Maud Wood Park
November 2015: Suffragist of the Month
Born in Boston in 1871 to Mary Russell (Collins) and James Rodney Wood, she attended St. Agnes School in Albany, N.Y., and taught school for eight years before attending Radcliffe College, where she was a co-ed intercollegiate debater. In 1898, she and fellow student Inez Haynes Irwin invited Alice Stone Blackwell, a leading feminist and suffragist and daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, to address Radcliffe students. She secretly married Charles Edward Park before graduating summa cum laude.
A frequent speaker, she joined the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). After attending her first National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) meeting as nearly the only young woman, she committed to engaging students in the suffrage movement. She organized a College Equal Suffrage League (CESL) with Inez Haynes Irwin, visiting women’s colleges in Massachusetts to form local chapters. In 1908, she traveled nationally on behalf of CESL and, with Bryn Mawr College president M. Carey Thomas, established the National CESL. In 1901, she co-founded and served as executive secretary of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government (BESAGG).
Following her marriage to actor and theatrical agent Robert Hunter, Park also became a playwright. Keeping her dedication to suffrage, during this period, she traveled aboard to learn about women’s rights in other countries.
As a NAWSA leader from 1912-1915, she worked in Massachusetts to formulate suffrage campaign strategies, implement NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt’s “Winning Plan.” Although the fight for the 1915 Massachusetts suffrage referendum was unsuccessful, her leadership prompted Catt’s invitation to move to D.C. and chair the NAWSA Congressional Committee.
In a parallel effort to that of the National Woman’s Party under Alice Paul, Park led suffragists from all over the country in lobbying for a suffrage amendment to the Constitution. She coordinated with NAWSA state affiliates, oversaw a detailed record of the personal lives and interests of members of Congress, and established a lobbying model characterized by meticulous instructions, absolute propriety, and respect for U.S. Representatives and Senators. In fact, their lobbying decorum was so open and above board they were called “The Front Door Lobby” by the Congressmen themselves — a major contrast to the “backstairs” methods by some business and other interests.
After woman suffrage was won, she served for four years as the first president of the National League of Women Voters. She also chaired the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee (WJCC), a coalition of ten women’s organizations that included the League. During her tenure, WJCC lobbied successfully for such federal legislation as the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act.
After becoming ill in 1924, Park moved to Maine but continued to write plays under both her own name and pseudonyms. After her playwright husband’s death in 1928, she served as a League of Women Voters legislative counselor and continued to lecture on topics that included advocacy for a World Court. In 1939, her play Lucy Stone was performed in Boston.
In 1943, with former secretary of BESAGG Edna Stantial, she prepared and gave her suffrage and League papers, the Woman’s Rights Collection (WRC), to Radcliffe College. This collection became the core of what is now The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women, one of the major repositories of women’s history in the United States. In 1960, her book recounting the NAWSA lobbying experience, Front Door Lobby, was published posthumously.
Sources: Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955. Maud Wood Park Papers in the Woman’s Rights Collection, 1870-1960; item description, dates. M-91, folder Pa-#. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University,http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~sch01035, view on November 12, 2015. Edited by Edna Lamprey Stantial, Maud Wood Park, Front Door Lobby (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960). Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.