Our History

Two women standing side by side
Fredie Kay, left, and Martha Coakley, right, in 2010 at our first event - a screening of Iron Jawed Angels, which commemorated the 90th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Massachusetts Women’s History Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization that works to engage the public about the fight for equitable rights of ALL women and marginalized populations in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts historically and today.  Through education, the arts, events and convenings, our goal is to inspire greater civic participation to secure equity and equality for all. MWHC began in 2010 when then-Attorney General Martha Coakley wanted to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Aware of attorney Fredie Kay’s strong interest in women’s issues, the Attorney General asked Fredie if she was interested in creating a commemoration. Not only was she interested, but Fredie also had a long-standing passion for the value of sharing the largely unknown history of the women’s suffrage movement. She believed that if more people understood the 70+ year battle - including being jailed and violently mistreated for peacefully demonstrating so that women could obtain the vote - the more they would appreciate and exercise their right to vote. Fredie began by working with Attorney General Coakley to create a committee of representatives from a range of Massachusetts organizations that might be interested in participating. 

The response was terrific and in 2010, eighteen organizations became the committee creating a 90th Anniversary Celebration of the 19th Amendment.  Nearly 300 people attended the commemoration, which included a screening of the movie Iron Jawed Angels at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater in the Institute for Contemporary Art. The next summer in 2011, the Committee (then known as the Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Celebration Committee, later becoming Suffrage100MA) worked with the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, The Boston Parks & Recreation Department, and the City of Boston Women’s Commission, creating a combined event. On Women’s Equality Day, Aug. 26, 2011, many joined Mayor Thomas Menino and Angela Menino to honor and unveil a plaque recognizing the privately owned Swan Boats for its enormous contribution as an iconic landmark to enjoy in the heart of the City of Boston since 1877,  unveil a new Boston Women’s Heritage Trail Map, honor the Boston Women’s Memorial - AND commemorate Women’s Equality Day, August 26, which recognizes the adoption of the 19th Amendment.  That was the first of what has become a Suffrage100MA - and now will be a MWHC - annual Women’s Equality Day event near the Swan Boats. 

Swan Boats.
Swans on the Swan Boats wearing their Votes For Women sashes on Women's Equality Day.

Did you know there is a feminist story about the Swan Boats?! A year after Robert Paget launched his wonderful Swan Boat in the Public Garden in 1878, he tragically died at the age of 42,  leaving his wife, Julia, a widow with four children and no income. She decided to take over running the Swan Boats, but the Boston business community - run, of course, by white men - was not keen on women running companies and therefore required her to obtain signatures of support from local business owners for years, which she did - preserving for 30+ years!  Fourth generation Pagets run the Swan Boats today!

Julia Paget’s story highlights the barriers women faced to do what they wished with their lives. Voting was a key to unlocking those limitations. Suffrage100MA commemorated the stories of the remarkable 72+year effort of the suffragists, including the tireless work and essential contributions of women of color, who were often excluded by white women’s suffrage organizations, and whose role in the suffrage movement has been largely overlooked.

In 2024, Suffrage100MA transitioned to become the Massachusetts Women’s History Center (MWHC) with its flagship program the Massachusetts Women’s Hall of Fame (MWHOF)! The MWHC and MWHOF are building on Suffrage100MA’s work telling the inclusive stories of the suffragists, and expanding to share inspiring historical and educational information on the important contributions made and challenges endured by Massachusetts women of all backgrounds from throughout the Commonwealth, in all fields of endeavor over the centuries!  Thank you for joining us on this journey to share more stories of the contributions of Massachusetts women to inspire us - young and old alike! Thank you for joining us on this journey to greater equity for all.