By Laura R. Prieto, Professor, Simmons College
Dorothy Pratt was born in Massachusetts in December 1894. Her parents, drugstore clerk Charles E. Pratt (1858-?) and Belle H. Pratt (1855-?), married in 1876 and had 5 children, only three of whom survived to adulthood. Some time after 1890, the Pratt family moved to Roxbury, a burgeoning section of Boston that had been a separate city until 1868. Dorothy grew up in their rented, four-story brick townhouse, alongside the boarders that the family took in for additional income. Dorothy’s father and her brother Dana both died some time during her late teens or early twenties. Besides the emotional toll, their deaths no doubt imperiled the family’s financial security. The Pratts continued to let rooms to lodgers and Dorothy became a grammar school teacher. Her eldest brother Chandler, a tailor by trade, eventually found work in an insurance office. The racial demographics of Dorothy’s neighborhood were changing dramatically around this time; by 1920, black and mixed race families lived literally next door to them on Winthrop Street, which had previously been all white.
Dorothy’s interest in civic and political issues coincided with that same period of significant changes for her family and her community. In April 1917, she joined a group of women to raise funds for the Boys Club in Roxbury. The campaigners’ goal was to raise $75,000 to pay off the mortgage on the clubhouse as well as to expand the club’s industrial education offerings. It must have been difficult to find donors with U.S. entry into World War I and the promotion of Liberty Bond sales later that very month. Nevertheless, the women succeeded in collecting more than $30,000 for the club.
It is not clear exactly when or how Dorothy first involved herself with the suffrage movement, but on February 24, 1919, she joined the militant protestors on the Boston Common who greeted President Woodrow Wilson with banners demanding that he urge Congressional passage of the suffrage amendment. The police arrested Dorothy and 21 other women for “loitering.” She received bail the same day along with Rose Lewis, Mrs. Frank Page, and Nellie Gross.
Dorothy’s life is much more difficult to document than more socially prominent and economically prosperous suffragists. If she had not been arrested, there would be no trace of her support for women’s suffrage. Her later life remains unknown; the census does not record her whereabouts, or those of her family, after 1920. Nevertheless, Dorothy’s activism demonstrates how suffrage militancy appealed to some young women across class boundaries.
“19 Suffragettes Spend Night in Jail,” Boston Daily Globe, 25 Feb 1919, 1.
“President Cheered from Pier to Hotel,” New York Times, 25 Feb 1919.
“Roxbury Boys’ Club Seeks $75,000,” Boston Daily Globe, 22 April 1917, 43.
U.S. Census Records, 1890, 1900, 1910, and 1920.