Florence Luscomb

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Florence Luscomb
Full length photo of Luscomb
Florence Luscomb selling The Woman's Journal, 1911
Florence Hope Luscomb

(1887-02-06)February 6, 1887
DiedOctober 13, 1985(1985-10-13) (aged 98)
Emerson Convalescent Home in Watertown, Massachusetts
OccupationArchitect, activist for woman suffrage
Known for1909, 1910 MIT degrees in architecture

Florence Hope Luscomb (February 6, 1887–October 13, 1985) was an American architect and women's suffrage activist in Massachusetts. She was one of the first ten women to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with her degrees in architecture.[1]:234 Luscomb became a partner in an early woman-owned architecture firm before work in the field became scarce during World War I. She then dedicated herself fully to activism in the women's suffrage movement, becoming a prominent leader of Massachusetts suffragists.

Early life[edit]

Luscomb was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the daughter of Otis and Hannah Skinner (Knox) Luscomb.[2] Her father was an unsuccessful artist. Her mother was a dedicated suffragist and women's rights activist. When Florence was one and a half years old, her parents separated and she moved with her mother to Boston, while her older brother Otis Kerro Luscomb lived with their father.[2] As a child in Boston, she went with her mother to women's suffrage events, at one point seeing Susan B. Anthony speak. She became an ardent suffragist, starting by selling a pro-suffrage newspaper on the street.[3]:147–148


Luscomb was among the first ten women to earn a degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1]:234 Women still experienced significant challenges during her tenure there. For example, Luscomb had to inquire at twelve firms before one of them would hire her for an internship after her second year. Following her graduation, she was hired by Ida Annah Ryan, the sixth woman to earn an architecture degree from M.I.T.[1]:234 She would later become a partner in Ryan's firm.[3] Ryan and Luscomb shared an interest in women's suffrage, and Ryan gave Luscomb a degree of flexibility at work that allowed her to be active in the women's suffrage movement.[1]:123-125 During this time, Luscomb helped organized various events for the suffrage movement, and during a debate on adding a suffrage amendment to the state constitution gave more than 200 speeches in 14 weeks.[3]

She later continued her education in architecture at the newly opened Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture in 1916, and began working with local architect Henry Atherton Frost and landscape architect Bremer Whidden Pond in addition to her work with Ryan. Her career was put on hiatus when new construction slumped due to the entrance of the United States into World War I in 1917.[1][3]

New career begun during WWI[edit]

She accepted a position as executive secretary for the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government.[3] She went on to work for a number of organizations in the Boston area, including the Boston chapters of the League of Women Voters and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and organizations dedicated to prison reform and factory safety. She was a charter member of the League of Women Voters, formed once women gained the vote.[4] Luscomb also helped found a local of the United Office and Professional Workers of America and served as a volunteer with the local NAACP and ACLU.[3] From 1911 she considered herself a citizen of the world, traveling to nations across Europe and Asia for conferences, yet retained pride in her Yankee heritage. Her political views were well-developed and unique.[2]

Upon her mother's death in 1933, Luscomb inherited enough money that she could dedicate her time fully to activism. She ran for public office four times, more to make her causes visible than to win.[2] The first, for Boston Council in 1922, she nearly won. Races for Congress in 1936 and 1950 and for governor in 1952 were largely protest campaigns. An ardent anti-McCarthyist, she was at one point called to testify before a committee in the Massachusetts legislature that was investigating communism. She wrote an early anti-Vietnam War leaflet and would later advise some of the founders of the American feminist movement, encouraging them to include the poor and women of color.

Luscombe designed her own holiday cabin in Tamworth, New Hampshire and spent her summers there after WWII and until the 1970s contributing to the Appalachian Mountain Club.[5]

Florence Luscomb holding her cat Needles, ca. 1893

After her mother died, Luscomb lived in various cooperative houses, including a Cambridge cooperative house at 64 Wendell Street, where she lived until she moved in 1980 to an elder-care facility in Watertown, Massachusetts, where she died October 13, 1985, at age 98.[3][2][4]


In 1999 a series of six tall marble panels with a bronze bust in each was added to the Massachusetts State House; the busts are of Luscomb, Dorothea Dix, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Sarah Parker Remond, and Lucy Stone.[6] As well, two quotations from each of those women (including Luscomb) are etched on their own marble panel, and the wall behind all the panels has wallpaper made of six government documents repeated over and over, with each document being related to a cause of one or more of the women.[6]

She is commemorated on the Boston Women's Heritage Trail.[7]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Allaback, Sarah (2008). The First American Women Architects. University of Illinois. ISBN 0-252-03321-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Biography". Luscomb, Florence, 1887-1985. Papers of Florence Luscomb, 1856-1987: A Finding Aid. Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. August 1989. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Vetter, Herbert F. (2007). Notable American Unitarians 1936 to 1961. Lulu.com. ISBN 0-615-14784-4. (Subscription required (help)).
  4. ^ a b "Florence Hope Luscomb Memorial Page". Find A Grave Memorial. February 7, 2013. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  5. ^ Mace, Emily (2012-07-28). "Luscomb, Florence Hope (1887-1985)". Harvard Square Library. Retrieved 2019-02-19.
  6. ^ a b "HEAR US Virtual Tour". Mass Humanities. Retrieved 2018-02-09.
  7. ^ "Back Bay East". Boston Women's Heritage Trail.