By Cassandra Berman, graduate student, Brandeis University
Josephine Collins was born in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1879. Collins remained unmarried throughout her life, and ran a teashop and a dry goods store in Framingham; later in life she worked as a bookkeeper at Babson College. Collins’s most notable contribution to the suffrage movement was her involvement in the 1919 demonstration in Boston upon President Wilson’s visit to the city.
Collins was an early member of the National Woman’s Party, and on February 25, 1919, she participated in Alice Paul’s suffrage demonstration at the State House in Boston, which coincided with the president’s arrival in the city. The demonstrators hoped to pressure Wilson, who was on his way back to Washington after negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in Paris, into pushing through the suffrage amendment. Uncowed by police threats of arrest for loitering, Collins reportedly held a sign asking, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” Along with twenty-one other women, Collins was taken by police to the city’s House of Detention for Women; most of the women refused to post bail, preferring instead to make a statement through their incarceration. The protesters refused to pay the fine levied on them, and were subsequently taken to Charles Street Jail to serve an eight-day term. From jail, the women sent Wilson a letter, urging him to ensure the passage of the suffrage amendment.
Collins did not serve her full eight-day sentence. Though she resisted removal from jail, her brother paid her five-dollar fine and won her early release. After returning to Framingham, her business suffered, reportedly from customers’ opposition to her militancy after her arrest, and she eventually closed her business and sought alternative employment. In the 1920s, Collins was urged to join the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. Alice Paul wrote to Collins in 1926, asking her to join a suffragist reunion aboard the Equal Rights Ship, and in 1927 NWP Executive Secretary Mabel Vernon invited her to join other NWP members in Washington to urge President Coolidge to support the ERA. There is no record that Collins attended either event. The NWP also recognized her service to the movement by giving her a “jail door pin” designed by Alice Paul.
Collins died in Framingham in 1961. In 2005, the city honored Collins and another of the area’s suffragists, Louise Parker Mayo, by naming an intersection the “Mayo-Collins Square.”
“Arrest of 22 Suffragettes Charged with Violating a City Ordinance,” Boston Daily Globe, February 24, 1919; “Jailed ‘Suffs’ Send Wire to President,” Boston Daily Globe, February 28, 1919; Anita C. Danker, “Grassroots Suffragists: Josephine Collins and Louise Mayo, A Study in Contrasts,” New England Journal of History, 67:2 (2011): 54-72.