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A-60; M-136, reels A2-A4

Dewson, Molly, 1874-1962. Papers of Molly Dewson, 1893-1962: A Finding Aid: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: A-60; M-136, reels A2-A4
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Dewson, Molly, 1874-1962
Title: Papers of Molly Dewson, 1893-1962
Date(s): 1893-1962
Quantity: 1 linear feet (1 carton) plus 1 oversize volume)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, writings, speeches, etc., of Mary "Molly" Williams Dewson, suffragist, reformer, and head of the Women's Division of the Democratic Party.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 53-12, 59-33, 59-55, 59-66, 14, 36, 56, 159, 352
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.

Processing Information:

Reprocessed: July 1991
By: Bert Hartry

Conditions Governing Access:

Access. Originals are closed; use 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.

Preferred Citation:

Molly Dewson Papers, 1893-1962; item description, dates. A-60, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

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).


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:


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.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Age discrimination--United States
Boston (Mass.)--Social life and customs--19th century
Companionate marriage
Europe--Description and travel
Friendship--United States
Juvenile delinquency--United States
Maine--Politics and government
Minimum wage--Maine
Minimum wage--United States
Politics, Practical--United States
Single women
United States--Officials and employees
Voyages and travels
Women--Education (Higher)
Women--Employment--United States
Women political activists--United States
Women--Political activity--United States
Women--Suffrage--United States
Women's rights--United States
World War, 1914-1918--War work--Red Cross
World War, 1914-1918--Women
Abbott, Grace, 1878-1939
Allen, Florence Ellinwood, 1884-1966
American Red Cross in France
Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964
Armstrong, Florence A. (Florence Arzelia), 1884-1962
Bingham, Barry, 1906-1988
Brandeis, Louis Dembitz, 1856-1941
Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston, 1866-1948
Briggs, Le Baron Russell, 1855-1934
Coffin, Frank M. (Frank Morey), 1919-2009
Consumers' League of New York City
Democratic National Committee (U.S.). Women's Division
Democratic Party (Me.)
Democratic Party (U.S.)
Eastman, Julia A. (Julia Arabella), 1837-1911
Evans, Elizabeth Glendower, 1856-1937
Farley, James A. (James Aloysius), 1888-1976
Frankfurter, Felix, 1882-1965
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library
Furman, Bess, 1894-1969
Fuster, Marie E.
Hickok, Lorena A.
International Social Service
Kelley, Florence, 1859-1932
Kendall, Elizabeth Kimball, 1865-1952
McAllister, Dorothy S.
Muskie, Edmund S., 1914-1996
National Consumers' League
Norton, Mary Teresa, 1875-1959
Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955
Putnam, Elizabeth Cabot, 1836-1922
Reed, Stanley Forman, 1884-1980
Richmond, Mary Ellen, 1861-1928
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919
Schlesinger, Arthur M. (Arthur Meier), 1917-2007
Stantial, Edna Lamprey
State Industrial School for Girls (Lancaster, Mass.)
Stebbins, Lucy Ward, 1880-1955
Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972
Tully, Grace G.
United States. Social Security Administration
Van Kleeck, Mary, 1883-1972
Vieillot, Marie Thérèse, 1888-1985
Wellesley College
Williams, Elizabeth Weld, 1836-1912
Women's Educational and Industrial Union (Boston, Mass.)
Woolley, Mary Emma, 1863-1947