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May 13, 1913

The Grand Heckler

This week I witnessed an event that’s sure to go down in history. Republican Senator Levi Greenwood gave a speech at Faneuil Hall in support of his re-election campaign for President of the Massachusetts state senate, but that wasn’t what set this meeting apart.

My father and Daniel intended to go and they didn’t even bother to invite me!  They just assumed that because I was a young lady I wouldn’t be interested in politics. It was all for the best anyway, because I’d received a message from my feisty friend Helen Ainsworth who had very interesting news, indeed. If my father and soon-to-be husband wanted a political meeting, they were about to get one!

Helen was quite insistent that I join her for this rally. The Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government (BESAGG), planned to attend, and if I cared at all about the rights of women, I must be there. Mr. Greenwood was a known to be vocal about his anti-women views regarding voting and Miss Margaret Foley was going to make an appearance.

I confess, I didn’t know who Margaret Foley was, and I didn’t intend to inform Helen of my ignorance.

I soon got my answer when we met for tea at a shop in Quincy Market about an hour before the rally was to start. 

“Margaret Foley is known as ‘The Grand Heckler', Helen said. Not large in stature, Helen had a boisterous personality to make up for it. “There are members of BESAGG that view her as an outsider but for many of us, she is an inspiration!”

“I can’t wait to see her in action,” I said, catching Helen’s enthusiasm.

“Several Politicians with Anti-suffragette platforms have felt the sting of her tongue all over New England,” Helen said. “She has stolen the show at many rallies such as this one.”

I was trying to imagine how one lone women could win over a crowd of mostly men using just words and a strong voice. “Does she really accomplish anything?”

“I’m told her Irish Catholic background makes her very relatable to the working class. Especially here in Boston. She's a formidable force.”

The Assembly Hall was located on the top floor of Faneuil Hall—a two-story brick building with a farmer’s market on the main level—was filled to capacity as Levi Haywood Greenwood began his speech. As expected, the crowd was mostly men with a few women scattered about. We garnered angry stares from some of the men sitting beside and behind us as we jostled through to claim a pair of vacant hard wooden seats. 

Mr. Greenwood, a surprisingly youthful looking man, began his speech. “Fine citizens of Boston and my fellow Americans. I am so happy to see such a good turn out for tonight’s rally. I value each one of you that have supported me during these last few years.” He paused for a moment and then took on a sort of conspiratorial tone. “Men are able to run the government and take care of the women. Do women have to vote in order to receive the protection of their men?” 

Helen and I shared a wide-eyed look. He certainly didn’t waste time getting into it!

“Why, men have gone to war, endured every privation, and death itself in defense of women. Today we live in a time where change is needed, but not all change is good. Only those with forthright vision and courage can recognize the difference between progression and foolishness.” 

Suddenly, a tall woman wearing a stylish stole and large-brimmed hat leaped to her feet. She had been seated about ten rows from the front, and with with a loud confident voice shouted, “Yes, Mr. Greenwood, change is on the horizon. Even a blind man can see it coming. How long will you be afraid of the women’s vote, Mr. Greenwood? Do you think us stupid? Insipid? Your opponent Mr. Edward Sibley certainly does not! Your lack of vision is going to stop you in your tracks!” 

You could feel a shock going through the crowd as all eyes were now on her. Boldly, she stepped into the aisle and kept going. 

“This man is well-known for his smooth rhetoric, but if you listen closely you can hear the sound of a door closing. That door is closing on you, Mr. Greenwood.” Her voice reverberated off the walls of the great hall. “I think you better step back before you are found to be obstructing what is to surely come.”  

I found myself flushing red at the sheer audacity of the woman. My eyes darted quickly throughout the room in search of the familiar forms of my father and Daniel. What did they think of what this woman had to say? What did Daniel really think?

“Ahh, Ms Foley,” Mr. Greenwood returned, surprisingly unflustered at the sudden intrusion. “So nice of you to join us. It’s always entertaining to see a woman place her foot firmly in her mouth while so nicely dressed!” At this the crowd roared with laughter. “Everyone knows,” he continued,”that only the most radical of women are the ones who would actually bother to vote anyways, rendering your words of little importance, and not representative of real public sentiment.”

“Perhaps a foot in the mouth is better than two fingers in your ears, Mr. Greenwood.”  Another burst of laughter from the crowd. “Perhaps if it was understood that when women vote they actually have a say in the taxes and laws that so deeply affect them. Perhaps even the least radical woman would then understand that the lack of direct political influence constitutes a powerful reason why women's wages have been kept at a minimum…”

“Miss Foley…” 

 “Mr Greenwood, un-stop your ears! Perhaps if women could vote, there would be less unsavoury politicians such as yourself who lack backbone and vision of any kind!” At this the crowd started yelling and the sound of stomping feet filled the hall. 

Greenwood shouted, above the din.“The courageous, chivalrous, manly men, and the womanly women are the real home builders and mothers of the country! Keep women at home and out of politics!” 

“Women are gathering at the gate of politics, Mr. Greenwood!” Miss Foley shouted back. “Hip Hip Hooray for Sibley!” She turned and repeated this exuberant yell three times until almost the entire crowd was shouting with her. The moment was spellbinding.

Margaret Foley had single-handedly, and in record time,  reduced this meeting into a rally for the opposing candidate. Shouting matches began all over the hall as opposing views and slogans were loudly proclaimed. The officiators on the stage tried to bring order but chaos had been unleashed. The campaign band began to play in a vain effort to calm the storm.

 I saw Margaret Foley leave out a side door as the pandemonium continued. Her work here was done. 

Helen stared after the vivacious suffragette with a wide-eyed look of admiration. “I simply adore her!”

I don’t know if Mr. Greenwood will win his seat in the state senate or not. I can only say that I have been forever changed.

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