Biographical Sketch of Mollie Ritchie Cole

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mollie Ritchie Cole, 1863-1923

By Anna Assogba, Research Librarian, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Officer in Massachusetts Woman's Suffrage Association; Officer in Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government; Secretary of College Equal Suffrage League

Mollie Ritchie was born November 26, 1863, in Boston Massachusetts. Her parents, John and Mary Ritchie, were Irish immigrants, and she had two older brothers, John and Samuel. On May 11, 1887, she married Otto B. Cole, in Boston. At the time, Otto was working for the Signal Service Bureau, though he retired from the Bureau later that year and later on went into real estate. Their son, Winthrop Ritchie Cole, was born in Paris, France, on November 28, 1888. Mollie attended Radcliffe College in 1894-1896, though she did not graduate. In her private life, Mollie belonged to the Boston Appalachian Mountain Club (with her husband) and the American Folk-Lore Society. As part of her interest in folklore, Mollie did some translation work, including publishing a translation from Spanish of the religious play "Los Pastores" in 1906. In a description of former Radcliffe students, she was said to be "a brilliant linguist." She also did some photography, including contributing to the Sixteenth Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Association in the fall of 1887. Later in life, she also took courses to continue her education, including a music course at the Harvard Summer School and teachers' courses at Boston University.

In 1900, Mollie played a role in the formation of the College Equal Suffrage League (CESL) with Maud Wood Park and Inez Haynes Gillmore. Caroline Lexow Babcock, who served as president of the New York College Equal Suffrage League and later on as executive secretary of the National College Equal Suffrage League, recalled that Mollie had been a co-founder of the CESL, though most accounts of the League's founding do not mention Mollie. She was elected secretary in 1902 and hosted the CESL meetings at her home on Boylston Street on more than one occasion. One of the early meetings of the League in 1901 held at Mollie's house was memorable not only for the appearance of a mouse who caused some distress to the attendees, but also because of the behavior of the invited male speaker. He had previously impressed one of the members by a speech in favor of woman's suffrage, but unfortunately, at this meeting, he ended up running on and on in a drunken, incoherent blather and eventually had to be escorted out by Otto Cole and Charles Park (Maud Wood Park's husband).

Mollie was one of the speakers at a February 20, 1901 hearing at the Massachusetts State House about giving women taxpayers voting rights in municipal elections. She began her address, "I favor the petition because, of all the suffrage measures brought forward, it seems most likely to appeal to men, since it is based on the common-sense business principle that those who pay the bills should have a voice in contracting the bills." Mollie was not a stranger to public speaking, as the previous year she had spoken about the work of women in Boston schools at a rally for the Public School Association in October and about the Public School Association at the Young Women's Political Club in December. She also spoke at another Massachusetts State House hearing for women's suffrage in March 1906, reading letters sent from the president of the Wyoming State Federation of Women's Clubs (women in Wyoming had been able to vote since 1869) and the president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs.

Along with other Massachusetts Woman's Suffrage Association members, Mollie wrote opinion pieces on woman's suffrage for the Boston Globe, from 1907 to 1908.

Mollie served in various capacities for the Massachusetts Woman's Suffrage Association from 1886 to 1909, including director, clerk, secretary, auditor, a member of the Finance Committee, a member of the Committee on Industrial Relations Affecting Women and Children, and as chairman of the Legislation and Civics Committee.

Mollie also belonged to the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government (BESAGG), which had the goal of achieving woman's suffrage while creating better government. She served as recording secretary and as treasurer for the organization.

Mollie belonged to the New England Woman's Club for many years, including 1901 to 1909. Though the club was not focused on suffrage per se, many prominent Massachusetts woman's suffrage figures were also members of the club, and in 1901, Mollie spoke at the club on the following question: "Can women's influence be made practical and effective without the ballot?"

Mollie's husband died on June 5, 1917, in Boston, and Mollie herself passed away in 1923, in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

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