I’m a sucker for historic houses. I get a kick out of tiny furniture and kitchens with zero functionality. So it was only a matter of time before I visited the Ames mansion at Borderland State Park in Easton, Massachusetts.
I toured the mansion last fall during an open house. Volunteers with the Friends of Borderland were on hand to answer questions. The house was interesting, but I was far more intrigued by what I learned about the lady of the house, Blanche Ames.
The Total Package
By modern standards, Blanche was the total package – intelligent, educated, creative, beautiful – and with a mind of her own. In the late 19th century, most people feared her strong-willed, progressive nature. I imagine most men shied away from her.
Luckily, forward-thinking Oakes Ames (no relation) saw Blanche Ames as quite the catch. They married in 1900 and built the mansion at Borderland in 1910.
While Blanch led a life as a homemaker and mother of four, she was far from typical. A highly-skilled artist, she honed her portraiture skills by copying the masters. A volunteer told me the quality of her forgeries led the Boston Museum of Art to require student replicas to be a different size than the original.
Blanch could have made a killing by selling forged art. Instead, she travelled the world with her botanist husband and illustrated the orchids he discovered. She worked with her brother to develop a system for mixing paint colors. She sawed logs for the mansion at Borderland and invented a water system for the property, complete with a natural swimming pool.
A Leader for Women’s Rights
While her list of accomplishments is laudible, perhaps Blanche’s most passionate pursuit was for women’s rights.
Blanche grew up in a conservative family and was herself a (mostly) traditional wife and mother. Yet she fought for women’s right to birth control and was a leader in the sufferage movement. She cofounded the Birth Control League of Massachusetts, raised funds for her causes, and used her artistic skills to create a series of politcal cartoons pressing for national sufferage.
Despite growing support, U.S. Congress failed to pass a sufferage bill on January 2, 1915. Blanche and Oakes Ames announced they would ring the bell atop their mansion every day until women won the right to vote.
It would take another five years until women could vote. The 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 20, 1920.
What Would Blanche Do?
Now, a year later, I can’t help but wonder: If Blanche Ames were alive today, what would she do to change a culture rife with sexual harassment and predation by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and Charlie Rose?
Blanche was a woman of action. Perhaps she’d use her considerable wealth and influence to set up an organization dedicated to preventing sexual harassment and holding sexual predators accountable for their actions. She’d engage men in the cause in order to win over those (still) wary of women in power. She’d use the media to spread her message and win hearts and minds. No doubt she’d work tirelessly until her goal was met.
I don’t have enough money and influence to do what Blanche would do, but I can take action. I can speak out against misogyny and abuse of power whenever I see it. I can mentor and promote women in the workplace. I can donate to organizations that empower women. I can spend my money at businesses owned by women. If I had a son, I would raise him to view women as equals, to treat others with dignity and respect, and to wield power with care.
What will you do?
Visit the Friends of Borderland Facebook page to see a list of events. Mansion tours run from April from to November, with special holiday events in December. Borderland State Park is open year round and offers a variety of activities.