Guide to the Collection
This collection consists of the records of the Woman's Education Association of Boston, Mass., an organization founded in 1871 to promote the industrial, intellectual, aesthetic, moral, and physical education of women.
The Woman's Education Association (WEA) of Boston, Massachusetts, was first gathered by Melusina Fay Peirce and Charlotte Frances Buck Brooks as the Committee on the Better Education of Women on 22 Dec. 1871. This initial meeting was held to determine the amount of support there would be in the wider community for a group of women to promote better education for women, both in primary and secondary schools and in the field of higher education. After several organizational meetings, the group changed its name to the Woman's Education Association, and they held a public meeting on 16 Jan. 1872, with local speakers on the current state of women's education and ways to improve it. This meeting was successful in garnering new members for the association and establishing it as a force in improving education for women both locally and nationally. The earliest members of the association, in addition to the two founders, were Mary Tileston Hemenway, Fanny Cabot Paine, and Anna Cabot Lodge. Anna Cabot Lowell joined soon after. From 1872 to 1929, the WEA had a part in the formation of Simmons College, Radcliffe College, the Chemical Laboratory for Women at MIT, and the Annisquam Seaside Laboratory (later the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole). The group also created the Household Aid Company (a domestic worker organization) in Boston; awarded fellowships for female scholars in higher education from around the country; created "travelling libraries" for small, under-funded local libraries across the state; pushed for reform and innovation in the local schools and on the Boston School Board; advocated for the importance of nursery school and kindergarten; and worked on other issues related to the needs and improvement of education for women and for all children.
This collection consists of the records of the Woman's Education Association of Boston, Massachusetts, a group organized by women in Boston and Cambridge who were interested in the higher and broader education of women and who worked to improve education both in the local public schools and through the support of higher (college) education for women, as well as through many other activities. Members included Melusina Fay Peirce, Charlotte F. Buck Brooks, Mary Tileston Hemenway, Fanny Cabot Paine, Anna Cabot Lodge, Anna Cabot Lowell, Kate Gannett Wells, Susan Minns, Ellen Frothingham, Anna H. Clarke, Sarah Cabot, Annie Fields, Mary Quincy, Anna C. L. Q. Waterston, Ellen Swallow Richards, Sarah Parkman Shaw Russell, and Alice G. Chandler. Particular areas of interest for the association were Simmons College, Radcliffe College, the Annisquam Seaside Laboratory directed by Alpheus Hyatt (later Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory), the Chemical Laboratory for Women at MIT, aiding and improving libraries across the state, improving science education, the Household Aid Company in Boston, "industrial education" (home economics) in the public schools, and many other areas related to education for women.
Deposited by the Woman's Education Association through Miss Elizabeth Putnam, June 1929.
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Founding and historical documents, 1872-1921
This series contains materials not directly associated with the other series in the collection and applies more generally to the organization as a whole. This includes materials on the history of the WEA and the 1877 charter, lectures sponsored by the association, its involvement in the founding of the Chemical Laboratory for Women at MIT and the Annisquam Seaside Laboratory (the forerunner of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole), the possibilities for the formation and degree programs of Simmons College, and the 50th anniversary meeting in 1921.
The Chemical Laboratory for Women at MIT, originally the brainchild of Ellen Swallow Richards (MIT's first female graduate and faculty member), was opened in Oct. 1876 at the request of the Woman's Education Association to the governors of MIT and with money raised by them. Professor John M. Ordway was in charge. The laboratory was fitted out at the south end of the gymnasium and later moved to a new building on Boylston Street. The lab closed in 1883 when MIT began accepting women into the regular course program.
The Annisquam Seaside Laboratory was begun as a partnership between the Woman's Education Association and the Boston Society of Natural History. Alpheus Hyatt (1838-1902), the curator of the society, served as the director of the laboratory, which opened in 1882 as a site for summer marine biology studies for both women and men. In 1888, the Annisquam Laboratory was (by vote) absorbed into what is now the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, and another monetary donation from the WEA helped continue the work there.
The binder of materials marking the 50th anniversary of the WEA in 1921 contains mainly items related to the history of the organization. These materials were not arranged in the binder but merely held together by it, so they have been placed roughly in the order of the outline of the 50th anniversary program (in folder 12 of this box). The anniversary celebrated the many achievements of the association over time, and the papers in the binder cover such topics as the history of the WEA, the founding of Radcliffe, the Chemical Laboratory, the Annisquam Laboratory, the Household Aid Company, fellowships, and the Library Committee's work.
Fiftieth anniversary papers, 1921
II. General meeting records, 1871-1929
The WEA's meeting records consist of twelve volumes of meeting minutes. The first volume begins in 1871 with the Committee on the Better Education of Women, the early group of women gathered by Melusina Fay Peirce and Charlotte F. Buck Brooks, who came together in Dec. 1871 with the idea of forming an organization for improving the education of women. In early Jan. 1872, they voted to call themselves the Woman's Education Association, and the first meeting for public attendance was held on 16 Jan. 1872 at Wesleyan Hall on Bromfield Street in Boston. The group voted to disband at the recommendation of the Executive Committee in Nov. 1928, and the last meeting was held on 17 Jan. 1929.
III. Executive Committee records, 1873-1929
This series contains twelve volumes of meeting minutes of the Executive Committee.
IV. Miscellaneous committee records, 1872-1922
Arranged alphabetically by committee name.
This series consists of meeting record volumes and loose papers created by various committees, including the Aesthetic Education Committee (museums and art appreciation), Domestic Economy Committee (mainly devoted to the Household Aid Company, which organized a local domestic help workforce), Fellowship Committee (scholarships for women in higher education), Industrial Education Committee (to institute and improve home economics teaching in the public schools), Moral and Physical Education Committee, Nursery School Committee, and Science Lessons Committee (to improve science education both in the schools and in the wider community through public lectures).
V. Library Committee records, 1894-1935
This series contains eight volumes of meeting records, two volumes of treasurer's records, and other volumes of the Library Committee, which sponsored "traveling libraries" of books and pictorial materials to assist small local libraries of limited means across the state. In 1900, the committee began publishing a list of "new books recommended for purchase" for small libraries. The Library Committee also supplied books for clergymen and prisons and foreign language books for school work. In 1894, the Library Committee was instrumental in establishing the defunct West Church in Boston as a branch library of the Boston Public Library system. The Library Committee carried on some of its work after the dissolution of the WEA until 1935.
"Traveling libraries" early circulation records and correspondence, 1894-1898
"Traveling libraries" samples of records, etc., 1906-1924
VI. Annual reports of the WEA, 1873-1929
This series consists of two boxes of printed annual reports of the WEA outlining the organization's activities, as well as additional printed material.
Woman's Education Association (Boston, Mass.) records, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.