In 1920 the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, stating once and for all that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This is one milestone in a long and ongoing struggle, a major victory in women’s fight for equal opportunity. Despite immense challenges, time and time again Lowell’s workforce and residents have fought for what they deserved and strove to obtain what others denied them.
We can trace the origins of women’s civic activism in Lowell to the early 1830s. After leaders within several local corporations voted to lower wages, women in Lowell stood up against the city’s corporate interests. They staged walkouts and later, wrote petitions to fight for better work conditions, including shorter days. In this same period, women became involved with other social causes including temperance and abolition. But how far could women take a social movement without the right to cast ballots? Realizing that they needed the right to vote to bring about the changes they wanted to see, women formed organizations dedicated to suffrage.
By the early 20th century, Massachusetts was a major battleground in the fight for suffrage. Many suffragists including Lowell’s own Harriet Hanson Robinson and Florence Luscomb fought dutifully for the vote statewide. While many passionate suffragists rose up so did very powerful anti-suffrage interests who launched numerous counterattacks. Neither side successfully created a large movement in Lowell. Suffragists targeted the city and its workforce, trying to win over both the women of the mills and the workingmen who could vote.
This online exhibition highlights the struggle for women’s rights and especially the fight for the right to vote in the city of Lowell. Arranged chronologically, the collection of articles highlights the notable groups of women as well as a few exceptional individuals who were essential in promoting suffrage and women’s rights.
While individual pages can be read alone, to get understand the full story of American women's activism over time and how deeply rooted it is in Lowell's history, we recommend following the link at the bottom of each page to continue the story in order.