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Collection
Title:Melnea A. Cass papers
Dates:1954-1979
Call Number:M79

Historical Note

Community and civil rights activist Melnea Agnes Cass was born on June 16, 1896 in Richmond, Virginia. In 1901, her father, Albert Jones, moved the family to the South End neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Mary Drew Jones, died three years later, and Cass and her two sisters were raised by their father and aunt. In 1914, she graduated as valedictorian from the St. Frances de Sales Convent School, a Catholic school for African American and Native American girls in Virginia. After graduation, Cass was a domestic worker in Boston until she married Marshal Cass in December 1917. The couple had three children.

After her marriage, Melnea Cass became involved in the community, earning her the nickname "The First Lady of Roxbury." After the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, she participated in a drive to help African American women to vote. In the 1930s, she was active in local and national social justice organizations, including the Sojourner Truth Club, the Robert Gould Shaw House, and the Northeastern Region of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. In 1949, she joined the Board of Directors for Freedom House, a community improvement foundation in Roxbury, Massachusetts, founded by Otto and Muriel Snowden. In 1950, Boston Mayor John Collins appointed her as the only female charter member to the Action for Boston Community Development, which assisted people who lost their homes to urban renewal efforts. From 1962 to 1964, Cass was president of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). From 1975 to1976, Cass was chairperson for the Massachusetts Advisory Committee for the Elderly. She was also vice president of the Harriet Tubman House for 20 years as well as president of the Women's Service Club for 17 years. She served on the Board of Overseers of Public Welfare for 10 years. Melnea A. Cass died on December 16, 1978.
Chronology
1896 Jun 16 Born in Richmond, VA
1901 Family moved to Boston, MA
1904 Mother died
1914 Graduated as Valedictorian from St. Frances de Sales Convent School in Rock Castle, Virginia
1917 Married Marshall Cass (d. 1958)
1930sBegan volunteer work, particularly for civil rights causes
1949Became a member of the Board of Directors of the Freedom House in Dorchester, Massachusetts
1950Named a committee member of the Action for Boston Community Development
1962Became president of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
1966 May 22Melnea Cass Day declared in Boston
1968 Jun 19Melnea Cass Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) Swimming and Skating Rink dedicated by Gov. John Volpe
1969 Jun 15Received honorary doctorate from Northeastern University
1971 May 15Received honorary doctorate from Simmons College
1975Received honorary doctorate from Boston College; Appointed chairperson for the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Affairs of the Elderly
1978 Dec 16Died
1981Melnea Cass Boulevard named in Roxbury, MA