Massachusetts Labor Leaders of the Progressive Era
Part 2 of 2 – On a historical note, the two buildings demolished to make way for the Winthrop St development were once home to two of Boston’s great labor organizers. The first, Mary Kenney O’Sullivan, is now publicly honored in the Massachusetts State House, as part of the State House Women’s Leadership Project. A bronze and marble sculpture, installed at the entrance to Doric Hall in 1995, commemorates the contributions of Sullivan, and other Massachusetts women, to the government of the Commonwealth. Mary Kenney O’Sullivan received this obituary in the Boston Globe on her death in 1943,
[In] Chicago, Mrs. O’Sullivan [worked] with Jane Addams in the Hull House movement for the betterment of conditions in the city’s overcrowded tenement districts. While still in her teens she founded the Jane Clubs for working girls, and was active in putting through the Illinois Legislature laws favorable to working people. She organized the first bookbinders’ union of women in Chicago, was the first woman organizer appointed by the American Federation of Labor, and the first woman factory inspector in the United States.
She came to Boston in 1892 as national organizer of the American Federation of Labor […] After [her husband’s] death in an accident she became an inspector in the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industries […] holding that position until her retirement in 1934. She founded the Boston Women’s Trade Union League, conducted a camp for working girls at Point Shirley in connection with the Dennison House for many years, and spoke for women’s suffrage. She was president of the Boston Women’s Labor League, vice president of the Boston Women’s Trade Union League, and treasurer of the National Women’s Trade Union League. In 1926 she was appointed a delegate from the United States to the annual conference to prevent war, which was held in Dublin, Ireland, under the auspices of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
She was a frequent speaker on economics and labor problems at Ford Hall Forum. She was also a member of the Women’s Industrial League and the Massachusetts League of Women Voters. She wrote a number of articles for the Globe on women’s rights, trade unionism and fair labor practices.
More information about Mary Kenney O’Sullivan’s life and work can be found on the website for the State House Women’s Leadership Project.
The second property demolished, the stone house pictured above, was the home of Philip Davis (1875-1951) and his wife, Belle, both born in Russian Poland, and Jewish immigrants to the US in the late 1890s. According to his Globe obituary, Philip Davis – a friend and colleague of Mary Kenney O’Sullivan’s – was also influential in the settlement house and labor movements of the Progressive Era. While attending the University of Chicago, he too was a protégé of Jane Addams and on her recommendation he attended Harvard, graduating in 1903. He then earned a law degree from Boston University and was active in labor organizing and workers’ rights advocacy in Boston’s North End.