The Petitions of Dr. Harriot K. Hunt

Boston physician and women’s rights activist Dr. Harriot K. Hunt spent over twenty years writing yearly petitions to the City of Boston Tax Assessors' office. Many local and regional newspapers published her petitions, granting Hunt and her words widespread attention. Despite this publicity, it appears neither the city nor the state took direct action as a result of Hunt’s letters.

In these petitions, Hunt protested the unjust laws and restrictions that prevented women from becoming full and equal citizens. Her words demonstrate a clear understanding of the past and a recognition of the current world in which she lived.

See below for a selection of transcribed petitions.


In October 1852, Harriot Hunt submitted her first petition after seeing a naturalized male Irish immigrant obtain citizenship and, thereby, the right to vote. In the following letter, Hunt’s prejudice towards certain male populations heightens her feelings regarding the injustice done towards women. Hunt also outlines another grievance of hers: the limited educational opportunities for girls in the city.

front page of Hunt's 1853 petition
The first page of Harriot K. Hunt's 1853 petition.

Boston City Archives


Hunt’s second petition features similar arguments as her first; in this letter, however, she makes direct connections between women’s fight against an unjust government with that of the Founding Fathers almost eighty years earlier. She also references the 1853 Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, during which several women appealed to the Convention to address women’s rights issues.


In her 1861 petition, Harriot Hunt recognizes the current turmoil of the Civil War and uses this moment as a chance to reflect and question the country’s founding principles, which, she argues, must be extended across both race and sex. Furthermore, Hunt holds men responsible for the instition of slavery, the Civil War, and the ongoing impediments to women’s equal citizenship.

Beginning of Hunt's 1864 petition from the Liberator
Selection of Hunt's 1864 petition as published in The Liberator.

The Liberator, December 23, 1864.


Hunt’s 1864 petition contains the most optimism as she looks towards the final months of the Civil War. The emancipation of African Americans gives her hope for a reformed society following the war, one in which the founding principles will be realized and women will be ensured the rights they deserve.

Questions to Consider

  1. What arguments does Harriot Hunt give for women’s right to vote?
  2. In what ways does Hunt connect the women’s rights movement to the American Revolution? To the Abolitionist Movement?
  3. How does the Civil War influence Hunt’s point of view?
  4. Compare her 1852 and 1864 petitions. How are they similar, and how do they differ?


[1] Transcribed from: Harriot K. Hunt, Glances and Glimpses; or, Fifty years social, including twenty years professional life (Boston: J.P. Jewett & Co., 1856) 294-295. Accessed September 2020

[2] Transcribed from: Harriot K. Hunt, “Petition,” The Una Vol 1, no. 12 (December 1853), 185.

[3] Transcribed from: Harriot K. Hunt, “Taxation without Representation,” The Liberator, January 03, 1862.

[4] Transcribed from: Harriot K. Hunt, “Taxation without Representation,” The Liberator, December 23, 1864.

Boston National Historical Park

Last updated: January 19, 2023