Ames, Blanche Ames, 1878-1969

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Blanche Ames Ames (February 18, 1878 – March 2, 1969) was an American artist, political activist, inventor, writer, and prominent supporter of women's suffrage and birth control.

Born Blanche Ames in Lowell, Massachusetts, Ames was the daughter of Adelbert Ames, a West Point graduate who became a Civil War General and Mississippi Governor, and Blanche Butler Ames, who attended the Academy of the Visitation and enjoyed painting and the arts. The fourth of six children, she was the sister of Adelbert Ames Jr., a prominent scientist. She was also granddaughter to Civil War General and Massachusetts Governor Benjamin Butler and actress Sarah Hildreth Butler.

Ames attended the Rogers Hall School in Lowell. She was later one of few women of her time to attend college, earning a B.A. in Art History and a diploma in Studio Art from Smith College in 1899. She was the president of her graduating class.

In 1900 she married Harvard University botany professor Oakes Ames (no relation). She took the married name Blanche Ames Ames. Ames illustrated her husband's botanical research on orchids. The Ameses had four children: Pauline (born 1901), Oliver (born 1903), Amyas (born 1906), and Evelyn (born 1910). Ames managed her professional work and family by having a studio at home and hiring domestic servants to assist her with domestic work.

Ames' daughter, Pauline, grew up to write many books about her family, including "Oakes Ames, Jottings of a Harvard Botanist" (1979), and "The Plimpton Papers, Law and Diplomacy" (1985). One of Ames' grandchildren was George Ames Plimpton, famed sportswriter.

Ames is buried in the Hildreth Family Cemetery in Lowell.

The Ames estate, which includes Blanche Ames' art studio, in North Easton, Massachusetts is called Borderland. The estate was designed by Ames herself in the early 1900s. It is now open to the public as Borderland State Park.

Ames was a talented artist in a variety of media. Her work included portraiture, primarily done in oil paint, botanical illustration, and political cartoons. She had a studio in her home in North Easton, Massachusetts.

In 1902, she began illustrating Oakes Ames's botanical publications, including his seven volume treatise on orchids, which is still considered one of the best researched to this day. Previously he had illustrated the orchids himself with watercolor. Blanche Ames Ames first used watercolors for the orchid illustrations, but later switched to copperplate etching. She also published detailed pen and ink drawings of the orchids. The illustrations were drawn from dried plant specimens observed through a camera lucida. Blanche Ames Ames continued to illustrate orchids throughout their life together, eventually designing the decorations which now appear at both of their graves.

During the 1910s Blanche Ames Ames produced a number of political cartoons promoting women’s suffrage, which appeared in publications including Woman’s Journal, and the Boston American. In 1915 she became the art editor of Woman’s Journal (along with Fredrikke Palmer and Mayme B. Harwood). Three years before in 1912, the Woman's Journal's offices had relocated its headquarters from New York to nearby Boston. Ames' work called, "Cradle of Liberty," was selected to be the state's suffrage poster. Political cartoons like Ames' were essential to winning women's voting rights.

Ames held a lifelong passion for women's rights. including women's voting rights. In 1915, when Massachusetts voters would decide whether to allow women the right to vote, Blanche attended 40 events throughout the commonwealth to spread the word of female equality. She was president of the Easton Woman Suffrage League, and, from 1915 to 1918, she was Treasurer of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage League. Ames lobbied for women's voting rights at a Republican National Convention. She combined her art with her activism as the art editor of the longest running women's rights newspaper, the Woman's Journal. From 1913 through 1916, Ames hired a news clipping service to collect suffrage news, including cartoons, to inspire her work.

Ames also supported birth control. In 1916 she helped found the Birth Control League of Massachusetts, an affiliate of Margaret Sanger's group, the American Birth Control League, and served as first President. In this role Ames helped to form The Doctors Bill to Clarify the Law, which regulated the ability of doctors to provide birth control counseling to married women with health problems, and later helped establish universal access to birth control. Massachusetts did not legalize contraception for married women until 1966, the last state in the nation to do so, and Ames set the standard for perseverance in the decades-long effort.

Ames held patents for inventions which included a hexagonal lumber cutter and a method for entrapping enemy aircraft.

During World War II, Ames came across the realization that thread could snarl and jam a sewing machine motor, Blanche then used that same principle to design a device to ensnare low-flying aircraft. The machine was demonstrated on the lawn at Borderland for guests from the Pentagon. Although it was accepted by the U.S. Army, it came too late for it to be applied in war.

In the early 1910s Ames' brother, Adelbert Ames, Jr., a scientist particularly interested in vision, moved into her studio for painting lessons. With her brother Ames began to develop a color notation system more extensive than the Munsell color system. Together the two created coded color swatches which corresponded to particular tubes of paint. The artist would use these swatches to select the most realistic colors and the codes would be mapped out on a drawing before the paint was applied. Blanche Ames Ames first put this system to use in a painting in 1912. She continued to use this color notation after her collaboration with her brother had concluded.

At age 80, Ames wrote a biography about her father, Adelbert Ames, called: "Adelbert Ames, 1835-1933; General, Senator, Governor, the story of his life and times and his integrity as a soldier and statesman in the service of the United States of America throughout the Civil War and in Mississippi in the years of Reconstruction" (1964). She wrote the biography in response to criticism from John F. Kennedy in his book Profiles in Courage.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Johnson, Grace A. (Grace Allen), 1871-1952. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1840-1952 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers, 1847-1968 (bulk: 1909-1929) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Ames Family Papers MS 3., 1812-2013 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1870-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Ames, Blanche, 1878-1969. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1913-1940 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 Records, 1916 - 1934 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Plimpton, Francis T. P. (Francis Taylor Pearsons), 1900-1983. Plimpton Family papers, 1607-1995 [Bulk Dates: 1892-1980]. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers, 1847-1968 (inclusive), 1909-1929 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers, 1914-1954 (scattered) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Ames, Blanche. [Christmas cards], 1939-1950 / Blanche Ames, Oakes Ames. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Woman's rights collection, 1853-1958 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Dewson, Molly, 1874-1962. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1915-1960 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Crowley, Teresa A., 1874-1930. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1914-1944 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Ohio State University. Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Blanche Ames Ames 1878-1969 biographical file. Ohio State University Libraries
creatorOf Ames, Blanche. Papers, 1860-1961 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts Records MS 359., 1859-2002, 1916-1960 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Dewson, Molly, 1874-1962. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1915-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Kenneally, James Joseph, 1929-. Blanche Ames and woman suffrage, 1990. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Ames, Oakes, 1874-1950. Papers of Oakes Ames, 1897-1967 (inclusive). Harvard University, Archives
referencedIn Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1870-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn New England Hospital for Women and Children. Records, 1914-1954 (inclusive), 1950-1954 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Ames, Blanche. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1913-1940 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Plimpton Family Papers, 1607-1995, [Bulk Dates: 1892-1980]. Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
referencedIn Papers of Grace A. Johnson in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1840-1952: Subseries A-E, 1840-1952 (inclusive) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Ames, Blanche, 1878-1969. Papers, 1860-1961 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Plimpton, George A. (George Arthur), 1855-1936,. George A. Plimpton collection of portraits, ca. 1550-1920. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Ames, Oakes, 1874-1950. Papers, 1897-1932. Boston Athenaeum
creatorOf Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts records, 1859-2002 (ongoing) (bulk 1916-1960). Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Papers of Oakes Ames, 1897-1967 (inclusive). Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Birth Control League of Massachusetts. Records, 1916-1934 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Ames family. Ames Family Papers, 1812-2004. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Crowley, Teresa A., 1874-1930. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1914-1944 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
memberOf Ames (Family : Ames, Oakes, 1874-1950, and Ames, Blanche Ames, 1878-1969) family
spouseOf Ames, Oakes, 1874-1950. person
associatedWith Anthony, Susan B. (Susan Brownell), 1820-1906. person
associatedWith Barron, Jennie Loitman, 1891-1969. person
associatedWith Bird, Anna Julia Child, 1858-1942. person
associatedWith Birth Control League Of Massachusetts corporateBody
associatedWith Blackwell, Alice Stone, 1857-1950. person
associatedWith Bolton, Frances Payne, 1885- person
associatedWith Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government. corporateBody
associatedWith Brown, Gertrude Foster, 1868-1956. person
associatedWith Brunner-Orne, Martha. person
associatedWith Catt, Carrie Chapman, 1859-1947. person
associatedWith Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Crowley, Teresa A. O'Leary, 1874-1930 person
associatedWith Dewson, Mary (Molly) WIlliams, 1874-1962 person
associatedWith Driscoll, Mary E. person
associatedWith Flexner, Eleanor, 1908-1995. person
associatedWith Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. person
associatedWith Ford, Harriet Chalmers. person
associatedWith Hawkridge, Leslie D. person
associatedWith Johnson, Ethel McLean, 1882-1978 person
associatedWith Johnson, Grace Allen Fitch, 1871-1952 person
associatedWith Kenneally, James Joseph, 1929- person
associatedWith Kleinert, Margaret Noyes, 1879-1971. person
associatedWith Massachusetts Mothers' Health Council corporateBody
associatedWith Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. corporateBody
associatedWith McCormick, Katharine Dexter, 1876-1967 person
associatedWith National American Woman Suffrage Association. corporateBody
associatedWith New England Hospital corporateBody
associatedWith New England Hospital for Women and Children. corporateBody
associatedWith New England Hospital for Women and Children, Boston corporateBody
associatedWith Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955 person
associatedWith Paul, Alice, 1885-1977. person
associatedWith Perkins, Florence T. person
associatedWith Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts person
associatedWith Plimpton, Francis T. P. (Francis Taylor Pearsons), 1900-1983. person
associatedWith Plimpton, George A. (George Arthur), 1855-1936, person
associatedWith Rose, Florence, 1902?-1969. person
associatedWith Shafroth, J. F. (John Franklin), 1887-1967 person
associatedWith Shaw, Pauline A. (Pauline Agassiz), 1841-1917. person
associatedWith Stantial, Edna Lamprey person
associatedWith United Community Services of Metropolitan Boston. corporateBody
associatedWith Van Kleeck, Mary, 1883- person
associatedWith Woman's Centennial Congress (1940 : New York). corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Boston MA US
Lowell MA US
Subject
Medical care
Birth control
Alcoholism
Christmas cards
Women--Suffrage
Women--Suffrage--Massachusetts
Nursing
Women physicians
Nurses
Hospitals
Orchids--Pictorial works
Women--Periodicals
Women in science
Botanical illustration
Occupation
Hospital administrators
Physicians
Activity

Person

Birth 1878-02-18

Death 1969-03-02

Female

Americans

English

Information

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SNAC ID: 85591616