Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Amy F. Acton, 1867-1918

By Kelly Bunting and Molly Brown, graduate students, Simmons College

Amy F. Acton was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on July 3, 1867. Acton moved to Massachusetts to attend law school at Boston University. In March of 1893 she became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

She graduated from Boston University's Law School in 1895 as the only female student and the secretary of her class. Acton passed the Suffolk County bar in 1895 and was listed first among the 36 test takers. While there is record of Acton working in the legal department of the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, OH before 1898, she spent the majority of her career in Boston. There is no record of Acton marrying or having children. City directories and censuses cite Acton as living with her brother Arthur Acton and his wife Agnes Acton for most of her life.

Acton set up a successful law practice on State Street in downtown Boston. By 1903 Acton moved the practice to Tremont Street in Boston, and began to heavily advertise for that office in 1906. By 1910 Acton's legal offices had moved to the State House. Acton offered free legal counsel to impoverished women on Thursday afternoons in her office, and became an advocate for women's legal rights. She was an active member of the Massachusetts Association of Women Lawyers and hosted a meeting in her home in Waltham.

Acton was a leader within the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. She was chairman of the legislative committee and spoke up for women's rights to vote with conviction and frequency. In 1904, for example, she spoke alongside Julia Ward Howe at a legislative election committee meeting in support of Governor John L. Bates, who advocated woman suffrage. Acton presented at regular meetings in Allston and East Boston, often alongside Henry B. Blackwell, in support of the school suffrage campaign. She wrote future Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis, in 1905 asking him to speak in favor of women's right to vote for candidates for school committee. (He declined to do so, stating that though he supported the cause, it was not the right time.) Acton also advocated for the passage of the equal guardianship in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.

Articles regarding Acton's demeanor in meetings or hearings, described her repeatedly as being "witty and clear." Attending meetings, speaking out at hearings, and advertising her legal services, Acton's work with the Massachusetts Woman's Suffrage Association as a member or law specialist continued until near her death in 1918 in Boston.


"Amy F. Acton." Woman's Journal (Boston, MA), Nov. 10, 1906: 179. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT.

A. S. B. "A Great Week." Woman's Journal (Boston, MA), Feb. 23, 1901: 60.

G. K., and Alice Stone Blackwell. "To the Massachusetts Leagues." Woman's Journal (Boston, MA) Dec. 19, 1903: 406.

Blackwell, Alice Stone. "Editorial: A Long Deferred Victory." Woman's Journal (Boston, MA), July 24, 1915.

Blackwell, Henry B. "School Committee Suffrage in Boston." Woman's Journal (Boston, MA), Nov. 10, 1900: 356.

________.. "School Committee Suffrage in Boston." Woman's Journal (Boston, MA) Nov. 24, 1900: 372.

Brandeis, Louis D. Letters of Louis D. Brandeis: Volume III, 1913-1915: Progressive and Zionist, Edited by Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy. New York: State University of New York Press, 1971: 271.

Hall, Ida E. "Massachusetts Clubs and Leagues." Woman's Journal (Boston, MA), Nov. 7, 1903: 360.

Law Notes. Volume IX. April, 1905, to March, 1906. Long Island New York: Edward Thompson Company, 1906.

The Law Student's Helper 3, No. 1(Detroit, MI), Jan. 1895.

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906 (M1299); Microfilm Serial: M1299; Microfilm Roll: 47.

National Archives,; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records of Naturalization , 8/1845 - 12/1911; NAI Number: 3000057; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG 21.

National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, 1891-1943; NAI Number: 4319742; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: T843; NARA Roll Number: 183.

Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction at the Forty-Third Annual Session held in Indianapolis, Indiana May 10-17, 1916. Chicago, IL: The Hildmann Printing Co., 1916.

Woman's Journal (Boston, MA), Oct. 1, 1898: 313.

Year: 1910; Census Place: Waltham Ward 3, Middlesex, Massachusetts; Roll: T624_606; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 1049; FHL microfilm: 1374619.

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