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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 394: T-53: T-70: T-177: Phon 14

Papers of Florence Luscomb, 1856-2001


Papers of architect, suffragist, and political activist, Florence Luscomb.


  • Creation: 1856-2001

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted, except for folder #201, which is closed until January 1, 2025. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Florence Luscomb 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.


10.5 linear feet ((21 file boxes, 2 half file boxes, 1 card file box, 1 folio box) plus 1 filmstrip box, 5 audiotapes, 5 slides, 49 photograph folders, 5 folio folders, 6 folio+ folders, 6 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder)

The Luscomb papers are comprised largely of material from the many organizations in which Luscomb was involved, although they also include family and personal papers. The bulk of the collection is in series III. Additional materials received in 2015-2016 (accession numbers 2015-M140, 2015-M184, and 2016-M40) were added to the collection in February 2017. These materials are housed in Series IV (#426-460m). An audio recording of Luscomb's memorial service (#461at) was added to Series IV in November 2022. All other files remain in the same order.

Folder #201 is CLOSED as noted in the inventory, and has been temporarily removed from the collection.

Although no one subject is thoroughly documented here, the collection provides an overview of the myriad of activities and organizations in which a radical "progressive" was involved throughout the twentieth century. There is little material pertaining to Luscomb's emotional or private life, in part because she was immersed in her causes: her friends were fellow activists, their social gatherings were meetings, and they communicated by phone or in person, rarely through letters.

Many of Luscomb's pre-1959 papers (some pertaining to suffrage and her political candidacies, as well as some correspondence) are in the Luscomb series in the Woman's Rights Collection.

Series I, Personal and family, #1-114. The personal papers include personal documents (membership cards, appointment books, etc.), biographical and autobiographical material (including taped interviews), photographs of Luscomb, some MIT material, awards and honors, and records re: housing, travel, and finances. Other photographs of Luscomb may be found throughout the collection. Further information on Luscomb's international travel may be found in Series III.

Family papers include a diary of Luscomb's great-grandmother, and papers of her mother and brother. Most noteworthy is the correspondence between Luscomb and her mother (#89-96), Hannah Skinner (Knox) Luscomb, who is referred to in the collection by the initials she used: HSL.

Series II, Correspondence, #115-184. The correspondence in this series relates to both Luscomb's private and public life; letters to and from friends are rarely without social commentary. Most letters are to Luscomb; letters from her are mainly to Hannah Skinner Luscomb, Laurence Todd, or Walter O'Brien and family. For the later years there are drafts written on the backs of papers pertaining to her activities. There is also correspondence in Series III, arranged by the issue or organization to which it pertains.

Much of the correspondence (#115-132) is arranged chronologically, covering the 1910s-70s. Letters from relatively well-known people or those particularly important in Luscomb's life appear in alphabetical order following the chronological sequence. As noted in the inventory, the alphabetical section also contains obituaries and photographs.

Series III, Social and political activism, #185-425, is arranged in seven subseries, each of which contains pamphlets, flyers, leaflets, Luscomb's notes for speeches, speeches by Luscomb and others, writings by Luscomb and others, correspondence, clippings, notes, brochures, and photographs; some also contain membership lists, mailing lists, financial records, and minutes from organizations, and Luscomb's journals. Carbon copies of quotations, articles, letters, etc. indicate that Luscomb often distributed such materials to friends because they provided information not available in the mainstream press. Luscomb's writings (including articles, speeches, notes for speeches, and pamphlets) were dispersed in this series according to the subject matter or the group for which they were written.

Many leaflets and pamphlets throughout the collection may have been written by Luscomb, but only those marked "by Luscomb" are included in the following list of folders containing writings (including articles, speeches, notes for speeches, and pamphlets) by Luscomb: #8-9, 11, 40, 185-89, 193, 206, 212-14, 217-19, 221, 225, 227, 236, 239-41, 244-45, 256-57, 259, 262-63, 266, 269f+, 272-73, 275, 277, 279, 281-83, 291, 295, 310, 322, 328, 330-33, 342, 347, 351, 356-57, 360, 362-65, 367-68, 370, 375, 379-80, 384-85, 387, 395, 403-04, 409.

IIIA, General, #185-203, contains miscellaneous and unidentified subjects. Some mailing lists are in this subseries because they are not identified or because Luscomb reused the same lists for a variety of causes; others are with the records of specific organizations or causes. Folder headings in quotation marks were used either by a previous processor or by Luscomb herself. Folders for which original restrictions have expired were added to the collection in November 2009.

IIIB, Women, #204-228, covers Luscomb's suffrage activities, including the diary of her 1911 trip to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance Conference, and her involvement in the women's movement of the 1970s, in the form mainly of speaking engagements and honors. Some material pertaining to women and women's issues appears in the other subseries of Series III; see cross-references on page 20.

IIIC, Electoral politics, #229-244, includes material from Luscomb's own four political candidacies, about the Progressive Party from 1947 to 1956, and from other candidacies Luscomb supported.

IIID, Race relations, #245-255, provides an overview of Luscomb's interests in this area but little substantial documentation of her activities. Only records from the Boston Scottsboro Defense Committee are fairly complete.

IIIE, Labor, #256-273, consists of union material (some of which Luscomb may have written) and other material documenting her support for labor and for the issues organized labor faced, particularly in the mid twentieth century.

IIIF, Peace and International Affairs, #274-378, is arranged by region or event, and then chronologically. More general organizations and activities, and those with little material, are arranged chronologically (#351-378). There is little pertaining to Women's International League for Peace and Feedom (WILPF).

IIIG, Civil liberties and democracy, #379-423, consists mostly of material regarding the anti-"communist" investigations of Luscomb and others in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (CLUM) and other Massachusetts activities are also covered. There are five folders (#419-423) of papers that appear to have belonged to Edwin B. Goodell, Jr.; there is no indication as to why they are here.

Series IV, Addenda, #426-461at, was received from Joy Harvey, Julia O'Brien-Merrill, and Barbara Brown between 2015 and 2016, and contains writings, speeches, correspondence (mostly from the 1970s), etc. Only a sampling of fundraising appeals was kept. Also included is correspondence of Walter O'Brien towards the end of Luscomb's life and after her death.


Florence Hope Luscomb, life-long social and political activist, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on February 6, 1887, the daughter of Otis and Hannah Skinner (Knox) Luscomb. Her father, an unsuccessful artist, and her mother, the daughter of a Republican Congressman from St. Louis, separated when Luscomb was one and a half. An inheritance from her maternal grandmother enabled Hannah Skinner Luscomb to contribute to and support labor, women's rights, and suffrage organizations, as well as to raise Luscomb alone. Luscomb's older brother, Otis Kerro Luscomb, apparently lived with their father.

After attending a private secondary school (Chauncy Hall), Luscomb graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an S.B. in architecture in 1909. She was a partner in Ida Annah Ryan's architectural firm until 1917, when, because of the World War I building slump, she left architecture to become executive secretary for the Boston Equal Suffrage Association. Luscomb was renowned among suffragists for giving open-air speeches and selling the Woman's Journal as a "newsboy" on the Boston Common. After 1920, she held paid executive positions in the Boston League of Women Voters, the Massachusetts Civic League (concerned with prison reform), the Joint Board of Sanitary Control (policing factory safety), and the Massachusetts branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She lived with her mother until Hannah Skinner Luscomb died in 1933, at which time Luscomb decided to stop working for pay so that she would not take jobs away from those who needed them. She extended her radical volunteer activities and became a full-time social and political activist. From the 1950s to the mid 1970s, she lived in cooperative houses, usually with people approximately half her age. Luscomb spent nearly every summer from the 1940s to 1970s at the cabin she designed in Tamworth, New Hampshire, and was an active member of the Appalachian Mountain Club.

In the early 1920s Luscomb began to serve on the boards of civil rights, civil liberties, and other organizations; over the next five decades these included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Boston), the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the American League for Peace and Democracy, and many others. In addition to picketing for several labor organizations, she helped organize and was president of a Boston local of the United Office and Professional Workers of America.

Luscomb ran for public office at least four times, each time unsuccessfully. Although she lost a race for Boston City Council in 1922 by less than one percent, it appears that her later candidacies were intended to educate voters and expand the two-party ballot; she probably did not expect to win. She was a candidate for the United States House of Representatives in 1936 on the People's Labor Party ticket and again in 1950 with the Progressive Party. A leader of the Progressive Party in Massachusetts and a consultant in Maine, she rejoined the ticket for the 1952 Massachusetts gubernatorial race.

Luscomb's philosophy was somewhat pragmatic and shaped by the issues in which she was involved. She saw herself as guided by American democracy and its cornerstones: civil liberties and equality. Although proud of her Yankee heritage, Luscomb did not confine herself to defending the rights of people like herself. She also believed that capitalism interferes with true democracy because it wrests power from the people and places it in the hands of an unelected elite. Although she advocated civil liberties for citizens of other countries, she recognized that each nation's political system is its own; she was staunchly opposed to every type of imperialism. These beliefs and the radical activities in which she was involved led to several encounters with "witch hunts" (see, for instance, "Witch Hunts I Have Seen," #404). Although never a member of the Communist Party (as she refused to be held to any "party line"), Luscomb opposed anti-communist investigations as "fascist" attempts to curtail dissent and in the 1950s concentrated her activities on stopping them.

Luscomb first considered herself a "citizen of the world" in 1911, when she journeyed through England and to Berlin to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance Conference. In 1934 she traveled in Ireland and Scotland and returned there the following year on her way to the Soviet Union. Although the State Department refused to issue her a passport in the 1950s, she went to Cuba in 1961. Her world trip the following year included China, then off limits to United States citizens; her passport was temporarily confiscated. In 1975 Luscomb attended the World Congress of International Women's Year in Berlin.

Luscomb's social activism came full circle in the 1970s when the burgeoning women's movement called on her as a frequent speaker. Despite her new status as "foremother," she remained involved in current issues, such as the Vietnam War and school busing in Boston. She encouraged the new movement to encompass the needs of all kinds of women. As she had earlier reminded union audiences that labor included women, in the 1970s she reminded feminists that women included poor and Black women.

In 1980, after living with her friend Dorothy Colby, Luscomb moved into the Emerson Convalescent Home in Watertown, where she died in 1985 at the age of 98.

For further biographical information, see two pieces by Sharon Hartman Strom, "Leadership and Tactics in the American Woman Suffrage Movement: A New Perspective from Massachusetts," Journal of American History, 62 (September 1975): 296-315, and "Florence Luscomb: For Suffrage, Labor, and Peace," in Moving the Mountain: Women Working for Social Change, edited by Ellen Cantarow (New York: Feminist Press, 1980), 4-51; and interview with Luscomb by Brigid O'Farrell, in The 20th Century Trade Union Woman: Vehicle for Social Change, Oral History Project (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1978), OH-2 in the Schlesinger Library. Researchers should also see #633-643b of the Woman's Rights Collection (WRC). Those interested in Luscomb's activity in the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts should consult their papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. I. Personal and family (#1-114)
  2. II. Correspondence (#115-184)
  3. III. Social and political activism (#185-425)
  4. IV. Addenda, 1862-2001 (#426-461at)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 77-M168, 79- M177, 79-M180, 79-M198, 79-M207, 79-M245, 79-M272, 80-M11, 80-M21, 80-M44, 80-M163, 81-M25, 81-M115, 81-M125, 81-M242, 82-M105, 83-M111, 84-M34, 84-M72, 85-M276, 85-M277, 86-M56, 86-M107, 86-M108, 87-M175, 87-M206, 2015-M140, 2015-M184, 2016-M40. Accession numbers 2015-M140, 2015-M184, and 2016-M40 were added in February 2017. Accession number 2022-M40 was added in November 2022.

This collection was given to the Schlesinger Library between 1977 and 2016 by Florence Luscomb, Walter O'Brien, Dorothy Colby, Joy Harvey, Julia O'Brien-Merrill, and others, and by Barbara Brown (administrator) and Betty Gittes (executor).

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Florence Luscomb papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1904-1959 (M-133, reel D26; WRC 633-43), Florence Luscomb additional papers, 1888-1988 (MC 625; T-177), and Florence Luscomb's interview with Brigid O'Farrell in the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (University of Michigan--Wayne State University). Program on Women and Work oral history project transcripts, 1970-1978. (OH-2).

Container list

  1. Box 1: 1-11, 13-14, 18-19
  2. Box 2: 20, 22, 24-26, 38-40, 44-45, 47, 50, 52-53, 55-56, 59, 61-62v
  3. Box 3: 63-65, 69-70, 73, 78-88
  4. Box 4: 89-99, 101-107v
  5. Box 5: 108-111, 115-126
  6. Box 6: 127-150
  7. Box 7: 151-68, 170
  8. Box 8a: 171-79, 181-82, 184-92
  9. Box 9: 193-95, 197, 199, 203-206, 209-10, 212-15, 217-18
  10. Box 10: 219-22, 224-25, 227-30, 231-37, 239-246
  11. Box 11: 247-66, 268, 270-73
  12. Box 12: 274-77, 279-84, 291-99
  13. Box 13: 300-11, 313-18
  14. Box 14: 319, 321-31, 333, 335-37
  15. Box 15: 338-44, 346-48, 350-63
  16. Box 16: 364-375, 377-89
  17. Box 17: 390-407
  18. Box 18: 408-10, 412, 414-23, 425
  19. Box 19: check stubs
  20. Box 20: 196, 198, 200, 202 (formerly closed folders)
  21. Box 21: 428-439
  22. Box 22: 440-448
  23. Box 23: 449-453
  24. Folio box 24: 46m, 454m, 455m, 456, 457m, 458m, 459m, 460m

Processing Information

Processed: August 1989

By: Kim Brookes

Updated and additional materials added: February 2017 and November 2022

By: Anne Engelhart and Johanna Carll

Luscomb, Florence, 1887-1985. Papers of Florence Luscomb, 1856-2001: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
These papers were processed with a grant from Clara Goldberg Schiffer.

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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