By Kathleen Melendy
Undergraduate student, Simmons College
Mrs. Cerise Carman Jack, born Cerise Emily Carman in 1877, was the first child of New Yorkers Elbert S. Carman and Agnes Emily Brown. Elbert Carman was a successful agricultural journalist and plant breeder credited with raising the first set of the Japanese rose R. rugosa in America, one strain of which he named Cerise. In fact, Cerise Carman came from a line of horticulturists: Elbert Carman learned from Agnes Brown’s strawberry cultivating father, Professor D. F. Brown, and Cerise Carman’s husband, John G. Jack, was working for Elbert Carman on his New Jersey farm when Cerise met him.
Elbert Carman died in 1900 while Cerise was in her last year at Barnard College. Cerise graduated in 1901 and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa’s Honor Society for the brightest undergraduate students in the liberal arts and sciences. Six years later, Cerise married Canadian-born John G. Jack, professor of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard, and moved with him to East Walpole, Massachusetts. Mr. and Mrs. Jack raised three children together: Rebecca, Carman, and Elizabeth Jack (b. 1910).
An outspoken suffragist, Jack wrote articles advocating for gender equality. In 1913, the Boston Daily Globe published her piece, “A Reason a Day Why Women Should Vote: Today: Because It Would Increase the Number of Happy Marriages.” Her name began to appear in newspapers regularly in 1916, when Boston police arrested twenty-two-year-old Van Kleeck Allison for handing a pamphlet about contraception to an undercover police officer. Jack paid Mr. Allison’s $1,500 bail and campaigned in his defense. The swift organizing around Allison’s defense sparked the Massachusetts Birth Control League (MBCL), and Jack was elected its Vice President. The MBCL hosted meetings of hundreds, vied for media coverage, drafted bills with the support of local health professionals, and collected funds despite the national attention on war. Jack also sat on the board of the New York Women’s Publishing Company, publisher of Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review, and contributed updates on the MBCL.
In 1918, Jack shifted her focus from birth control to suffrage and political repression. She wrote in a letter to Harvard Professor Charles Birtwell, “now is the time to work for the fundamentals and not for reform measures.” As part of the National Woman’s Party demonstration at President Wilson’s return to the U.S. from Europe, she and over forty women defied police orders by marching through the Boston Common and urging crowds to put pressure on the President to pass suffrage. The demonstration lasted hours, culminating in the burning of the speech President Wilson was delivering in Mechanics Hall at the same time. Jack was arrested for addressing the public without a permit. Her conviction by the Municipal Court was overturned by a Superior Criminal Court judge.
Jack continued her activism after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. When Italian immigrants and anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti of Braintree were tried for armed robbery and murder in 1921, Jack and Elizabeth Glendower Evans served as the League of Democratic Control of Boston representatives. (See the document project on this website on Elizabeth Glendower Evans and reform.) Many liberals, including Jack, believed Sacco and Vanzetti to be innocent, tried and convicted solely on the basis of racist and anti-communist prejudice. Before and after their death sentences, Mrs. Jack corresponded with the men through letters and visited them in jail, even tutoring Sacco in English. After Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in 1927, Mrs. Jack remained in contact with their families until her own death in 1935 at age 58. It is unclear how or why she died, but certain sources attribute her death to suicide.
“Class Day at Barnard,” New York Times, June 8, 1901, p. 8.
Engleman, P. C., A History of the Birth Control Movement in America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2011, p. 70.
Gordon, L., The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007, p.185.
Irwin, I. H. (1921). The Story of the Woman’s Party. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, p. 409.
Jack, C. C. “A Reason A Day Why Women Should Vote: Today: Because It Would Increase the Number of Happy Marriages.” Boston Daily Globe, March 1, 1913, p. 13.
“Judge Frees Mrs. Jack Who Criticized Wilson,” Boston Daily Globe, April 24, 1919, p. 8.
Sacco, N. & B. Vanzetti, The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti, (M. D. Frankfurter & G. Jackson, Eds.). New York, NY: Octagon Books, 1980.
Stevens, Doris, Jailed for Freedom. New York: Boni and Liverlight, 1920, p. 322.
Tejada, S. M. In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti: Double Lives, Troubled Times, and the Massachusetts Murder Case That Shook the World. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2012.
Withers, J. W. (Ed.). (1900). “Current Notes and News: Death of Elbert S. Carman.” American Gardening 21:271 (1900): 45-46.
“Witnesses Saw Sacco State Says,” Boston Post, June 8, 1921.
U.S. Federal Manuscript Census: 1920; Census Place: Walpole, Norfolk, Massachusetts; Roll: T625_724; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 271; Image: 765.