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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 759

Papers of Margery C. Leonard, 1929-1990 (inclusive), 1944-1985 (bulk)


Correspondence and professional papers of Margery C. Leonard, lawyer, feminist and ERA activist.


  • Creation: 1929-1990
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1944-1985

Language of Materials

Materials in English; some letters in French.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Margery C. Leonard is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. 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.


7.08 linear feet ((17 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 oversize folder, 1 supersize folder, 5 photograph folders)

The collection includes correspondence; meeting minutes; annual conference programs; membership records; publications and publicity; and photographs. Many of Leonard's files contain a mix of correspondence and biographical materials or subject research that Leonard maintained, including voluminous letters that she wrote to politicians, both supporting and criticizing actions. The majority of Leonard's letters to politicians centered on attaining political support for the Equal Rights Amendment. Often, she received a standard acknowledgment of her inquiries; she stapled clippings to these single replies and placed these in individual folders. The archivist combined scant files of such letters into folders titled "politicians," arranged alphabetically, highlighting individuals in the folder description. In all other cases, original folder titles were retained. Folder titles for material that arrived loose or unlabeled were created by the archivist and appear in brackets. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].

Series I. PERSONAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL, 1929-1989 (#1.1-3.8), includes address books; clippings; daily planners; membership records; certificates; notebooks; wills; yearbooks; and other biographical materials. Most information in address books and planners appear to document professional contacts, engagements, and events. Notebooks contain to-do lists and random personal notes to self. Clippings and legal documents in this series may pertain to Leonard, her mother, or other members of the Shirley family. This series also contains folders about Leonard's general health, complications that arose from an accident she suffered at home, and legal papers surrounding the accident. Upon retiring from John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, Leonard became a landlord and this series contains leases as well as information about her tenants and experience as a landlord. Year books from both Brown and Boston University include inscriptions from classmates. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II. CORRESPONDENCE AND SUBJECT FILES, 1931-1990 (#3.9-17.17, PD.1-PD.5), includes correspondence, clippings, reports, and research for the National Woman's Party that Leonard generated and retained. The bulk of the series contains a mix of correspondence and subject files documenting Leonard's commitment to the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1958, Leonard was asked by Alice Paul to write a leaflet in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Paul had hoped that Leonard could frame the leaflet, titled "Questions and Answers," from a legal perspective. The majority of folders in this series relate to research on women's rights; folders containing clippings and correspondence that were likely undertaken for that pamphlet are annotated with [National Woman's Party]. In her correspondence, Leonard described her participation in the National Woman's Party as fraught with conflict and tension, specifically with Marjorie Longwell, whom Leonard believed had forced her out of the National Woman's Party and was undermining Alice Paul's efforts. Correspondence of note pertaining to the National Woman's Party includes Leonard's correspondence with Alice Paul about strategies to promote the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Letters exchanged with Nina Horton Avery (#4.7), Mary Birckhead (#5.1), Esther Cloward (#5.13), Alma Lutz (#11.1-11.2), and Marjorie Longwell (#10.9-10.11) discuss the interpersonal dynamics and perceived cliques within the National Woman's Party.

Additional correspondence documents her work as an attorney and title examiner for the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and her relationships with family members and friends. Of particular note is the voluminous personal correspondence Leonard exchanged with her mother. Also of note are letters exchanged with Jean Senecal and her family. The Senecals wrote detailed descriptions of their experiences and observations in England, France, Malawi and South Africa. Leonard's responses to letters provide a wealth of detail about Boston culture as well as her observations about African American, Hispanic, and Jewish communities. A longtime proponent of women's rights, Leonard's letters discuss her belief that political legislation guaranteeing equality for women should be prioritized over amendments, such as the civil rights, which legalized racial but not gender equality. Letters exchanged with her cousin, John Major Shirley, provide a detailed look into the family's conservative political and cultural ideals, discussing African Americans and Vietnam War protesters in pejorative terms. Correspondence with John Shirley and Pearl Shirley Wodeson discuss women's rights, health (especially Pearl's multi-year battle with cancer and the effects of chemotherapy and other treatments), current events, and cultural activities in Boston. Correspondence with Winifred ("Wyn") Shirley Berry discuss Shirley family genealogy, grandchildren, and other family members, including John Major Shirley; the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment; letters from Bonny Berry; difficulties of motherhood; cultural life in Boston; the death of Shirley Leonard (Margery Leonard's brother); life in Puget Sound area, Washington; life in Portland, Oregon; and Strawberry Software, a small business venture which was operated by women for women.

Leonard engaged in a dogged letter-writing campaign to politicians (both Republican and Democrat) and media outlets. Her letters attempted to convince political skeptics of the merits of ERA and praised ERA supporters. After retirement, her letters to newspapers and radio and television stations criticized inaccurate portrayals of the ERA and also criticized myriad other issues such as an individual journalist's poor reporting or grammar. Files containing material regarding her activity in this arena may include a combination of correspondence and subject-based or, in the case of politicians, biographical material; some files may contain only subject-based material. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series III. OVERSIZED, 1953-1963 (#FD.1, OD.1, SD.1), is the shelf list for oversized material found throughout this collection and listed in previous series.


One of three children born to Carolyn (Emory) Shirley and Edwin Leonard, Margery Chittenden Leonard was born in Agawam, Massachusetts, on January 5, 1907. As an adult, Leonard saw her only sister, Elizabeth B. Leonard, regularly; she also assumed legal responsibility for, and coordinated care of, her only brother, Shirley G. Leonard, who was mentally impaired. Throughout her life, Leonard remained especially close with her mother, with whom she maintained a prolific correspondence. Leonard earned a BA in History from Brown University in 1929. Upon graduation she worked as the secretary of a law firm for several years before enrolling in law school (1945). She continued to work as a secretary and pursued her J.D. in the evenings at Boston University, graduating in 1949. In 1953, Leonard became one of five women to successfully take the Massachusetts bar exam. That same year she joined the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company where she worked as an attorney and title examiner in the Law Abstract Division. Over the course of her career she was an active member of the American Bar Association and became a member of the federal and United States Supreme Court bars.

An avid follower of United States domestic policies, Leonard was a life-long champion of the Republican party and a great deal of her personal correspondence, especially with family, discusses politics. Despite her political and social conservatism, Leonard championed gender equity and became a tireless advocate of the Equal Right Amendment. Alice Paul, founder of the National Woman's Party, personally requested Leonard's help in collecting and writing the legal history of women's rights (and discrimination against women) at the state level. An enthusiastic admirer of Alice Paul, Leonard devoted decades to researching state laws pertaining to women in myriad issues, including the right to own property and the right to serve on a jury. She inundated politicians with letters demanding their support of the ERA and, as a volunteer with the National Woman's Party, she authored leaflets distributed by the group. Her major works, "Questions and Answers" and "Answers to Questions" (regarding the ERA), initially presented to the Senate, were revised and republished over the decades. Each work endeavored to convince men and women to support the ERA by presenting legal precedents. Leonard sometimes interpreted advances won in racial equality (such as civil rights) as conflicting with the goal of women's equality. She expressed her strong views colorfully, espousing attitudes that some might consider racist today. Leonard served as vice-chair of the National Woman's Party before a conflict with other members and disagreement with power dynamics ended her participation in the group. Despite severing ties with the National Woman's Party, Leonard remained an ardent supporter of women's rights. The International Federation of Women Lawyers appointed her as an official observer of the United Nations session on the Commission on the Status of Women held in Geneva in 1961. Leonard testified before Congress concerning the Equal Rights Amendment in 1971, the same year she retired from John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company.

Living in the Boston area for most of her life, Leonard's detailed letters reflect important city events and experiences and cultural trends. After retiring from John Hancock she continued to lobby on behalf of the ERA. She maintained a close relationship with members of the Shirley family and with friends, especially the Senecals, whom she traveled to Africa to visit. She died in 2001 without heirs.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1929-1989 (#1.1-3.8)
  2. Series II. Correspondence and subject files, 1931-1990 (#3.9-17.17, PD.1-PD.5)
  3. Series III. Oversized, 1953-1963 (#FD.1, OD.1, SD.1)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 96-M157

The papers of Margery C. Leonard were given to the Schlesinger Library by Margery C. Leonard's caretaker in 1996.


Donors: Margery C. Leonard

Accession number: 96-M157

Processed by: Marilyn Morgan

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:

  1. The Lucy Stone League Bulletin, 1961-1970
  2. Women's Liberation Newsletter, February 1970

Processing Information

Processed: October 2013

By: Marilyn Morgan with the assistance of Samuel Bauer.


Leonard, Margery C., 1907-2001. Papers of Margery C. Leonard, 1929-1990 (inclusive), 1944-1985 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by gifts from the Rosa Raisel Fund, the Class of 1958, and the Ardis B. James fund.

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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