sister Ellen. The albums, which fill three record center cartons and one folio box, were filmed with the support of the Friends of the Schlesinger Library in August 1988.


All dates and other information added by the processor are in square brackets.

Volume pages were numbered by the processor to aid the microfilmer, the proofreader, and researchers. Blank pages were not numbered.

The film was proofread by the processor and corrections made where necessary. These corrections appear at the end of each reel.

The condition of some of the volumes and items made microfilming very difficult. The paper is brittle, some pages are loose, other volumes tightly bound. Some photographs are faded, some out of focus, and others in color. Many captions are faded (some are illegible) or are partially missing due to broken page edges. The color of the paper (black or gray) added to the technical difficulties.

In some cases captions that are legible in the original albums are not legible on the film. Researchers should inquire about transcriptions of these captions.

Some pages and items are torn; some photographs had been removed before the volumes were loaned to the Schlesinger Library.

Loose items that obviously belonged where they were found were filmed there. Other loose items were filmed at the end of the volume in which they were found.

Many pages had to be filmed more than once for one or both of the following reasons: 1. The presence of folded and/or multiple-paged items, such as Christmas cards, clippings, or programs. 2. Postcards or photographs that were hinged to make the text on the reverse side accessible.

  1. 1v-12v: Reel 1
  2. 13v-19v: Reel 2
  3. 20-23vf: Reel 3

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Molly Dewson papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1915-1960 (M-136, reel A1; WRC) and Molly Dewson papers, 1893-1962 (A-60; M-136). The original albums are owned by the Castine Historical Society, Castine, Maine.

Processing Information

Processed: August 1987

By: Bert Hartry and Susan von Salis

Dewson, Molly, 1874-1962. Albums of Molly Dewson, 1861-1962: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women
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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