Putnam, Elizabeth Lowell, 1862-1935

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Elizabeth (Lowell) Putnam, political activist, philanthropist, and pioneer in prenatal care, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. One of five children of Katherine (Lawrence) and Augustus Lowell, she was the sister of the poet Amy Lowell and Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell. In 1888 she married William Lowell Putnam (1861-1924), a distant cousin and noted lawyer. The Putnams resided at 49 Beacon Street in Boston and spent their summers in Manchester by-the-Sea on the North Shore. They had five children: George, Katharine, Roger, Harriet, and Augustus; Harriet died from impure milk at the age of two.

Putnam worked primarily in the interest of child and maternal health. As chairman of the executive committee of the Massachusetts Milk Consumers' Association, she lobbied for milk inspection and purity laws. She also chaired the Department of Public Health and the Committee on Prenatal and Obstetrical Care of the Women's Municipal League of Boston, and served as president of the American Association for the Study and Prevention of Infant Mortality (AASPIM, later renamed the American Child Hygiene Association). All these organizations worked to educate the public on prenatal and infant health care. The first experiment in prenatal care, considered a great advance in preventive medicine, was conducted under Putnam's supervision from 1909 to 1914. In 1928 she founded and endowed the Fearing Research Laboratory for research on toxemia of pregnancy. Putnam's city home served as the offices of the Massachusetts Milk Consumers' Association and the Women's Municipal League.

A noted conservative, Putnam worked for the defeat of the Child Labor Amendment, the Sheppard-Towner Act (which called for federal protection of maternal health), midwifery, the Equal Rights Amendment, and Prohibition. Believing strongly that women's power lay in the private sphere, she was an avid anti-suffragist (see especially Series IV). She chaired the Education and Organizing Committee of the Women's Anti-Suffrage Association of Massachusetts, the largest committee of that organization. Following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, however, she became an equally avid Republican, declaring that she was acceding to popular will. In 1920 she was elected president of the electoral college of Massachusetts, becoming the first woman to preside over a state electoral college. She served as national president of the Coolidge Women's Club of America and founded state branches of the club from coast to coast. In 1924 she was nominated as a delegate-at-large to the Republican convention; after yielding her place to a war veteran, she went to the convention as an alternate to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Putnam also held office or membership in the Republican Club of Massachusetts, the Republican City Committee, the Republican State Committee, and the Business and Professional Women's Republican Club.

During World War I, she chaired the Relief Department of the Special Aid Society for American Preparedness, an organization set up to help families of American servicemen and to prepare the country in case of natural disaster. Putnam was later appointed by General LeRoy Sweetser to serve as the Acting Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In this capacity she founded the Women's Auxiliary of the Intelligence Bureau. After the war, She headed the Foreign Section of the Adjutant General's office and worked with leaders of various ethnic groups, assisting immigrant communities in Massachusetts with employment, education, and recreation. In 1930 she chaired the Racial Committee of the Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary. Composed of representatives from various ethnic groups, this committee set up exhibits and presented international entertainment at the Tercentenary celebrations.

In addition to her tireless organizing and lobbying, Putnam published six books of poetry and prose. She died in 1935 after a two-year illness.

From the guide to the Papers, 1887-1935, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Miller, Emma Guffey, 1874-1970. Papers, 1833-1975 (bulk: 1884-1972) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Putnam, William Lowell, Mrs., 1892-1935. Papers, 1887-1935 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Amy Lowell correspondence, 1883-1927 (inclusive), 1910-1925 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Houghton Mifflin Company contracts, 1831-1979 (inclusive) 1880-1940 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Putnam, William Lowell, Mrs., 1892-1935. Papers, 1887-1935 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Bradley family. Papers, 1813-1957 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Putnam, William Lowell. Papers, 1998-1999 American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Greenwood, Robert E., 1911-. William Lowell Putnam mathematical competition problems and solutions: 1938-1964 Records, 1938-1980. University of Texas Libraries
referencedIn Miller, Emma Guffey, 1874-1970. Papers: Series III-IV, 1900-1972 (inclusive) [microform]. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Blackwell family. Papers, 1842-1945 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Putnam, William Lowell. Editorials 1959-1984. Springfield City Library
creatorOf Putnam, Elizabeth Lowell, 1862-1935. Papers, 1887-1935 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Thomas Bailey Aldrich papers, 1837-1926. Houghton Library
referencedIn Wendell family papers, 1620-1921 Houghton Library
referencedIn Manny, Frank Addison, 1868-1954. Papers, 1890-1955 Bentley Historica Library University of Michigan
referencedIn Papers, 1813-1957 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Additional papers, ca. 1870-1922. Houghton Library
creatorOf Putnam, Roger L. Papers, c.1920-1972. Springfield City Library
referencedIn Houghton Mifflin Company contracts, 1831-1979 (inclusive) 1880-1940 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Lowell, Percival, 1855-1916. Letters to Elizabeth Lowell Putnam (Mrs. William Lowell Putnam) and William Lowell Putnam, 1876-1916. HCL Technical Services, Harvard College Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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associatedWith Coolidge, Calvin, 1872-1933. person
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associatedWith Crane, Caroline Bartlett, 1858-1935. person
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associatedWith Deland, Margaret Wade Campbell, 1857-1945. person
associatedWith DeVilbiss, Lydia Allen. person
associatedWith Education Committee on Courses for Teachers corporateBody
associatedWith Eliot, Charles William, 1834-1926. person
associatedWith Emma (Guffey) Miller, 1874-1970 person
associatedWith Eugenics Committee corporateBody
associatedWith Fearing Research Laboratory. corporateBody
associatedWith Fisher, Dorothy Canfield, 1879-1958. person
associatedWith Fisher, Dorothy (Canfield), 1879-1959 person
associatedWith Fitzgerald, John Francis, 1863-1950. person
associatedWith Foss, Eugene Noble, 1858-1939. person
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associatedWith Gardner, James Augustus, 1870-1926. person
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associatedWith Putnam, Elizabeth Lowell, 1862-1935. person
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associatedWith Special Aid Society for American Preparedness. corporateBody
associatedWith Storrow, Helen Osborne, 1864-1944. person
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associatedWith Twentieth Century Club. corporateBody
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correspondedWith Wendell family. family
associatedWith Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924. person
associatedWith Women's Municipal League of Boston corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Municipal League of Boston. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Boston MA US
Brookline MA US
Infant health service
Birth control
Household employees
Civil defense
Maternal and infant welfare
Prenatal care
Maternal health services
Sex instruction
Dairy inspection
Authors and publishers
Day care centers
World War, 1914-1918--Women
Public health
American literature--20th century
Food law and legislation
Children--Employment--Law and legislation
Dairy laws
Paramilitary forces


Birth 1862-02-02

Death 1935





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