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COLLECTION Identifier: A-60: M-136, reels A2-A4

Papers of Molly Dewson, 1891-1962


Correspondence, writings, speeches, etc., of Mary "Molly" Williams Dewson, suffragist, reformer, and head of the Women's Division of the Democratic Party.


  • Creation: 1891-1962


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Access. Collection is open for research. Folders #1-59 are also available on microfilm M-136.

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.


1.46 linear feet ((3+/12 file boxes) plus 1 oversize volume)

The papers provide some information about Molly Dewson's education and family, particularly her mother, and document her many paid and volunteer activities: Women's Educational and Industrial Union, Massachusetts State Industrial Schools, woman suffrage, the American Red Cross in France (World War I) and International Social Service, Inc., the Consumers' League, minimum wage legislation, the Democratic Party, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's campaigns, and the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. There is little documentation of Dewson's childhood, adolescence, or her "partnership" with Polly Porter.

Series I, Personal and biographical, includes the following in the order listed: reminiscences of her mother, correspondence (general, employment related, autobiographical, personal), Wellesley College material, a travel diary and related correspondence, and clippings about Dewson.

Series II, Paid and volunteer work, includes correspondence, Dewson writings and speeches, programs, reports, personal Red Cross documents, minutes, publications, campaign literature, clippings, etc. It is arranged chronologically by subject or organization and within most of these categories. Papers documenting Dewson's work with the Democratic Party (the largest section), are arranged by type (correspondence, writings and speeches, other party documents, clippings, printed material), each type arranged chronologically; there is a small section for the Maine Democratic Party. Dewson's writings and speeches are filed with the organization or topic to which they pertain.

Dewson included explanatory notes with many of the papers. These are placed with the items to which they refer, or at the beginning of the file unit covering the subject she describes. Many letters in the collection, both to and from Dewson, are copies; some were made by her, some by others.

Most clippings were discarded after microfilming.


Mary ("Molly") Williams Dewson (February 18, 1874 - October 21, 1962) was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Elizabeth Weld (Williams) Dewson and Edward Henry Dewson. After earning an AB 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 G. ("Polly") Porter (1884-1972), a student at the Boston School for Social Workers, who 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 Porter had come to think of their friendship as a "partnership"; it was to last until Dewson's death.

After briefly (1913-1917) 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 Massachusetts woman's suffrage movement, and in the campaign of the National Consumers' League 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 1919 and 1938 they lived in New York City, spending summers at the Porter family's house in Castine, Maine. While Dewson was working in New York and Washington, D.C., and traveling, the independently wealthy Porter bred and raised Sheltie dogs at a kennel she owned in Georgetown, Connecticut.

By the late 1920s, Dewson became convinced that needed reforms could best be achieved 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, Dewson was appointed head of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. She is credited with securing important positions for many women in the Democratic Party and the Roosevelt Administration. She was appointed to the Social Security Board in 1937 but resigned the following year.

Dewson and Porter spent the early years of their retirement in Castine, Georgetown, and New York, but in 1952 established permanent residence in Castine, 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 (1961-1968), and Partner And I: The Life of Molly Dewson, New Deal Politician, by Susan Ware (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).


The collection is arranged in two series:

  1. I. Personal and biographical
  2. II. Paid and volunteer work

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 53-12, 59-33, 59-55, 59-66, 14, 36, 56, 159, 352. Accession number 2023-M151 was added to the collection in January 2024.

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library in 1953, 1959, 1960, and 1961 by Mary Dewson. The collection was reprocessed and microfilmed as part of a Schlesinger Library/University Publications of America project. Additional material was given to the Schlesinger Libary by the Castine Historical Society in October 2023.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital copies of the microfilm of this collection are available through the ProQuest online database History Vault: Women's Studies Manuscript Collections from the Schlesinger Library (Access restricted to subscribing institutions).

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 albums, 1861-1962 (M-120).

Container List

  1. Box 1: Folders 1-18
  2. Box 2: Folders 19-25, 27-38
  3. Box 3: Folders 39vo-40vo
  4. Box 4: Folders 41-42, 44-51, 53-60

Processing Information

Reprocessed: July 1991

By: Bert Hartry

Folder #60 was added to the collection in January 2024 by Johanna Carll.

Dewson, Molly, 1874-1962. Papers of Molly Dewson, 1891-1962: A Finding Aid: 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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