Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date

Spring 2005


This study seeks to answer the question: Given the wealth of talent and resources women possess—and the state offers—why is it so tough for women to gain representation in Boston City Hall? To answer this question, and to document the efforts women have made over almost 100 years, we examine the history of women who have run for and won—or lost—election to the Boston City Council in the 20th century. How does the structure and culture of a given urban political arena (i.e., “Boston politics”) affect women’s opportunities as elected officials? What is women’s political culture and how has it differed from patriarchal models of urban political culture? What constitutes political ambition and participation for women? How do women fare in Boston compared to other capital cities in the United States?

This history of women and the Boston City Council uses public records, media reports, and oral histories with candidates and elected officials to tell a story that fills a gap in scholarship regarding the roles of women in Boston city politics. First, we will provide a brief description of the historical context—how “Boston politics” has shaped, hindered, or, in some cases, promoted women’s election to the City Council. Second, using data gathered from historical records, oral histories, interviews, and other sources, we will provide a chronological history of women who ran, won, and lost their bids for election. Finally, the paper concludes with an analysis of the reasons it has been so difficult for women to gain anything approaching equal representation on the Boston City Council. This analysis includes systemic constraints such as bias in gender roles and expectations; traditional notions about women’s capabilities and responsibility; familiarity with the political process; the role of gatekeepers; and fundraising and other forms of support.



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