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Mary Boyle O'Reilly papers

Collection MS-2003-045: Mary Boyle O'Reilly papers


  • Creation: 1870 - 1937
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1913 - 1917

Scope and Contents

The Mary Boyle O’Reilly papers document her work as a journalist and political activist, particularly during World War I. They include O’Reilly’s correspondence from Europe during the war, the bulk of which relates to her journalistic work. A large portion is addressed to "the Chief," Sam T. Hughes, editor in chief at Newspaper Enterprise Associates of America, a syndicate that supplied content to newspapers across the United States. These letters frequently include portions of her articles. The collection also includes O'Reilly's typescripts. The bulk of these are short writings on her experiences during the war. There are indications that some may have been written at the time but others retrospectively; while most works are dated between 1914 and 1917, some contain the annotations "memories" or "verify date." Her writings also include a 1909 article on the 1834 Ursuline convent burning in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and a few longer pieces on politics in Europe, dating from the 1930s. A small series of individually typed or handwritten poems, many with inscriptions from O'Reilly's friends, and childhood photographs of her father, sisters, and birth home round out the collection. Materials include typescripts, photographs (including cabinet cards and photomechanical prints), correspondence, newspaper clippings, and a postcard.


Restrictions on access

Collection contains some original materials too fragile to handle. Access copies have been provided for most, but the correspondence series is closed pending conservation. Box 1 contains open materials. Box 2 contains fragile materials and is closed.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical note

Mary Boyle O’Reilly was born on May 18, 1873 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Her father, John Boyle O’Reilly, was a noted poet and Irish nationalist, and her mother, Mary Smiley (Murphy) O’Reilly, was a journalist. O’Reilly attended public school in Charlestown, and, later, the Sacred Heart Convent in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1901, she opened the Guild of Saint Elizabeth, a settlement house, in Boston’s South End with three other women and became heavily involved in the charitable life of the city of Boston. She served in various capacities with the Boston Public Library, The Women’s Educational Union, The Tuberculosis Society, and The State Conference of Charities. She was appointed as a member of the Massachusetts Prison Commission in 1906, by Governor Guild, and proposed many reforms to the way that Massachusetts prisons were run. Her interest in housing reform led her to investigate and expose the abuses in New England’s “baby farms,” or homes fostering children in exchange for payment. On resigning from the Prison Commission in 1911, O’Reilly became a trustee of the Children’s Institutions in Boston, and a popular writer and lecturer on topics in social work and sociology, with work published in Harper’s Magazine and The Boston Globe. Her investigative reporting included an exposé of the working conditions of children in the canning industry in New York state.

In 1913, O’Reilly accepted a position as foreign correspondent for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and was placed in charge of the London office. As war threatened in Europe, she travelled undercover to report from the continent. She was the first American journalist in Belgium and witnessed the burning of Louvain. She was subsequently held prisoner by the Germans. After her release, she remained in Europe and was present in Paris during the Battle of the Marne, and at Calais during the Battle of Loos. She returned to Belgium to work with refugees and also spent a number of months of 1915 in Warsaw doing relief work as people fled Poland.

O’Reilly returned to the United States in 1917, and went on a speaking tour of the country on the topic of her war experience. She settled back in the Boston area, campaigned with her uncle, John R. Murphy, on his unsuccessful mayoral campaign, built a small stone cottage in Auburndale as a tribute to her father, and continued writing until her death from a heart attack at the age of 66, on October 22, 1939.


Philpott, A.J. “Rich Life Devoted to Aiding Afflicted.” Daily Boston Globe, October 22, 1939.

O’Reilly, Mary Boyle. “Albert of Belgium, ‘Citizen-Monarch,’ Will be Last King in Europe, Said Another King to Mary Boyle O’Reilly.” Boston Daily Globe, October 5, 1919.

“Mary Boyle O’Reilly Dead, Daughter of Irish Patriot.” Daily Boston Globe, October 22, 1939.

“Mary B. O’Reilly, Writer, 66, Is Dead.” The New York Times, October 22, 1939.

“O’Reilly, Mary Boyle, 1873 – 1939.” Finding Aid at the Boston Public Library Archival and Manuscript Finding Aid Database, Boston, Massachusetts.

“Woman Tells of Life Back of the Front.” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 17, 1918.


0.75 Linear Feet (2 containers )

Language of Materials



The Mary Boyle O’Reilly papers document her work as a journalist and political activist, particularly during World War I. They include O’Reilly’s correspondence from Europe during the war, her typescripts, a small series of individually typed or handwritten poems, many with inscriptions from O'Reilly's friends, and family photographs.


Arranged into six series: I: Clippings about O'Reilly; II: Correspondence; III: Family photographs; IV: Collected poetry and addresses, V: Travels; and VI: Typescripts.


Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time.

Related Materials

Boston College collection of John Boyle O'Reilly, MS.2004.093.

M.J. Jordan papers, MS.1993.015, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Mary Boyle O'Reilly Papers
1870s-1937 (bulk 1913-1917)
Lynn Moulton
2016 February
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States