Connecting Cambridge’s Future to its Past: Honoring Harriet Ann Jacobs & Gertrude Wright Morgan

As we look ahead to August 2020 and the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment acknowledging and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote, we remember two prominent African American women involved in the women’s suffrage movement – Gertrude Wright Morgan and Harriet Ann Jacobs. Earlier this summer, we joined the Cambridge Historical Commission, Cambridge City Council and community members at Cambridge Crossing to celebrate these extraordinary figures at an intimate and lively ceremony held to unveil two streets named in their honor. The existing North Street was renamed Jacobs Street and North Point Boulevard was renamed Morgan Avenue. These became the first two streets in Cambridge named after African American women with ties to the City.

At the event, City Councilor E. Denise Simmons spoke to how the street renaming was an important symbolic gesture that would help to provide long-overdue recognition for individuals that have shaped Cambridge and beyond. During her remarks to the crowd, she highlighted that too often stories go untold for women and people of color. She emphasized how excited she was that she could walk with her granddaughters and point out these monuments – and share their legacies with her family to keep the memories alive. Dr. James Spencer, Cambridge resident and great, great-nephew of Gertrude Wright Morgan, spoke of the great pride he has for his aunt. During a recent City Council meeting, he referenced an essay Gertrude wrote about the significance of “unknown heroes.” Today, he is honored to say that his aunt is no longer an “unknown hero,” but someone who is forever memorialized.

June’s unveiling ceremony was a tribute to the lasting impact of these women. Harriet Jacobs and Gertrude Wright Morgan join Julia Child, Amelia Earhart, and Maria Baldwin on the growing list of streets and open spaces at CX named after historic women with ties to the City. As the neighborhood grows, we hope to create more opportunities to celebrate Harriet, Gertrude and other underrepresented women who have fought to secure and protect human rights for all, especially for those groups most marginalized in our society.

About the Honorees

Harriet Ann Jacobs was an abolitionist, author and women’s rights advocate who resided in Cambridge in the latter-half of the 1800s at 17 Story Street. Renowned author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Jacobs dedicated her life to helping others through organizing, feeding and sheltering refugees from slavery during the Civil War, setting up community schools for newly freed children and serving as a major advocate for fair and equal treatment in hospitals, housing, work opportunities and education.

Gertrude Wright Morgan played an active role in the Niagara Movement and the establishment of the NAACP. A leader in the local suffrage movement, she served as President of the Women’s Era Club, was a member of the Board of the Harriet Tubman House and was appointed by Massachusetts Governor Cox to represent the Commonwealth at the dedication of the Frederick Douglass House Museum in 1922. Gertrude and her husband Clement G. Morgan hosted prominent citizens and civil rights leaders in their home at 265 Prospect Street in Cambridge.

Cambridge Celebrates 100 Years of Women’s Right to Vote

In order to celebrate Cambridge women who fought for women’s right to vote, the City of Cambridge is commissioning a public art piece and hosting an event series between now and the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The first event will be held at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at the Main Library Lecture Hall. Learn more about this and future events in the series on the City’s website.

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