Archives and Special Collections
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Archives and Special Collections Finding Aids

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Collection Overview
Title:Melnea A. Cass papers
Dates:1954-1979
Location:67/4
Call Number:M79
Volume:2.15 cubic ft. (3 boxes)
Scope and Content Abstract:The Melnea A. Cass papers contain biographical information and awards, including two honorary doctoral degrees and photographs documenting her work with community improvement and civil rights organizations.
Historical Abstract:Community and civil rights activist Melnea Agnes Cass was born on June 16, 1896 in Richmond, Virginia. She received numerous awards, including three honorary doctoral degrees for her involvement in community improvement and civil rights in the Boston area. She was known as "The First Lady of Roxbury." She died on December 16, 1978.
Arrangement:Arranged in alphabetical order.
Subjects and Contributors:
  • Cass, Melnea A. (Melnea Agnes), 1896-1978

  • Freedom House (Roxbury, Boston, Mass.)

  • African American civic leaders -- Massachusetts -- Boston
  • African American women -- Massachusetts -- Boston

Restrictions:The collection is unrestricted.
Processor:Finding aid prepared by Jessica Parr, September 2002

Scope and Content Note

The Melnea A. Cass papers document the recognition she received for her work and achievements in community improvement and civil rights in the Boston area. It includes certificates, honorary doctoral degrees from Simmons College (1971) and Boston College (1975), photographs, news clippings, and biographical information.

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
Return to Top
BoxTitleDate
1, 2Awards 1963-1979
1Biographical Information1896-1978
1, 2Honors and Recognition1954, 1976, 1977
1News clippingsn.d
1, 3Photographsn.d., 1963
1, 3Honorary Doctorates: Boston College and Simmons College1971, 1975