Foley, Margaret, 1873-1957

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Margaret Lillian Foley (February 19, 1873 - June 14, 1957) was an Irish-American labor organizer, suffragist, and social worker from Boston. Known for confronting anti-suffrage candidates at political rallies, she was nicknamed the "Grand Heckler."

Margaret Foley was born to Peter and Mary Foley on February 19, 1873, in the Meeting House Hill section of Dorchester. She and her sister, Celia, grew up in Roxbury and attended Girls' High School. An aspiring singer, she paid for voice lessons out of her earnings at a hat factory; her Boston Globe obituary describes her as "a singer of note". Family obligations took her to California, where she worked as a swimming and gymnastics teacher. When she returned to Boston she resumed her old job and became active in the trade union movement, eventually serving on the board of the Boston Women's Trade Union League. She also became an outspoken advocate for women's suffrage.

Foley was one of the few Irish Catholic suffragists from Boston. Tall and confident, with a powerful, classically trained voice, she was a remarkably effective public speaker. She addressed hundreds of audiences—often as an audience member herself, earning her the title of "The Grand Heckler". If women were given the vote, she argued, they could become a major force in improving working conditions in factories and fighting government corruption. Foley worked as a speaker and organizer for the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) from 1906 to 1915. She was also involved with the Margaret Brent Suffrage Guild, a Massachusetts Catholic group, and the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government (BESAGG).

Inspired by English suffragists such as the Pankhursts, Massachusetts suffragists began making open-air speaking tours in 1909. Most of the speakers were middle- or upper-class women who were ill at ease addressing crowds of mill workers at lunchtime. As a working-class Irish Catholic with a colorful personality, Foley stood out. She often braved male-dominated crowds in settings such as the Boston Stock Exchange and the Chamber of Commerce, speaking and handing out leaflets. To avoid being arrested for speaking on a public street without a permit, she once addressed a Boston crowd from the roof of a one-story building.

In 1911 she and Florence Luscomb attended the international suffrage convention in Stockholm and spent a month in London studying the tactics used by English suffragists. That same year, in her automobile known as the "Big Suffragette Machine", she followed the Republican candidate for governor, Louis A. Frothingham, from one speaking engagement to the next, challenging his anti-suffrage views. Frothingham was so frustrated he ordered his campaign band to start playing whenever she tried to speak. He was not elected.

She began speaking and organizing nationally in 1912, traveling to Ohio, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, and other states. In 1914 she toured Nevada for two months, speaking to over 20,000 men. She attracted publicity and marriage proposals while she was there; once dressing like a miner in coat and trousers, another time descending 2,500 feet underground in Virginia City to give a suffrage speech. Nevada women won the vote that year. In 1916, Foley made an extensive tour of Southern states, sponsored by the Woman's Journal. The following year she was a delegate to the MWSA's national convention.

Despite her success as a speaker, Foley was an outsider among the elite women of the MWSA and BESAGG. Her employers often seemed oblivious to the financial realities of working women, resulting in disputes over delayed paychecks and travel expenses. Her working-class, Irish Catholic background was an asset while she was rallying crowds of workers on the streets of Boston, but after the start of World War I when the movement's focus shifted to other, subtler tactics, Foley found herself shut out. She had difficulty finding regular employment until 1920 when, having been nominated for a position in city government by Irish Catholic Mayor John F. Fitzgerald the year before, she was finally appointed to the Children's Institutions Department by Mayor Andrew James Peters.

Foley was Trustee for Children in the Children's Institutions Department of the City of Boston from 1913 to 1920, and deputy commissioner of the Child Welfare Division in the Institutions Department of the City of Boston from 1920 to 1926. In 1936 she worked on Robert E. Greenwood's unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate. She lived for many years with her friend Helen Elizabeth Goodnow, a fellow suffragist from an affluent Boston family. She died at Carney Hospital on June 14, 1957.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Papers, 1882-1965 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers, 1847-1968 (inclusive), 1909-1929 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers, 1847-1968 (bulk: 1909-1929) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers, 1888-1957 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Woman's rights collection, 1853-1958 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Luscomb, Florence, 1887-. Additional papers of Florence Luscomb, 1888-1988 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers of Margaret Foley and Helen Elizabeth Goodnow, 1882-1965 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers, 1834-1959 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1911-1924 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1911-1924 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Addams, Jane, 1860-1935. person
associatedWith Allender, Nina E. (Nina Evans), 1873-1957 person
associatedWith Ames, Blanche Ames, 1878-1969 person
associatedWith Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964. person
associatedWith Anthony, Lucy E., 1861-1944. person
associatedWith Badlam, Anna B. person
associatedWith Belmont, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt, 1853-1933. person
associatedWith Blackwell, Alice Stone, 1857-1950. person
associatedWith Bondfield, Margaret G. person
associatedWith Boston Equal Suffrage Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Boston. Institutions Department. Child Welfare Division (Mass.) corporateBody
associatedWith Boston (Mass.) Children's Institutions Dept corporateBody
associatedWith Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage corporateBody
associatedWith Crowley, Teresa A., 1874-1919. person
associatedWith Dennett, Mary Ware, 1872-1947. person
associatedWith Evans, Elizabeth Glendower, 1856-1937. person
associatedWith Fabian Club (Boston, Mass. : active 1912-1917) corporateBody
associatedWith Field, Sara Bard, 1882-1974. person
associatedWith Fitzgerald, Susan W., 1871-1943. person
associatedWith Gardener, Helen H. (Helen Hamilton), 1853-1925. person
associatedWith Goodnow, Helen Elizabeth, 1894- person
associatedWith Hosmer, Harriet Goodhue, 1830-1908 person
associatedWith Leonard, Gertrude Halladay, 1868-1919. person
associatedWith Lewis, Dora person
associatedWith Lewis, Dora. person
associatedWith Luscomb, Florence, 1887- person
associatedWith Margaret Brent Suffrage Guild. corporateBody
associatedWith Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association corporateBody
associatedWith National American Woman Suffrage Association. corporateBody
associatedWith National Women's Trade Union League of America corporateBody
associatedWith New York State Woman Suffrage Party. corporateBody
associatedWith Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Paul, Alice, 1885-1977. person
associatedWith Peters, Andrew James, 1872-1938. person
associatedWith Rankin, Jeannette. person
associatedWith Reilly, Caroline I. person
associatedWith Reitman, Ben L. (Ben Lewis), 1874-1951. person
associatedWith Ryan, Agnes E., 1878-1954 person
associatedWith Sanders, E. H. person
associatedWith Shaw, Anna Howard, person
associatedWith Suffolk School for Boys, Rainsford Island (Boston, Mass.) corporateBody
associatedWith Tillinghast, Anna Churchill Moulton, 1874-1951. person
associatedWith Upton, Harriet Taylor. person
associatedWith Woman's Journal corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of Boston. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Boston MA US
Pennsylvania PA US
Virginia VA US
Montana MT US
Ohio OH US
Michigan MI US
Nevada NV US
New York NY US
Tennessee TN US
Maine ME US
Dorchester MA US
Subject
Women,Catholic--Suffrage--Massachusetts
Public speaking
Child welfare
Women--Suffrage
Child welfare--Massachusetts
Women--Suffrage--New York (State)
Women--Suffrage--Tennessee
Vaccination--Law and legislation--Massachusetts
Women--Suffrage--Virginia
Irish American women--Massachusetts
Vaccination--Law and legislation
Women--Suffrage--Montana
Women--Suffrage--Nevada
Women--Suffrage--Massachusetts
Women--Suffrage--Maine
Anti-feminism
Catholic women--Suffrage
Women--Suffrage--Songs and music
Women--Suffrage--Ohio
Women--Suffrage--Pennsylvania
Women--Suffrage--Michigan
Irish American women
Occupation
Laborers
Teacher
Suffragists
Activity

Person

Birth 1873-02-19

Death 1957-06-14

Female

Americans

English

Related Descriptions
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