Mary Boyle O'Reilly was another in what seems to have been an endless supply of Boston's woman activist/reformers. She was active in Catholic charitable organizations, women's labor and social issues, settlement houses, prisons, education, and Irish issues as well. She ran for public office, went to Europe during World War I and sent back articles to the Boston Globe, and was no mean gardener as well. Some people seem to fit 25 hours of activity into each 24 hour day,
November 26, 1905
Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly was born in Charlestown on May 18, 1873. Her father was the Irish patriot, poet and journalist, John Boyle O'Reilly. Her mother, whose contributions under the name of "Agnes Smiley" in a periodical called the Young Crusader, had led the poet to make her acquaintance, was Mary Smiley Murphy. Miss O'Reilly is the eldest of four daughters.
Her father, during his whole married life in Boston lived at 34 Winthrop st, Charlestown, and in the same vicinity the candidate for the school board has dwelt until within the present year, when she moved to Jamaica Plain.
Her mother had been educated in the public schools of Charlestown, and the daughter went to the Charlestown grammar school. She attended for some years the convent of the Sacred Heart, Providence. In the parish of St Mary's Charlestown, three generations, grandmother, mother and daughter, have been parishioners, and friends of Rev John W. McMahon, DD, who had been a boyhood chum of Miss O'Reilly's uncle, James S. Murphy.
In 1899 she took a short course at the Gilman school for girls, Cambridge, with intention of entering Radcliffe, but owing to illness was obliged to abandon her set studies for a time.There she has since resumed privately under tutors, and maintains them in courses now.
After travel in Europe and the East, she returned to Boston and with Mrs Warren M. Hill, Miss Maud M. Rockwell and Miss Margaret Carey, established the Guild of St Elizabeth, East Springfield st, as settlement house for children.
The institution grew out of a series of sermons by the Rev Thomas I Gasson SJ, of Boston college, of which Miss Rockwell's brother, the Rev Joseph H. Rockwell, SJ, is vice-president. The guild began its career with three dollars in its treasury, and now owns its own house, with a day nursery of 50 babies and numerous educational and social features.
Miss O'Reilly is an officer in the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, the Tuberculosis society, the State Conference of Charities and half a dozen other charitable or philanthropic organizations.
Within a few days of Miss O'Reilly was appointed by Mayor Whelton a trustee of the children's institutions, but it is understood she will relinquish this post.
November 22, 1905
Active In Charities. Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly New Trustee for Children.
Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly, who was appointed a trustee for children by acting Mayor Whelton Monday, to take the place of Mrs Elizabeth c. Keller, who has resigned, is the daughter of Mrs Mary (Murphy) O'Reilly of Charlestown and the late John Boyle O'Reilly. She has taken a deep interest in philanthropic work all her life, and has been an active worker in the charities connected with the Roman Catholic church. She is a charter member of St Elizabeth's guild, which conducts a settlement house for children in the South End; and she has been secretary of the guild since it formation.
Miss O'Reilly is a member of the board of directors of the women's educational union, and for the last two years has been a member of the examining committee of the Boston public library. She has also written a great deal for periodicals and magazines.
Miss O'Reilly resides at 39 Eliot st, Jamaica Plain.
February 2, 1908
What Country Girls Find Terrors of Lodging Houses Outlined. Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly Describes Boston Conditions. Makes Suggestions for Needed Reforms.
Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly made a most interesting and thrilling address upon the conditions in Boston lodging houses, at the Twentieth Century club luncheon yesterday afternoon, and at the close of her vivid description of unpleasant, unhealthy and even immoral situations, she suggested a remedy in the form of an independent commission - perhaps under the board of health - with full authority of inspection and regulation.
She said in part: "I shall not go into terrible details, for it is our aim to keep out all unnecessary sensationalism. We have been studying the problem of the lodging house in ward 12, where the St Elizabeth guild house is situated. That which has interested us most was the problem of the young girls from the country, 75,000 of whom are in Boston lodging houses.
"They have come from the simple, quiet home life of the country, and dropped down suddenly, and, without experience, into the strange and complex civilization of a great city. Here they find the lodging houses almost on a level with the water - few of them being more then eight feet above - with untiled sewers which it is not 'practical politics' to fix, improper plumbing, houses unventilated, and every room with a cellary smell. Most everything of food is fried, even the bread, and the girl accustomed to good cooking cannot get food of the right sort. So she becomes racked with rheumatism and other pains.
"But the social aspect is far worse than the physical. These girls come here poor, anemic and untrained, and therefore have to take the first position they can get. Their pay is hardly sufficient for them to live on, and they are always within a week of absolute poverty, and sometimes closer. They have no money to pay for the pleasures they crave, and there is nothing left for them but the 'penny dreadfuls,' dime shows and dances.
"They are generally surrounded with an atmosphere of absolute loneliness, there generally being no parlor where they can see a friend, and the rules of the house forbid all wholesome liberties. Miss Rockwell, my associate in the guild, and I cannot agree with the claim that the landlady cannot afford a parlor. If she understood things as we do she would have one.
"Many of them, however, feel and act as if it is best not to know too much. One of them, when describing the reasons why she ejected a lodger, said to me, 'I don't mind when a lodger has a respectable kind of drunk, the same as you or I would, Miss O'Reilly, but when he throws his wife's trunk out of the front window, you see it is liable to give the house a bad name.'
"But there are some who are not even so particular as this, for they do not care what takes place. I have come to the point where I believe if the police, knowing the facts, won't act, other authorities out to shut doff the water, stop the inmates from paying rent until the evils are remedied, and warn the owner of the property that he will be responsible.
[the article continues in this vein.]
March 15, 1909
Future Bright. Miss O'Reilly Foresees a "Greater Ireland." Lectures in Her Native Parish of St Mary's, Charlestown.
Under the auspices of St Mary's guild, Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly, eldest daughter of the late John Boyle O'Reilly, lectured last night in St Mary's church, Charlestown, before an audience of 1000, composed mostly of old neighbors and friends of her illustrious father. Her subject was "Greater Ireland, Her Ancient Glory and Her Future Greatness."
The lecture was supplemented by an excellent concert of Irish music and readings.
Rev Dr John W. McMahon, pastor of the church, presented Miss O'Reilly. He said it was a great pleasure to him to introduce the lecturer, who was born in the parish, who was the daughter of his dear friend, John Boyle O'Reilly, and who had the affection of her many friends and the friends of her father.
In opening her lecture Miss O'Reilly said: "I have come to stand by the old altar where my grandparents came to be married, to speak, very briefly, for memory's sake, not of war or rapine or vengeance, but of the noble memories that the children of this generation must learn from your lips lest, being ignorant, they lose pride in our nation's history.
"It is not proper that I should stand near the altar where we all must pray for forgiveness and speak needlessly of Cromwell or the accursed story of Drogheda, but it is just and right that we whose faith and race pride are so mingled should hold at least one night in all the year sacred to recalling, even in our sanctuaries, the ancient glory of the motherland; the causes that led to her ruin, and the reasons we have for a new born hope in a Greater Ireland."
Then followed an interesting account of events in the history of Ireland, of the hardships of its people and the laws passed by England endeavoring to make that country an English-Ireland. "This condition," she said, "is gradually wearing away the lands which were taken from the people of Ireland by the English government are gradually being restored to their rightful owners."
[more of the same follows.]
August 29, 1909
Burning of The Convent - A Study Of The Dead Past.
Under these headlines, Mary Boyle O'Reilly wrote a major article reviewing the events and conditions that led up to the burning of the Ursuline convent in Charlestown Ma. in 1834. The article is far to large to transcribe, and not relevant to Jamaica Plain other than to show Miss O'Reilly's interest and dedication to the subject. It is also of interest that the editors of the Boston Globe were willing to give her the opportunity to write such a long article on the subject. Somewhere along the line, Miss O'Reilly evolved from an advocate for social reform to a journalist as well.
March 3, 1910
Plea For Working Girls. Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly Addresses the Federation of Woman's Clubs at Jamaica Plain.
Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly was the guest of the Woman's clubs conference at the Central Congregational church, Jamaica Plain, yesterday afternoon, and spoke on "Working Girls." Miss O'Reilly said that there are 150,000 wage earning women in Massachusetts, two-thirds of whom are under 30 years of age, and that 20 percent of them are out of work through no fault of their own. The wage earning of girls begins as soon as they can get their certificate, at 16 years of age.
"These school girls are eagerly sought by large employers of female help," said Miss O'Reilly, "because they are cheap, alert, ambitious and dependable and ignorant of their own rights and privileges. Girl workers go into the industries in four groups. First, a pitifully small number choose the trade; the second, turned out by misfortune, take the first thing offered; the third are born to work and accept anything that comes without energy or interest, and the fourth are girls who have been stunted by malnutrition or defective minds or bodies and who work only under pressure.
"Many excellent people expect poverty to be interesting when it is a little ragged, and the working girl is almost never ragged. No working woman wants charity. Today a very large part of our unprotected girl workers earn wages that will not supply the urgent needs of life. They work to the extreme limit of endurance under conditions that make it impossible to obey the elementary laws of health."
Miss O'Reilly made an earnest plea for pleasures for the working girl, instancing that the girl who is worn out by her work needs relaxation. Dancing and the theatre, when they are safe-guarded, are real pleasures for the working girl, she declared.
May 15, 1910
An Eye-Enchanting Garden.
Wealth of Blooms Grown by Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly at Her Home in Jamaica Plain - Beds for Frendship Growths, Holy Land Flowers, Sweet Scented Delights for the Blind, Glories Developed From the Old Ursuline Convent Grounds in Charlestown Before That Institution was Burned.
An ideal, satisfying garden, one that grips the attention of passers-by, is that schemed by Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly at her home in Jamaica Plain, in a quiet street near the pond. In her plans she strove to get away as far as possible from the style of gardens to be found around most homes, with their mathematically arranged beds and walks, and to make for each plant conditions so natural that there would be no possibility of failure in inducing them to thrive. Following this idea, she designed a series of gardens within a garden; a dozen groupings, with plants in each that bear out the significance of the name that is given to each collection. For instance, the "friendship garden," in which is found only plants that have been sent to her as gifts. Near the "friendship garden" is a little inclosure(sic) that might not be noticed, unless one's attention were directed to it. It is filled with Holy Land flowers, tiny growths that were brought from that faraway land by Miss O'Reilly herself.
Another inclosure is called "the nuns' garden" because most of the plants therein were taken from the garden that surrounded the Ursuline convent in Charlestown before it was burned. The "garden for the blind" is planted with sweet scented flowers and foliage growths for distributing among the blind.
Excepting the shrubs and trees every growing thing about the grounds was planted by Miss O'Reilly. Thousands of tulips and narcissus flourish there. In getting together such a collection of narcissus she purchased from a greenhouse man the old bulbs that he had forced for the trade in his greenhouses and which he found but little use for thereafter. For a small sum she obtained these. While useless for further forcing for a commercial purpose they have improved their flowering each year since planting.
All the annuals are started in the house in the spring and are afterward planted in the hotbed at the back of the house. For a tiny affair this hotbed produces wonderful results. It is but the size of a hotbed sash, sunk into the ground about three feet, and boarded to a height of two feet above the ground. With the cold frame this hotbed is the source of the thousands of plants that are used each year.
The abundance of flowers about the place are all utilized, and each morning, shortly after sunrise in the summer, the flowers that are to be sent to the city for distribution are gathered. In order to insure freshness, a wheel table carrying dozens of bottles and jars filled with water is pushed from bed to bed. The flowers are cut and immediately put into the water, thereby avoiding the wilting that would result by any other treatment. This flower gathering is a daily performance in fair weather and hundreds of blooms are delivered each day at the hospitals.
The hardy plants occupy a place of prominence, not only because of the numbers of them, but rather because of the groupings and arrangement for consecutive blooming, and the fact that all have been grown from seedlings. Digitalis, aquilegia, cardinal flower, troillus, campanulas, etc, are to be found enlivening the place with their blooms.
The attractive part of the whole is that the financial requirements to produce such a successful showing are very small, particularly when the results are considered. Each year Miss O'Reilly spends about $50 on the garden. This includes the cost of a man for the early spring cleaning and the weekly grasscutting. Beyond this there is comparatively no expense, as the requisite stock is grown from seed and the cost of seed for such purposes does not exceed $5.
Source: all articles come from the Boston Globe.