Dewson, Mary (Molly)

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Mary Williams "Molly" Dewson (February 18, 1874–October 21, 1962) was one of the most influential women in the Democratic Party in the 1930s and in Roosevelt's New Deal administration. She held numerous posts, including serving as an advisor to the National Recovery Administration. Dewson's service culminated with a position on the Social Security Board.

Dewson graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1897 with a degree in social work. She was first employed by the Domestic Reform Committee of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, where she provided assistance to domestic workers and taught at a housekeeping school. In 1900, she took a job with the Massachusetts State Industrial School for Girls, where she worked until 1912. This work and several publications brought her to the attention of state officials, who asked her to help lead an inquiry into minimum wages for workers in Massachusetts. This project led to the nation's first minimum wage law in 1912.

During World War I, Dewson volunteered for the American Red Cross, worked with war refugees in France, and led the Red Cross Mediterranean operations by 1918. During the 1920s, Dewson became involved with political issues in New York, as well as at the national level. She worked with Florence Kelley to push New York to adopt a minimum wage for women and children, and she lobbied successfully to limit the workweek for women to forty-eight hours. These efforts brought her to the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt. At Mrs. Roosevelt's request, Dewson became the organizer of women for the Democratic Party, assisting in the campaigns of Al Smith in 1928 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1930 and 1932.

Due to her success in mobilizing female voters, the Democratic National Committee asked Dewson to head their Women's Division, a full-time position she used to secure jobs for women throughout the government, including Francis Perkins's appointment as secretary of labor. Dewson's work in this regard stressed the importance of women playing more prominent roles in the day-to-day work of the government and the party. To this end, she organized a "Reporter" program, which educated women on New Deal issues and had a significant impact on the tremendous electoral victory of 1936.

Due to ill health, Dewson withdrew from politics in 1938 and retired to Castine, Maine, with her longtime partner, Polly Porter. Dewson was America's first female political boss, a reformer who expanded employment opportunities for women and pushed for their equal protection under the law.



Badger, Anthony. The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933–1945. 1989.

Braeman, John; Robert Bremner; and David Brody. The New Deal, Vol. 1: The National Level. 1975.

Ware, Susan. Partner and I: Molly Dewson, Feminism, and New Deal Politics. 1987.

Laura J. Hilton