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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 404

Papers of Margaret Foley, 1847-1968 (inclusive), 1909-1929 (bulk)


Correspondence, photographs, clippings, speeches, etc., of suffragist Margaret Foley.


  • Creation: 1847-1968
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1909-1929


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Originals closed; use microfilm (M-133. reels D5-8) or digital images.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Margaret Foley 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.


2.04 linear feet ((1 carton, 2 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 3 folio folders, 2 folio+ folders, 3 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder)

The bulk of the collection dates from 1909-1929. Most of the papers were Foley's, but some may originally have belonged to Helen Elizabeth Goodnow. While they are a good source of information about the suffrage activities of Foley and other suffragists in a variety of states, the papers provide very little information about Foley's other paid work, personal life, or family, or about her activities after 1925. Folder titles in quotation marks were apparently Foley's; others were supplied by the processor.

Series I: Personal, family, employment, 1847-1938 (#1-22), consists of professional and some personal correspondence, photographs, financial records, calling cards, tickets, minutes, proposals, reports, clippings, and memorabilia, providing somewhat fragmentary information about Foley's work as a city official, and about her personal and professional interests and activities besides suffrage. The correspondence in #1 is that of the donor's family and perhaps Helen Elizabeth Goodnow's. Employment and related work, such as anti-vaccination and Foley's work as a trustee for children in Children's Institutions Department in Boston, Massachusetts, is arranged chronologically. Documents from Foley's anti-vaccination files include correspondence with Massachusetts state legislators on a non-compulsory vaccination bill. Most material related to Foley's work as a trustee for children in Children's Institutions Department concerns the Suffolk School for Boys, Rainsford Island. To protect the privacy of former students and staff of the Suffolk Boys School on Rainsford Island, and former foster parents for the City of Boston, #16 was not filmed, and researchers wishing to use this folder at the Schlesinger Library must sign a special form.

Series II: Correspondence/subject files, 1902-1926, 1963, undated (#23-54), consists mainly of correspondence but also contains clippings, leaflets, greeting cards, and two sketches. These files pertain to Foley's suffrage and professional work between 1910 and 1926 and include some personal correspondence. Foley received letters from Jane Addams, Alice Stone Blackwell, Alice Paul, Dr. Ben Lewis Reitman, and Anna Howard Shaw. Letters from Massachusetts Congressman George Holden Tinkham are found throughout the collection (#47-48, 52, 70). Because it appears that Foley herself organized #23-51, the folders and their contents (originally housed in letter boxes) were not rearranged by the processor; items found clipped, folded, pinned, or held together with rubber bands remain together. These folders are arranged alphabetically. The arrangement is inconsistent: correspondence from the mayor's office, for example, is filed under "Boston," "Curley," and "Mayor." State suffrage campaigns appear here alphabetically under the names of states, in addition to the material in Series III.

Series III: Suffrage, 1903-1921, 1928, undated (#55-124m+), consists of correspondence, photographs, diaries, notebooks, clippings, suffrage speeches, programs, a scrapbook, memorabilia, and material that Foley and others used in their suffrage campaigns, such as maps, flyers, leaflets, permits, pamphlets, and financial records. This series contains cartoons that include suffrage, anti-suffrage, and women elected officials, including Jeannette Rankin, as subjects. Material related to Foley's work as chair of the Margaret Brent Suffrage Guild includes correspondence, membership lists, constitution, by- laws, and papers from other Catholic suffrage organizations. Documents from Foley's "Southern trip" include correspondence, itineraries, and accounts. The memorabilia include posters, banners, sashes, flags, buttons, badges, and a map. This series extensively documents Foley's work as a suffrage organizer and speaker, and suffrage campaigns in many states, particularly Massachusetts.

Some datebooks (#57-58) were dismantled for preservation purposes. The clippings in 59-66o came to the library organized in three groups (59-62o, 63, 64-66o) and remain that way even though their contents overlap considerably. In addition to the few speeches and speech notes, newspaper clippings are a source for the texts of some of Foley's speeches. Clippings also contain information about Foley's activities and her ideas on why women should be able to vote and how suffrage work should be done.

In 1917, while working in New York, Foley collected letters to her, and other items, and sent the material in batches to her sister Celia (#87-89); it seems likely that Foley collected and forwarded material during other trips in a similar fashion.

Most clippings were discarded after filming.


Suffragist Margaret Foley (one source only gives her the middle name Lillian) was born on March 19, 1875, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the daughter of Peter and Mary Foley. She had a sister Celia. Foley grew up in Roxbury, then an Irish-American neighborhood, and graduated from Girls' High School in Boston. To finance voice lessons, Foley worked in a union hat factory until a family matter called her to California and ended her aspirations as a singer. While in California she taught swimming and gymnastics at resorts. After Foley returned to Boston she put her voice to work for the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, which employed her from 1906 to 1915 as a speaker and manager of organization work. She was also active in the Margaret Brent Suffrage Guild, a Massachusetts Catholic organization, and was its state chairman of organization in 1919.

Foley and other young Massachusetts suffragists, inspired by the militant tactics used by English suffragettes, undertook open-air speaking tours in 1909. A member of the Hat Trimmers' Union and later of the Boston Women's Trade Union League, Foley was probably the only participant in these early tours with a working-class background (see page 310 of the article by Sharon Hartman Strom cited below). The tension between Foley and the middle- and upper-class women she worked with may have been a result of class differences; some of them termed her--perhaps affectionately, perhaps not--a "trouble-maker."

In the summer of 1911 Foley and Florence Luscomb attended the International Woman Suffrage Alliance convention in Stockholm and spent a month in London studying English suffrage tactics. Later that year, after she and others trailed Republican candidates through Western Massachusetts publicly questioning their suffrage views, newspapers added "heckler" to the long list of words used to describe her. Foley and Teresa Crowley, as members of Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association's legislative committee, held debates about suffrage with candidates and elected officials.

In 1912, Foley began traveling to other states to help organizations campaign in critical referenda and elections. She also went on a number of speaking tours around the country. In 1912 she and Florence Luscomb spent several months in Ohio. Between 1913 and 1918 Foley spent time in Nevada, Pennsylvania, New York, and other states. Usually National American Woman Suffrage Association paid Foley's travel expenses, while local organizations provided living expenses and assumed her Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association salary. In 1916 The Woman's Journal sponsored Foley's extensive "Southern Trip," which included Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Minnesota (Mississippi Valley Suffrage Conference), Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri (Sixth Biennial Convention of the National Women's Trade Union League of America), and Kentucky. Foley promoted The Woman's Journal, sold copies and subscriptions, and gave suffrage speeches. Helen Elizabeth Goodnow apparently accompanied her on part of the trip.

In addition to her suffrage work, Foley was Trustee for Children in the Children's Institutions Department of the City of Boston, 1913-1920. During that time she lobbied for a bill that would make vaccination of children non-compulsory, and was involved with issues surrounding the Suffolk School for Boys on Rainsford Island. From 1920 to 1926 Foley was deputy commissioner of the Child Welfare Division in the Institutions Department of the City of Boston. She remained active in local politics and in 1936 worked for Robert E. Greenwood's campaign for United States Senate.

Virtually no information is available about Foley's family or her life after the mid 1920s. Foley never married and probably lived with her long-time friend and fellow suffragist Helen Elizabeth Goodnow for many years. For biographical information about Helen Elizabeth Goodnow, see the Margaret Foley and Helen Elizabeth Goodnow Collection (MC 405) in the Schlesinger Library. For more information about Foley's place in Massachusetts suffrage history, see 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.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. I. Personal, family, employment, 1847-1938 (#1-22)
  2. II. Correspondence/subject files, 1902-1926, 1963, undated (#23-54)
  3. III. Suffrage, 1903-1921, 1928, undated (#55-124m+)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 81-M58, 81-M72

The papers of Margaret Foley were given to the Schlesinger Library in February and March 1981 by Mary Goodnow White (niece of Foley's friend, Helen Elizabeth Goodnow); in April and July 1967, January 1969, and October 1973 by Leo R. O'Neill; and in January 1990 by Foster M. Palmer. The collection was microfilmed as part of a Schlesinger Library/University Publications of America Project.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Papers of Margaret Foley and Helen Elizabeth Goodnow, 1882-1965 (MC 405); Margaret Foley Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1911-1924 (WRC 62-64af); Margaret Foley Papers, 1888-1957 (A/F663); and Margaret Foley Additional papers, 1900-1974 (MC 840).

Container List

Container List

  1. Carton 1: Folders 1-3, 7-11, 13-38, 40-61
  2. Box 2: Folders 63-65, 67-74, 76-81
  3. Box 3: Folders 83-85, 87-89, 92-100, 102-107, 109-110
  4. Box 4: Folders 111-113, 116-119

Processing Information

Processed: October 1990

By: Kim Brookes

Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers of Margaret Foley, 1847-1968: 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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