Florence Luscomb

Florence Luscomb handing out copies of The Women's Journal from a bag labelled Votes for Women
Florence Luscomb (February 6, 1887 - October 13, 1985). Born in Lowell, she would go on to be an internationally recognized leader in various women's rights initiatives including the fight for suffrage.

Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Florence Luscomb was born in Lowell and raised in Boston, later becoming a well renowned suffragist the world over but based primarily out of Massachusetts. Growing up, she remembered having listened to Susan B. Anthony speak at Boston’s Horticultural Hall in 1892 with her mother, and visited the State House to hear Julia Ward Howe speak. The first wave of suffragists – America’s Anthonys and Howes – were growing older and their methods losing effectiveness. Luscomb was introduced to suffrage from a young age, getting to witness the final years of the first suffrage movement, and taking inspiration from them to launch herself fully into the fresh-blooded activists who would rise up in their stead.

In the early 1900s, when Luscomb attended MIT for an architecture degree, English suffragists became increasingly militant and reinvigorated their country’s suffrage movement. American women followed their example, borrowing many of their tactics to reenter the fray for enfranchisement. No longer were quiet meetings and soft lectures held in parlors and halls – these suffragists took to the streets. Marching in parades, distributing handbills, speaking to large crowds on the street corners – this was a new suffrage movement. Luscomb herself even travelled to England, spending six weeks with fellow suffragist Margaret Foley in England learning how to campaign and drum up support.
 
A sepia tone image of a hot air balloon floating in the sky with Margaret Foley in the basket
Margaret Foley, a suffragist and compatriot of Luscomb, in a hot air balloon to promote suffrage in Lawrence, 1910. Even after suffrage passed Luscomb would continue to fight for equal opportunity her entire life, going on to establish the League of Women Voters and fight alongside the Boston NAACP.

Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Luscomb helped to organize and collect 100,000 signatures on a petition supporting women’s right to vote, specifically to counter the claim that women “did not want the right to vote.” In Massachusetts, she and other suffragists travelled throughout the state’s smaller towns by car to campaign before the 1915 referendum on whether the state should allow women to vote. Luscomb gave 222 speeches in the span of 19 weeks.

Throughout her career Luscomb paid special attention to working women in particular. She was specifically tasked with reaching out to communities of laundry workers (this is before the invention of the washing machine), and in each small town she visited Luscomb hosted talks and demonstrations outside of local mills at noon, when workers would be taking their lunch.

Luscomb would return to the city of her birth a number of times throughout her career, usually related to the campaign for suffrage. In 1910 the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association hosted their annual convention in the city, and days prior Luscomb, Foley and other notable suffragists began arriving and demonstrating throughout the downtown area and in front of the mills. Luscomb returned again in 1919 about a month after the 19th Amendment was passed. In order to assure that Massachusetts would ratify the amendment, Luscomb came to Lowell and spoke to the Committee Chairman whose report could very much sway the Senate’s vote.
 

Last updated: March 8, 2022

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