Martin Lomasney

Martin Michael Lomasney (December 3, 1859 – August 12, 1933) was a Massachusetts politician, who served as state senator, state representative, and alderman. However, he is best known as the political boss of Boston's West End. Nicknamed "the Mahatma" for his uncanny ability to deliver votes for his preferred candidates, Lomasney controlled Ward Eight (later Ward Five and then Ward Three because of redistricting) and wielded considerable influence in city and state politics for over 40 years.

Martin Michael Lomasney
Martin Michael Lomasney.png
Massachusetts State Senate
3rd Suffolk District
In office
1896 – 1897[1]
Preceded byMichael B. Gilbride[2]
Succeeded byDaniel D. Rourke[3]
City of Boston Board of Aldermen
In office
City of Boston Board of Aldermen
3rd District
In office
Massachusetts House of Representatives
In office
Massachusetts House of Representatives
8th Suffolk District
In office
Massachusetts House of Representatives
5th Suffolk District
In office
Massachusetts House of Representatives
5th Suffolk District
In office
Delegate to the 1917 Massachusetts Constitutional Convention
In office
June 6, 1917[4] – August 12, 1919[5]
Personal details
Born(1859-12-03)December 3, 1859
Boston, Massachusetts
DiedAugust 12, 1933(1933-08-12) (aged 73)[6]
Boston, Massachusetts
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery, Malden, Massachusetts[7]
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materMayhew School

In the course of Lomasney's colorful career, he was shot once, feuded with James Michael Curley and John F. Fitzgerald, told Cardinal O'Connell to mind his own business, gave Al Smith campaign advice, and helped thousands of constituents obtain jobs, housing, and other necessities at a time when government relief programs were lacking.

Initially, Lomasney's ward was predominantly Irish. Over the years, as the Irish began moving to Roxbury and Dorchester, and the city zoning board expanded the ward to include the North and South Ends, Lomasney managed to bring together a large, ethnically diverse coalition of mostly poor and working-class voters.

Early lifeEdit

Lomasney was born in the West End of Boston to Maurice Lomasney, a tailor, and Mary Murray Lomasney. His parents were immigrants from Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland,[8] who had fled the Great Famine. After Lomasney's parents and two of his siblings died, he and his younger brother, Joseph P. Lomasney, moved in with their aunt. "Joe" would later become Lomasney's political lieutenant.[9]

The boys were expected to earn their keep. Martin left school at 10 and went to work shining shoes, delivering papers and, later, working in a machine shop. In his spare time he read anything that he could get his hands on except fiction.[10] For a time, he was the leader of a local Irish street gang.[9]

Political careerEdit

At 17, Lomasney went to work as a ward heeler for a local politician, Mike Wells, and was rewarded with a city job. Lighting lamps along Nashua Street paid well and allowed plenty of extra time for his political activities. He became the leader of a group of young Democrats, known as the "Independents," who were determined to unseat the incumbent Democrats on the Ward Committee.[11]

The Hendricks ClubEdit

In 1885, Lomasney founded the Hendricks Club, at 11a Green Street. Named for Vice President Thomas A. Hendricks, who had spoken in support of Irish independence earlier that year, the club served as headquarters for the "Independents." In the clubhouse were a potbellied stove, a pool table, and tables and chairs for poker. Liquor and dice-playing were strictly forbidden.[12] Lomasney kept an office on the second floor. There, he spent his days dispensing and calling in favors: mostly jobs but also housing, immigration assistance, coal in the winter, influence in court cases, help with funeral expenses, and seed money for small businesses. He kept a file of embarrassing information on his colleagues, which often proved useful in negotiations.[12]

He frequently sent his aides to the docks in East Boston to meet new immigrants and to carry signs that read, "Welcome to America. The Democratic Party Welcomes You to America. Martin Lomasney Welcomes You to Boston." Often, the newcomers were desperately poor and unskilled; Lomasney and his friends would help them find pick-and-shovel jobs and decent housing. In that way, he earned the loyalty of countless ward residents, who showed their gratitude by voting as he suggested. His ability to deliver exactly as many votes as needed for a particular candidate or piece of legislation earned him the nickname "the Mahatma."[13] Lomasney called the club "a machine for getting votes."[14]

On the Sunday before every election, ward residents would pack the large hall to hear Lomasney speak on the issues and candidates of the day. Despite his lack of formal education, he was an eloquent speaker with a fondness for poetic quotations. He was also a powerful orator who, like a revivalist preacher, could stir the crowd into a near-frenzy. Former residents of the ward often traveled long distances to attend his "sermons," and local newspapers sent their best reporters to cover the event.[15]

The Hendricks was one of the earliest political clubs of its kind. Other ward bosses in Boston soon followed his example: in South Boston's Ward 14, Thomas W. Flood founded Somerset Associates in 1888; in the North End's Ward 6, John F. Fitzgerald founded the Jefferson Club in the early 1890s; and in Roxbury's Ward 17, James Michael Curley founded the Tammany Club in 1901.[16]


Political wards in Boston, 1896

Lomasney played political hardball and made many enemies as well as friends. He feuded with James Michael Curley for 20 years.[17] In 1894, he was shot in the leg in an unsuccessful assassination attempt. His assailant, James A. Dunan, blamed Lomasney for a dispute that he had with the Boston Board of Health.[18]

The political scene in Boston was not for the faint of heart. Candidates were smeared and threatened, and voters were bribed and blackmailed. A common practice was to send aides dressed as Protestant clergymen to "campaign" for rival candidates in Irish Catholic neighborhoods.[19]

One dirty trick of Lomasney would earn him a special place in Boston history. In 1898, as district chairman of the Democratic Party, he was responsible for organizing the nominating convention. He arranged for it to be held at 4:30 p.m. in East Boston, across the harbor from the State House, where the nomination papers had to be filed by 5:00 p.m. the same day. His faction met in one room, and the rival faction met in another, with each faction nominating its own candidate for the state senate. Both factions then raced their paperwork across the harbor by ferry and tugboat and then to cyclists, who pedaled furiously up Beacon Hill to the State House. Lomasney's courier arrived first by several minutes.[20]

After being elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1910, Lomasney worked with labor leaders on legislation enforcing a 48-hour work week and workmen's compensation, but he opposed their attempts to exclude aliens from their unions. As a state senator, he opposed the construction of Boston's elevated railway.[21]

To spite John F. Fitzgerald, Lomasney endorsed Yankee Republican Louis Frothingham for governor in 1911 and delivered 95% of the vote from his ward.[22] Like Lomasney, Frothingham was opposed to women's suffrage; during the campaign, suffragist Margaret Foley of Roxbury followed him from one speaking engagement to the next and heckled him.[23] In the end, the Republican vote was split by another contender, Henry M. Dewey, and Frothingham lost to Fitzgerald.[24]

In 1912, when the Suffolk Evening Law School petitioned the state legislature for the right to grant degrees, elites on the Massachusetts Board of Education, the Boston Bar Association, and Harvard University objected. At the time, evening law schools were an important path to the middle class for ambitious sons of working-class immigrants. The first students at Suffolk came from Irish, Italian, Jewish, and other backgrounds. Members of Boston's Yankee-dominated legal establishment took a dim view of such school. One of them remarked that trying to make attorneys out of such people was "like trying to turn cart horses into trotters." Lomasney campaigned strenuously for the school, and it gained the right to grant degrees in 1914.[25]

At the Democratic National Conventions in St. Louis in 1916 and in San Francisco in 1920, Lomasney tried to have a plank added to the party platform endorsing the independence of Ireland. Both times, his request was denied.[26]

Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1917Edit

Lomasney was one of 320 delegates to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1917-1919, representing the 5th Suffolk District of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.[27] The convention's historian, Raymond L. Bridgman, later wrote, "Martin M. Lomasney was conspicuously the most intense personal force in the convention. He was a leader, a hard hitter, a fair fighter, generous, sympathetic, respected by all who came close enough to feel the strength of his personal qualities."[28]

At the convention, Lomasney argued in support of two amendments, both of which passed. The Public Trade Amendment allowed the state and local governments to provide the people with food, shelter, and other necessities in times of war or other emergency. Conservatives denounced the measure as socialist. The Anti-Aid Amendment prohibited the state from funding private denominational institutions such as schools, hospitals, and charitable agencies.[29] Lomasney researched the issue and found that while Protestant institutions had received $18 million from the state, similar Catholic institutions had received only $49,000.[30] When Cardinal O'Connell pressured him to oppose the amendment, Lomasney reportedly said, "Tell His Eminence to mind his own business."[29]

Later careerEdit

When his career started, Lomasney's ward was predominantly Irish. Over the years, as the Irish began moving to Roxbury and Dorchester, Jewish immigrants became the dominant group. The city zoning board gradually expanded the ward to include the Italian-dominated North End and part of the racially diverse South End. By 1930, over 30 nationalities were represented in the ward. By backing diverse candidates for the House of Representatives and by treating his constituents equally, Lomasney managed to bring together a large, ethnically diverse coalition of mostly poor and working-class voters.[31][32]

Presidential candidate Al Smith sought Lomasney's advice on campaign issues in 1928.[33] When John F. Fitzgerald asked him to support Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, however, Lomasney declined, predicting Roosevelt's election would lead to war.[33]

His final political battle took place in 1932, when he led the successful campaign of William M. Prendible for Clerk of the Suffolk County Superior Criminal Court.[34]


On August 12, 1933, after a months-long bout of bronchial pneumonia, he died at home surrounded by family and friends. He had been living in the Hotel Bellevue.[6] He left an estate valued at approximately $250,000, but his will provided only a modest annuity for his brother Joe with whom he had been feuding.[35] Soon after his death, the West End political machine began to crumble.[36]

Personal lifeEdit

Lomasney never married or had children. A practicing Catholic, he went to church regularly. Outside politics, he led a quiet, almost ascetic life. Although he never drank, he vehemently opposed Prohibition because he knew that it would force the local tavern keepers to take up bootlegging.[33] Apart from his political activities, he made a fortune in the 1920s by investing in real estate, which he later sold to developers at a considerable profit.[37]


"Don't write when you can talk; don't talk when you can nod your head."

— Martin Lomasney[38]

For a ward boss of his day, Lomasney appears to have been relatively ethical. Although his power over the voters in his ward often prompted allegations of voter fraud, nothing was ever proved. Even a rival, John F. Fitzgerald (also known as "Honey Fitz"), told a historian years later that Ward Eight had been too closely watched for Lomasney to have been able to get away with that.[39]

The rackets never thrived in the West End until after Lomasney's tenure.[37] Soon after his death, the West End political machine began to crumble.[36]

A street, Lomasney Way, Boston is named after him,[32][40] and the Ward 8 cocktail was inspired by him.

Lomasney once advised a young follower, "Don't write when you can talk; don't talk when you can nod your head."[38] Perhaps for that reason, no well-documented full-length biographies have been written about him. Historian Thomas H. O'Connor called Leslie G. Ainley's Boston Mahatma: Martin Lomasney (1949) "a fascinating but undocumented account" of his life.[41]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bridgman 1896, p. 131.
  2. ^ Bridgman 1895, p. 133.
  3. ^ Bridgman 1898, p. 118.
  4. ^ Constitutional Convention 1919, p. 11.
  5. ^ Constitutional Convention 1919, pp. 858.
  6. ^ a b Boston Globe, August 13, 1933.
  7. ^ Boston Globe, September 21, 1933.
  8. ^ Hennessy 1935, p. 482.
  9. ^ a b Mass. Historical Society.
  10. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 438.
  11. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 439.
  12. ^ a b Van Nostrand 1948, pp. 442-443.
  13. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, pp. 441-442.
  14. ^ O'Connor 1995, pp. 141-142.
  15. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 443.
  16. ^ O'Connor 1995, p. 148.
  17. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 454.
  18. ^ New York Times, March 8, 1894.
  19. ^ O'Connor 1995, p. 125.
  20. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 445-447.
  21. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 449.
  22. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 445.
  23. ^ Ryan 1979, pp. 44-46.
  24. ^ O'Connor 1995, p. 167.
  25. ^ Ryan 1979, pp. 104-105.
  26. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 451.
  27. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 45.
  28. ^ Bridgman 1923, p. 136.
  29. ^ a b Van Nostrand 1948, p. 450.
  30. ^ Hennessy 1935, p. 483.
  31. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 437-438.
  32. ^ a b Minichiello 2012.
  33. ^ a b c Van Nostrand 1948, p. 453.
  34. ^ Hennessy 1935, pp. 483-484.
  35. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, pp. 436, 456-457.
  36. ^ a b Van Nostrand 1948, p. 455.
  37. ^ a b Van Nostrand 1948, p. 456.
  38. ^ a b Van Nostrand 1948, p. 437.
  39. ^ Van Nostrand 1948, p. 448.
  40. ^ "Lomasney Way". Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Google Maps.
  41. ^ O'Connor 1998, p. 155.


Books and articlesEdit

State recordsEdit

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit