Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Esther Frances Boland, 1858-1950
By Kelsey Murphy, B.A in History from Bridgewater State University,
and Jessica Schiowitz, graduate student, Simmons University
Esther Frances Nichols was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 16, 1857 to parents William Ward Nichols and Frances Ora Noyes. Both of Boland's parents were born in Maine and made their way to Massachusetts. In October 1886, she married Dr. Elisha Shepard Boland. Dr. Boland became involved in local politics himself, running in the 1903 Boston Republican primary. Perhaps because of her marriage to a doctor, Boland became involved in issues within the medical community and public health. The 1915 issue of the Journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States listed Esther F Boland as a contributor to the Organization of American Physicians for Relief of the Belgian Profession. Boland's crusade for progressive causes did not stop at medicine. She was a staunch supporter of public education and the role government played, and most importantly women's suffrage.
Boland remained passionate about education reform throughout her life. In 1893, she campaigned for a position on the school board for the city of Boston. In a 1902 issue of the Women's Suffrage Leaflet Boland revealed some of her positions on education reform within Massachusetts in the article she authored titled “The Schools and the Commonwealth.” Boland argued, “There must be a cooperation on the part of all good citizens in placing the controls of the schools in the hands of men and women of unquestioned fitness and integrity...will be a guarantee that the interests of the schools will always be paramount...” To Boland, the competency and lack of politicizing school boards would keep public schools in competition with private institutions. Yet even in this short piece, Boland reminded women of the importance of their political voice and action; “This work of strengthening our schools should appeal strongly to women...inasmuch as they, equally with men, are empowered to vote for those to whom the management of the school is entrusted.” As a member of the women's suffrage movement, Boland advocated for women's right to vote and participate in politics and the public sphere.
Esther Boland was an active member of the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In 1898, NAWSA listed Boland on the standing Committee on Plan of Work. Boland held meetings in and around Boston and spoke throughout Massachusetts during the early 1900s, speaking at “sixty odd women's clubs” for the suffrage cause. Boland encouraged all eligible women to register to vote in order to ensure the safety of all of Boston's youth. She repeatedly defended women's right and duty to participate in government. For instance, Boland spoke publicly on April 17, 1901, at an equal rights rally at Faneuil Hall given by the Young Women's Political Club and College Equal Suffrage League. There, she stated that women's right to vote for president was equally important with domestic obligations. During a suffrage debate in January 1904, she declared, “Our children will grow up in spite of all we can do.” She dismissed the caricature of suffragists as women who had abandoned their responsibilities to their families; “This bugbear of deserted firesides, unrocked babies, neglected husbands, buttonless boots, has no real existence,” she wrote. Suffrage would not take away women's ability to be proper wives and mothers.
Boland became actively involved with the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, serving as the MWSA's Chairman of the Committee on Meetings in 1907. In that role, she expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the militant suffragettes in contemporary Britain and urged suffragists to remain respectable. Esther believed, “that the potency of the dignified methods heretofore employed is not yet exhausted.” Her pro-suffrage arguments remained consistent with older ideas about social housekeeping. A newspaper article from February 6, 1914, reported that Boland, “maintained the right to vote would enable women to safeguard their children from evil influences outside the home.” She often attended the National Conventions of NAWSA as a delegate from Massachusetts.
While Boland was a suffragist, most of her volunteer work focused on the Women's Charity Club of Boston. This organization's main purpose was to assist in funding a hospital for the surgical treatment of women's abdominal diseases. As the organization's vice-president in the fall of 1906, she led in planning a Tambola or Japanese bazaar, with invited dignitaries from across Boston. The entertainments held included a concert, a magic show, a song and dance show, recitations, and monologues. Boland served as president of the club between 1907 and 1915 and was appointed a delegate to the Massachusetts State Federation of Women's Clubs meeting in June 1907. The Women's Charity Club succeeded in bringing the Massachusetts Woman's Hospital of Parker Hill out of debt. Boland was again Women's Charity Club delegate to the State Federation of Women's Club Meetings in 1915, taking part in an annual club meeting, chaperoning a dance and pouring tea at another charity club event. She stayed active through the 1930s.
In 1931, Boland sent a letter to Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of suffragist Lucy Stone. Blackwell had, in 1930, released a biography of her mother. She respectfully wrote to Blackwell “Let me say that I do not feel that you have done justice to Mr. Blackwell's part in getting suffrage by Constitutional Amendment...at any rate Henry B. Blackwell was the outstanding worker in the army as I knew it in Massachusetts.” Even later in her life, Boland still participated in the historical discourse of women's suffrage, which illustrates how important it remained to her.
Esther Boland passed away in 1950 in Boston.
Boland, Esther F. “The Schools and the Commonwealth.” Women's Suffrage Leaflet Vol. IX, no. 1 (1902). National Library of Australia.
Boland, Esther F. “Are the Methods of American Woman Suffragists as Effective as Those of Their English Sisters: Organization the Watchword.” The Boston Globe. July 21, 1907. P. 34.
Boland, Esther F. "Mothers and the Schools." The Woman's Journal, October 8, 1898. P.3.
Boland, Esther F. "Women Attendants for the Insane." The Woman's Journal, August 17, 1889. P.258.
Boland, Esther F. to Alice Stone Blackwell, 12 March 1931, Box 4, Reel 3, General Correspondence 1839-1961, National American Women Suffrage Association Records, Library of Congress.
Boston City Council. Documents of the City of Boston. Volume 1 Issues 1-23. Boston: Municipal Printing Office, 1905.
Massachusetts Medical Society. Medical Communications. Vol. 17 (1896). https://books.google.com/books?id=3CugAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Stone-Day, Lucy. Women's Work. American Co-operator. Vol. 3 Issue 76. Lewinston, 1903. https://books.google.com/books?id=90c-AAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
The Military Surgeon: Journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. Vol. 36. Edited by Samuel Cecil Stanton. Chicago, 1915. https://books.google.com/books?id=daRGAQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Thirty-Second Annual Report of the State Board of Charity of Massachusetts. Boston: Wright and Potter Printing Co., State Printers, 1911. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=Ipc6AQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&pg=GBS.PP1
Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.
Ancestry.com, Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.