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Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day - Boston's Mary Boyle O’Reilly



Mary Boyle O’Reilly (1873-1939) was a social activist and reformer whose passion was protecting children and young women.  The daughter of Irish leader John Boyle O’Reilly, she was born and raised in Charlestown, and also lived in Jamaica Plain.

In 1901 O’Reilly and others established the Guild of St. Elizabeth, a Catholic settlement home for Children in Boston’s South End.  From 1907-1911 she was Massachusetts Prison Commissioner, and also a trustee of Boston’s  Children’s Institutions.

O’Reilly also used her writing to create change.  In 1910, disguised as a mill worker, she exposed the notorious ‘baby farms’ in New Hampshire.

In 1913 she became a foreign correspondent for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, reporting from Mexico and Russia, and heading up the London Office.  When World War I erupted, she entered Belgium disguised as a peasant to cover the action.  The Germans briefly imprisoned her and three other journalists, and upon her release she returned to Belgium in disguise.

O’Reilly was active in a variety of health and women’s organizations such as the Women's Educational and Industrial Union and the Tuberculosis Society, and she lectured extensively on Ireland and on her father’s work.

Her large collection of books, pamphlets and clippings on war propaganda are housed at the Boston Public Library.

Find out more about Boston's Irish history by visiting Irishheritagetrail.com