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Josephine Porter Crane: A socialite who tackled social issues

A socialite who tackled social issues

Josephine Porter (Boardman) Crane

As members of Washington D.C.'s elite society, sisters Josephine Porter (Boardman) Crane and Mabel Thorp Boardman were expected, as most prominent socialites are, to throw parties and outings and do so, occasionally, in support of local charities. In this regard, the sisters failed to meet society's expectations.

Instead, they used their status to enact social change. And neither sister was afraid of ruffling a few feathers along the way.

Mable T. Boardman led the faction that ousted Clara Barton from the presidency of the American Red Cross. Mable would head the American Red Cross for a time, overhauling and re-organizing its internal structure. She later served as the director of its volunteer service.

Josephine Porter Boardman focused her attention on education, the arts and bettering the living conditions of women and children. She married Winthrop Murray Crane, of Dalton, who served one term as governor, from 1900 to 1902, and then in the U.S. Senate from 1904 to 1914.

But Mrs. Crane was anything but the perfect hostess. The Pittsfield Journal reported on July 27, 1908: "Mrs. Winthrop Murray Crane, wife of the Massachusetts senator, is depriving Washington society of much of her time to study social problems as they relate to the work of women and children in New England mills."

But while she was being criticized locally for "depriving Washington society of much of her time," Crane was busy founding The Congressional Club, the only social club charted by an act of Congress. The club, which continues today, as a non-profit organization of current and former spouses of members of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court and the President's Cabinet, who promote volunteerism, facilitate bi-partisan efforts, raise awareness of and support charities in the District of Columbia.

In 1921, she established the Berkshire Museum's Junior Naturalists, a program of studies in natural history for children, who received medals for their work. She served as a member of the Berkshire Museum board of trustees from 1937 until her death, at the age of 98, in 1972.

She was also an advocate of progressive education practices, supporting the work of Helen Parkhurst. In an Associated Press report out of New York on Feb. 4., 1928, she was quoted as saying: "90 percent of the education poured into the minds of children does not give them any preparation for life. This is because it is education by ritual, and education by ritual gives slavery to those who cry for freedom." The article continued: "Mrs. Crane advocated letting the child choose the subject in which he is most interested and concentrate on it so long as he is getting something out of it, instead of allowing him a specified time for one subject and then turning abruptly to another, unallied subject."

That educational philosophy, which was first tested in Dalton's public schools, became known as The Dalton Plan and is still in practice at The Dalton School in New York City.

Among her other social contributions, Crane was one of the original founders of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and was on the boards of the Morgan Library and the New York Public Library. She also helped found a visiting nurse association in Dalton and was one of two women from Massachusetts appointed by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the National Women's Committee of the 1933 Mobilization for Human Needs.

Today, the Josephine and Louise Crane Foundation, formed in 2008 after the merger of the Josephine B. Crane Foundation and the Louise Crane Foundation, supports non-profit organizations in the arts, cultural and human service fields.


Features Editor

Jennifer Huberdeau is The Eagle's features editor. Prior to The Eagle, she worked at The North Adams Transcript. She is a 2021 Rabkin Award Winner, 2020 New England First Amendment Institute Fellow and a 2010 BCBS Health Care Fellow.

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