Read Part 1 of our series: Cambridge Women in War and Industry.

Over the past year, the Cambridge Historical Society has been exploring the question “Who Are Cambridge Women?” Our theme for 2020 was inspired by this year’s centennial celebrations of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Although this is certainly a milestone to commemorate, CHS recognizes that this was not a victory for all women; women of color did not have full legal enfranchisement until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and many still experience de facto disenfranchisement today. With these distinctions in mind, we wanted our theme for this year to both explore the limitations on women’s suffrage and go well beyond defining political participation solely as the ability to cast a ballot.

At our February Opening Conversation, we explored the role of the Cambridge YWCA in creating and maintaining a space for women and families to improve their health, find employment and housing support, and develop leadership skills. At our History Cafés we explored how women in Cambridge experienced the political, social and economic tensions of the Revolutionary War, especially those whose family ties identified them with the Loyalist cause.  We also looked at the role of Cambridge women in the medical profession as it expanded and diversified over the course of the late-19th and early-20th centuries.  And we examined the memorial landscape of Cambridge as the backdrop for the creation and installation of a new Women’s Suffrage Centennial Memorial. In addition, we hosted a discussion on how we were taught about the suffrage movement, and another on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on virtual learning and the experiences of youth in Cambridge. 

In this year’s final four-part series, we explore the question “Who is Essential Cambridge?” with a particular focus on the women who have made up the workforce considered “essential” to the city at various points in its history – up to and including the current dual pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism. In each weekly installment we will focus on a different sector and time period, but our underlying questions remain the same: what essential labor have women in Cambridge performed―both paid and unpaid―and how have fluctuating gender norms affected how they have balanced work and family obligations? In exploring these questions, we aim to both better understand women’s labor in the past and to predict and help shape the effects of the current pandemic crisis on the future of women in the workforce in Cambridge and beyond.

Read the entire blog series:

Part 1 – Cambridge Women in War and Industry

Part 2 – Teachers

Part 3 – Nurses

Part 4 – COVID-19