Massachusetts Creates a Women’s Rights History Trail

By Maile Blume

BOSTON, Mass. — Over 150 years after the start of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Massachusetts is establishing a history trail to commemorate the fight for women’s rights.

The Women’s Rights History Trail will include locations throughout the Commonwealth, and honor “individuals who reflect racial, ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity,” according to a law passed in May 2022.

The bill to create a Women’s Rights History Trail was first introduced in 2017 by Rep. Gailanne Cariddi of the 1st Berkshire district. After Cariddi passed away later that year, her colleague, Rep. Hannah Kane of Worcester brought the bill before the House again.

Kane said, “I really wanted to not only get the legislation passed because I believed it was long overdue and significantly needed, but also to carry on [Cariddi’s] vision, and to make sure that it became a reality.”

Rep. Carolyn Dykema of the 8th Middlesex district and Rep. Danielle Gregoire of the 4th Middlesex district joined Kane in bringing the bill before the House. Kane described the collaboration as the effort of “a bipartisan, all-female delegation.”

“Each of us has a distinct memory of a woman who had a great impact,” said Kane, “whether it be on democracy in general or women’s suffrage but also who had an impact on each of us.”

The new law created a task force which will engage communities across the Commonwealth in the process of researching significant landmarks and figures. The task force will also partner with cities and towns to incorporate pre-existing statues and plaques into the trail.

The trail will provide a new opportunity for residents to learn about historic women from their neighborhoods. Tracy Kenney, a Holliston resident who grew up in Newton said, “Especially [in] my generation, a lot of the historical information was about men. There wasn’t too much about women…I was born in 1966, so it was definitely a different day back then.”

Kenney also experienced a gender gap once she joined the workforce: she said that when she took a job at an accounting firm after graduating from college in 1988, approximately 95 percent of the partners were men.

“It just shows you that not that long ago, women were not considered equal in the workforce,” said Kenney.

Moree Meehan, a Boston resident, said that historic women were largely absent from her education as well: “As a nurse, I learned a bit in college about the influence of past nurse leaders who were all women but otherwise learned by reading books about historical women to my daughters when they were growing up.”

She said, “I think having examples of women in leadership roles to look up to would definitely have been beneficial.”

Beth Looney, another Boston resident, said, “Historically, the successes of women are under- celebrated if acknowledged at all. I am excited for this development to bring light to incredible women in history. I would hope that there’s diverse representation of women though.”

Looney revised the curriculum of the school she works at to be representative of a variety of identities, anti-racist, and anti-biased. “We developed units of study on women and also on various gender identities so that students got to have more mirrors of themselves in the curriculum and also windows for themselves to see other people who make up the world too,” said Looney.

Kane said that the task force will ensure that the figures of the Women’s Rights History Trail are diverse as well. “I think part of the intentionality [of the task force] is doing the outreach to the public to make sure that we are gathering information and insight from a broad spectrum,” said Kane, “not just geographic places, but different groups who may have different research into women.”

Kane said that she felt strongly about creating a Women’s Rights History Trail from the moment she encountered the bill: “There are times when you see a piece of legislation and you just think, you know, A: I can’t believe this isn’t already a thing, and B: how do I help this become a reality,” said Kane. “And that was my gut reaction when I first saw this legislation, when Gailanne filed it.”

The task force held its first meeting last month. The committee will meet again in December to discuss strategies for gathering public input on the trail. With the task force in motion, Massachusetts has taken its first steps to building a statewide Women’s Rights History Trail.