A Short History of Cambridge Women

Throughout Cambridge’s history, women have led the charge in creating change, progress, and growth for the city. Their contributions have inspired individuals and moved Cambridge forward. YWCA Cambridge had the chance to sit down with History Cambridge’s Communications Manager, Talia Franks for a conversation on Women’s History Month: 

Whitney Mooney: Are there any “firsts” in Cambridge? 

Talia Franks:
Councilor E. Denise Simmons:
In 2001, Simmons successfully ran and gained a seat on the Cambridge City Council, and by 2008, she was unanimously elected Mayor by fellow Council members. She made national headlines as the first African American openly lesbian mayor in the country and the first African American female mayor in Massachusetts. Simmons is currently serving her 10th term as a City Councilor. Read more here.

Lois Lilley Howe:
In 1888, Howe entered MIT’s School of Architecture and took the two-year “Partial Architecture” course. During this time, she was a founding member of MIT’s first woman student’s group, Eta Sigma Mu. In 1894, she received her first commission to build a house. In 1901, she established her own firm and became the second woman elected to the American Institute of Architects. She was the first woman elected to the Boston Society of Architects. Read about her life here.

Maria Louise Baldwin:
Born and educated in Cambridge, Baldwin graduated from the Cambridge Teachers Training School in 1875. In 1882, she was appointed principal of Agassiz School, the first black woman to be appointed as a principal in Massachusetts. In 1916, she was appointed master of the school. Learn more. 

Whitney: Have you found any barriers in trying to tell women’s stories, particularly for women of color? How do you find missing pieces of history? 

Talia: We haven’t found any barriers. The issue was that it wasn’t always made a priority. General issues include mistakenly thinking that we should only celebrate people after they die (or only honor older folks), defining “woman” a certain way, or not creating enough trust with different communities to gain access to people. The information exists; we just haven’t done a great job of asking.

Whitney: How do we help continue to tell stories about the important work of women in Cambridge’s history? 

Talia:  We need to-
1. Say it is a priority (and then follow through with it) 
2. Ask people to share names of people they think should be honored (we’ve done this before and it has worked out well)
3. Have people who have the time and inclination to write. We, as a small staff, simply don’t have the capacity. 

There are countless women in Cambridge who have opened doors and inspired future women to push for more, break barriers, and lead in our community. Thank you to the many women who continue to make history. We are because of you.

Thank you to History Cambridge’s Talia Franks for their help on this project.

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