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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 882: Vt-280

Papers of Donna M. Finn, 1971-2014


Correspondence, writings, notes, projects, and master's thesis of Donna Finn, Boston-based activist and co-founder of the Dorchester Women's Committee.


  • Creation: 1971-2014

Language of Materials

Materials in English. Some material in Spanish.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Donna M. Finn is held by Kimberly Finn (born 1966) during her lifetime. Upon her death, copyright will be transferred to 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.


10.43 linear feet ((25 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 2 folio+ folders, 1 oversize folder, 4 photograph folders, 7 videotapes)
.123 Megabytes (1 file)

This collection documents the personal and professional life of Donna Finn. The documents include correspondence, reports, fliers, an oral history project, Finn's master's thesis, grant applications, photographs, videotapes, writings, and speeches. These records highlight the connections between Donna Finn, who was politically active for most of her adult life, and the people who ran Boston's various community organizations. Donna Finn co-founded the Dorchester Women's Committee, two support groups for inmates and their families, and was involved with many other community organizations that supported women in need, the homeless, school desegregation, and anti-war activities. Finn's activism led her to become life-long friends with anti-poverty activists Kip Tiernan and Fran Froehlich; their correspondence is found throughout the collection. This material also documents the strategies used by local Boston political activists in the 1970s through 1990s, while engaging in work on a number of issues: poverty, social justice, how development affects local neighborhoods, racial unity, criminal justice and prisons, domestic violence, and anti-war protests. This collection also includes material related to the founding, organizational structure, and history of the Dorchester Women's Committee. Finn's original folder headings were maintained; titles in brackets were created by the archivist.

Additional material received in 2018 (2018-M180) was added to the collection in November 2018. These materials are housed in #25.5-25.11, PD.4, Vt-280.7. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numerical, order.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND EDUCATION, 1977-2014, n.d. (#1.1-7.11, 25.5-25.6, E.1), includes correspondence, resumes, scholarship applications, awards, poems and articles by Finn, speeches, letters of recommendation by and for Finn, reports, an oral history interview, Finn's master's thesis, and datebooks. Much of the correspondence is related to Finn's master's degree in American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston (#1.4-1.6, 4.10-5.3). Finn's thesis project is split into two pieces: the thesis itself, "Celebrating Loud-Mouthed Women: a Contextualized Analytical History and Archive of Dorchester International Women's Day, 1978-1997" (#6.2-6.4), and the accompanying oral history project, "Loud-Mouthed Women: A History-Telling" (#5.4-6.1). This series also includes Finn's datebooks, which contain snippets of information regarding Finn's personal life, including appointments, errands, travel plans, and favorite TV shows. Electronic records were received on one 3.5" disk. The disk was imaged using FTK Imager and Duke Data Accessioner. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, DORCHESTER WOMEN'S COMMITTEE, 1978-2011, n.d. (#7.12-21.7, 25.7-25.10, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1), includes correspondence, reports, grant applications, fliers, notes, evaluations, memoranda, truth sheets, pamphlets, articles, writings, membership lists, mailing lists, sign-up sheets, and other material related to the Dorchester Women's Committee and its multiple related organizations. The Dorchester Women's Committee was formed in 1979, by Finn and several other members of the Planning Committee for the Dorchester International Women's Day, in order to build an ongoing women's organization that reflected the composition of the Dorchester community, in regards to race, class, nationality, and age. This series is arranged in three subseries.

Subseries A, Administration, 1979-2011 (#7.12-15.5, 25.7-25.9), includes correspondence, meeting minutes and agendas, reports, grant applications, fliers, notes, evaluations, memoranda, membership lists, mailing lists, sign-up sheets, and other material related to the administration of the Dorchester Women's Committee. Correspondence includes notes of thanks from other organizations for donations from the Dorchester Women's Committee, and from individuals for support from the Dorchester Women's Committee. This material includes an evaluation of the Dorchester Women's Committee conducted in 1993 for the Research Project on Funding for Women and Girls' Programs (#14.8). This subseries also contains Boston-area activist Cassie Schwerner's dissertation, "Sing a Song of Justice: Identity Politics and the Struggle of Multi-cultural Organizing," which discusses the Dorchester Women's Committee and multicultural organizing (#8.10). Awards received by the Dorchester Women's Committee include one from the Boston Women's Fund for the Committee's dedication to social change (#8.1). The Dorchester Women's Committee relied on grants and donations for its income, and applied to the same institutions repeatedly. The related applications, reports, and correspondence can be found in this subseries, and offer an in-depth look at the Dorchester Women's Committee's programs from year to year. This subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries B, Dorchester International Women's Day, 1978-2003 (#15.6-18.10, 25.10, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.2), includes evaluations, skits, correspondence, memoranda, notes, and speeches related to the planning and executing of the Dorchester International Women's Day. The records found in this subseries document the amount of work and organizing required to host this annual event. Materials from the first Dorchester International Women's Day in 1978 include the welcome speech, which was written by Sandra McCleary on pink paper; this speech was used from year to year, and was referred to as the "pink speech" (#15.9). The format of the Dorchester International Women's Day varied from year to year. Often, the event included forums, workshops, cultural fairs, entertainment, and a anti-war rally. Boston-area activists often gave the welcome or closing speech during these celebrations. This material also includes transcripts of the "Kitchen Table Conversations" skit that was performed for the 1989 celebration (#16.9). Much of the correspondence regards fundraising for each event, and can be found throughout this subseries. This subseries also contains evaluations filled out by participants of the Dorchester International Women's Day, which provide a sense of how the community enjoyed the celebration. This subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries C, Programs, 1979-2003, n.d. (#18.11-21.7, OD.1), includes correspondence, reports, notes, memoranda, fliers, membership lists, minutes, budgets, and other material related to the programs run and supported by the Dorchester Women's Committee. Topics of correspondence include letters to politicians against the reintroduction of the death penalty in Massachusetts, anti-racism, and funding for community organizing. The folder titled "Events" contains fliers for multiple events run by or for the Dorchester Women's Committee (#19.1). The Dorchester Women's Committee attempted to be multicultural in their programs and literature; many of their fliers are in English and Spanish. Material relates to the other groups founded by the Dorchester Women's Committee, including the Green Lite Safe House Network (#20.3); Women's Collaborative for Building and Development (#20.15-21.1); and the Women's Writes Collective (#21.4).

This subseries also includes documents from the Grass Roots Network for Peace and Justice, founded after the start of the 1990 Gulf War, as a resource and information sharing space for Boston-area organizers and organizations (#19.16-20.2); as well as from the Dorchester Women's Committee's "Women: Help Stop Abuse" booklet, which they distributed in eight languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Khmer, Haitian Creole, and Cape Verdean Creole, in order to reach a wider array of women from the Dorchester area (#20.13). These records also contain material related to the Community Organizing Fundees Network, which sought to find solutions for community organizers seeking grant money (#18.11-18.12). This subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Series III, ORGANIZATIONS AND PROFESSIONAL WORK, 1971-1999, n.d. (#21.8-25.4, 25.11), includes fliers, memoranda, by-laws, correspondence, notes, financial records, reports, and other material related to Finn's activism and professional life. Finn worked for and with many of Boston's community groups, including the Boston Jobs Coalition (#22.3), domestic violence shelter Casa Myrna Vazquez (#22.4), and the Fields Corner Community Organizing Project (#23.9). Documents and other material from The People First (#25.1, 25.11), and the Families and Friends of Prisoners (#23.8) represent Finn's origins in activism. Finn was among the former members of The People First who founded the Dorchester Community News after the group disbanded in 1973 (#23.3). Also found here are documents from the classes that Finn taught at the New Hampshire College School of Human Services (#24.6-24.9), and the Institute for Community-Based Computers, Inc. (#24.1). These records contain material related to Finn's work with the Dorchester - Columbia Point Task Force, which studied the impact the University of Massachusetts, Boston's campus at Columbia Point would have on the surrounding area's transportation and housing (#22.10-23.2). This series also includes records of Finn's paperhanging business (#25.2), as well as the cooperative farm in Maine that she belonged to (#25.3).This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS AND AUDIOVISUAL, 1983-1994, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.4, Vt-280.1-Vt-280.7), includes photographs and videotapes removed from throughout the collection. This series includes images from an open house hosted by the Dorchester Women's Committee; images from Dorchester International Women's Day; and the unveiling at Boston City Hall of a teen dating violence poster. The photographs are arranged to mirror the series above. The videotapes are of various Dorchester International Women's Day celebrations, and features interviews, skits, speeches, and other performances from throughout the day. The 1991 celebration includes an interview with Kip Tiernan. The videotapes are all VHS, and are arranged chronologically.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


Donna Marie (Stancato) Finn was born on November 3, 1946, to Mary Lapchis Stancato in Boston, Massachusetts. The Stancato family moved to Boston's Dorchester neighborhood in 1960. In 1964, Finn graduated from the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, Massachusetts. After high school, Finn worked as a switchboard operator for the New England Telephone Company, at the Tufts New England Medical Center, and for Robie Ford Auto Sales in Dorchester, Massachusetts. In 1965, Donna Finn married James Finn, Jr.; they had one daughter, Kimberly. In 1970, Donna and James's marriage ended in divorce.

Finn's career as a community activist began in 1970, through anti-Vietnam War protests organized by The People First. The People First, which was founded by former members of Students for a Democratic Society, was a community group that opened a food distribution co-op in Dorchester, fought corruption in the court system, and arranged anti-war rallies. The People First also published a self-titled newsletter in order to teach the wider Boston community how to build and run effective community organizations, and how to reach beyond the relatively small group of people involved in local activism. After The People First disbanded in 1973, Finn and several other members founded the Dorchester Community News, which reported on issues such as the court system, high taxes, and busing to desegregate the Boston Public School system. The newspaper continued to be published until 2007.

In 1973, Donna Finn co-founded the Families and Friends of Prisoners and the related Massachusetts Coalition for Alternatives to Prisons. These two groups worked to keep the families of prisoners together, and to educate the larger community about the impact of prisons and juvenile institutions on families. In 1974, the two groups started the Coalition for Organizational Survival and Employment (COSE); other members of the coalition were the Boston and Cambridge Bail Fund, the Coalition to Stop Institutional Violence, and the Dorchester Youth Alliance. COSE's long-term strategy was to develop local small businesses that would both create jobs for unemployed ex-inmates, as well as generate income to support COSE's member organizations.

In 1975, Finn earned a certificate in community organizing from the Action for Boston Community Development, Inc., and a certificate of participation from the Youth Project Grass Roots Fundraising Project in 1977. In the fall of 1977, Donna Finn began commuting from Boston to New Hampshire College in Manchester, New Hampshire, to earn her bachelor's degree from the School of Human Services; she graduated in 1981.

In the winter of 1977, Finn and several other activists were invited to join a larger group of women from around Boston who were planning an International Women's Day celebration in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which was to be titled "Basta la Repression." The group of women from Dorchester (Eileen Bisson, Janet Connors, Christine Maguire, Sandy McCleary, Pat Rackowski, Catherine Russo, Linda Zwickert, and Donna Finn) decided that this original celebration was too radical to garner much support throughout Dorchester, and subsequently convened their own planning committee to host the first Dorchester International Women's Day. On March 11, 1978, the first Dorchester International Women's Day was celebrated by approximately 300 women at the Grover Cleveland School in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1979, after the second Dorchester International Women's Day, Finn and several other members of the Planning Committee formed the Dorchester Women's Committee, in order to build an ongoing women's organization that reflected the composition of the Dorchester community in regards to race, class, nationality, and age. Their mission was to eliminate prejudice and discrimination against women; to sponsor and celebrate International Women's Day yearly; to provide women and children of the community the space and resources to address issues relating to community women; to be a balanced multiracial and ethnic group of neighborhood women working for racial harmony and a better quality of living in the community; and to build alliances with other agencies and groups to further these goals. The Dorchester Women's Committee founded many other groups, including the Green Lite Safe House Network, the Subcommittee on Heating or Eating (S.H.E.), Women's Collaborative for Building and Development, and the Women's Writes Collective.

From 1981 to 1983, Finn was an adjunct professor for the School of Human Services program she had graduated from at New Hampshire College. Classes Finn taught included "The Politics of Prisons," "Introduction to Human Services," and "Networking for Social Change." In 1983, Finn joined the newly formed Institute for Community-Based Computers, based in Durham, New Hampshire, which was a non-profit business dedicated to making computers both affordable and accessible to human service agencies, community development organizations, and cooperatives. The group offered workshops on hardware and software selection, training, and installation.

In January 1982, Paul McGrath, an acquaintance of Finn's, attempted to break into Finn's apartment with a rifle. In the struggle, the firearm was discharged; McGrath was shot in the stomach, and later died. Finn was arrested on a charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, but was subsequently not indicted by a grand jury. Later in life, Finn came out as a lesbian, and lived with her partner and fellow activist Tino Edwards for several years.

From 1986 to 1991, Finn was a Boston Housing Authority consultant for its Tenant Task Forces. She was responsible for providing technical assistance related to contract negotiations and the desegregation of Boston Public Housing in South Boston. During the same time period, Finn ran her own wallpapering business, called Shorty's Wallpapering.

In 1991, the Dorchester Women's Committee received a $25,000 grant from the Boston Foundation. This money, along with smaller grants from other organizations, allowed Finn to become the first paid employee of the Dorchester Women's Committee. This full-time staff position allowed Finn to expand the membership base of the Dorchester Women's Committee, engage in long-term planning, and produce printed material in multiple languages, such as Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and Haitian Creole. These printed materials, including domestic violence and abuse prevention booklets, allowed the Dorchester Women's Committee to reach Hispanic women, Asian women, and other women of color within Boston's poorer communities. In 1994, the group opened the Center for Neighborhood Women and Girls, and Finn was supported by a small volunteer staff. The Center enabled the Dorchester Women's Committee to expand their information resources for women and girls in the community, provide monthly opportunities for women and girls to come together and discuss political issues, to offer voter education and registration, and provide classes on women and health.

In 1997, Finn entered the University of Massachusetts, Boston, to earn a master's degree in American Studies. Finn was proud of her Italian, working class background, and had a desire to educate and involve all of Boston's white working class in the movement for social justice. While taking classes, Finn worked in the Labor Resource Center on the University of Massachusetts, Boston, campus. In 1998, her mother, Mary Stancato, was diagnosed with liver cancer. Finn interrupted her education to care for her mother at home, finally returning to the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in 2001. Finn had completed the course requirements for graduation, with the exception of a final project and her master's thesis. She was allowed by her professors to use an independent study to complete the final project and master's thesis. Finn's independent study project, an oral history titled "Loud-Mouthed Women: A History-Telling," had been conducted in 1999. For this oral history, Finn interviewed seven members of the Dorchester Women's Committee, including her daughter Kimberly Finn. Finn graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in 2003; her master's thesis, titled "Celebrating Loud-Mouthed Women: A Contextualized Analytical History and Archive of Dorchester International Women's Day, 1978-1997," was finished in 2007.

In 2003, Finn and several other Boston area women were featured in Catherine Russo's documentary film, A Moment in Her Story: Stories from the Boston Women's Movement.

Donna Finn died on June 18, 2015, from lung disease.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and education, 1977-2014, n.d. (#1.1-7.11, 25.5-25.6, E.1)
  2. Series II. Dorchester Women's Committee, 1978-2011, n.d. (#7.12-21.7, 25.7-25.10, FD.1, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1)
  3. Series III. Organizations and professional work, 1971-1999, n.d. (#21.8-25.4, 25.11)
  4. Series IV. Photographs and audiovisual, 1983-1994, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.4, Vt-280.1-Vt-280.7)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2012-M170, 2015-M113. Accession number 2018-M180 was added in November 2018.

The papers of Donna M. Finn were acquired by the Schlesinger Library from Donna M. Finn in September 2012, and from Kimberly Finn in July 2015. Additional material was given to the Schlesinger Library by Susan Jacoby in 2018.


Donors: Donna M. Finn and Kimberly Finn

Accession number: 2015-M113

Processed by: Cat Lea Holbrook

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

  1. Casa Myrna Vazquez, December 1983; March 1984
  2. Dis Ah Hard Wuk, by Women in Caribbean Agriculture Research Project, 1989
  3. Dizon Fanm A Yisyen [Haitian Women Speak], October 1994
  4. Dorchester Women's Committee Newsletter, issues 1-6, 1996-1999; January 2001
  5. GreenLite Newsletter, September 1979; October 1980

Processing Information

Processed: November 2016

Updated and additional materials added: November 2018

By: Cat Lea Holbrook, with assistance from Caitlin Walker and Margaret Dalton.

Genre / Form



Finn, Donna M., 1946-2015. Papers of Donna M. Finn, 1971-2014: 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 Zetlin Sisters Fund and the Jane Rainie Opel '50 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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