Massachusetts Milestones

File:Plymouth Rock (alt angle).jpg–1620 Mayflower Compact signed by Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower; it contains the foundations of both the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions.

–1629-1631 The General Court is incorporated in England, 1629, for the purpose of establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Winthrop’s Puritans arrive and settle Boston in the summer of 1630; 20,000 more settlers will journey to the colony within just 10 years. At the General Court’s first session in Boston Oct. 19, colonists demand representative rule. The second session curbs oligarchic powers of governor and empowers General Court to enact laws and impose taxes.

–1635 First free public school in America, Boston Latin, established.

–1636 General Court establishes Harvard University, the first institution of higher education in America.

–1653 First public library in America established in Boston.

–1661 General Court adopts Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, which pledges allegiance to the king but also propounds that all rights of government not reserved by the king belong to the colonial government. Thedocument deepens the growing tension between London and Boston over colonial rights.

–1684 Charter of Massachusetts Bay Colony revoked by the crown after many years of dispute over self-determination for the colony. Also cited are violations of original 1629 charter, including illegal coinage of money and granting suffrage on the basis of religion instead of property. Revocation of the charter suspends independent government in Massachusetts, including adoption of laws by the General Court.

–1686 Edmund Andros arrives in Massachusetts as agent of King James II, with an agenda to wipe out independent rule in neighboring colonies.

–1689  Uprising in Boston and surrounding towns; Andros is arrested and deposed by the people and a new charter is demanded from the king.

–1691 New charter issued by King James makes Massachusetts a royal province with power to legislate restored to the General Court. But its provisions covering religion and requiring approval of General Court lawmaking by the monarch lead to turmoil and anxiety some historians believe helped nurture the Salem witch hysteria.

–1692 Salem witch trials: hundreds accused, dozens tried and 19 executed in proceedings organized by Gov. William Phipps and the General Court.

–1697 As colonists adjust to life under provincial government and a new era of self-determination, the General Court declares a day of fasting and repentance for those involved in the witch trials. Judge Samuel Sewall’s apology for his role is seen as the beginning of religious tolerance in Massachusetts.

–1763-1770 End of the French and Indian War brings a barrage of new laws from England heavily taxing the colonists and restricting their freedoms including the Sugar Act, the Quartering Act allowing the stationing of troops to suppress unrest in Boston, and the Stamp Act. This series of infringements leads to an insurgent movement and open rebellion against the crown in Massachusetts, especially Boston.

Grave of the victims of the Boston Massacre near the spot where they fell.
Grave of the victims of the Boston Massacre near the spot in Boston where they fell.

–1768 British troops arrive in October to occupy Boston.

–1770 British troops in front of the Old Massachusetts State House open fire on a group of colonists who were  harassing them, killing five. The Boston Massacre, along with the Tea Party of 1773, cements Boston’s place as the Cradle of Liberty; American Revolution is organized logistically and philosophically in Boston.

— 1775 Revolutionary War begins after Revere and Dawes ride to Middlesex farm towns warning that government troops are headed toward Lexington.

— 1776 Continental Congress in Philadelphia declares independence from Great Britain. Signatories from Massachusetts include John and Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock and Robert Treat Paine, all of who served in the state Legislature.

— 1780 John Adams writes the Constitution of Massachusetts. It contains the form of government on which the U.S. Constitution will eventually be modeled: checks and balances among 3 branches and a bicameral Legislature with a more directly representative House.

— 1780 The General Court is constitutionally authorized to establish laws and made separate from executive and judicial branches. Its limits are set by gubernatorial veto. The people retain right to instruct representatives and petition for redress. An apportionment dispute results in one representative per town, more for larger towns, based on property taxpayers rather than general population. The apportionment issue will dog the General Court into the 20th Century.

— 1840 Representation based on number of inhabitants and the property qualification for election to the General Court is abolished. Traditional Senate representation by property and House representation by population is invalidated. The Senate nonetheless remains more conservative than the House, whose numbers often reach an unwieldy 700 as more small towns are represented.

— 1854 Henry Gardner’s election as governor marks high-water mark of Know-Nothing movement, in which 62.7 percent of voters cast their ballots for the American Party, or “Know-Nothings”—nativist politicians opposed to rights for immigrants—especially the Catholic Irish immigrating to Massachusetts manufacturing towns in enormous numbers.  The Know Nothings took their nickname from members’ vow, if questioned about their participation in nativist societies, to say they “knew nothing” about such activities. The Know Nothings were a national movement, but gained especially meteoric power in Massachusetts, where the waves of Irish immigration, fears about Vatican control of public affairs, and anxiety about conditions in the newly-industrialized mill towns of Massachusetts motivated xenophobic Protestant Yankees to organize so potently that all but two seats in the Legislature went to the American Party in 1854. (Disagreement over abolitionism led to the fracturing of the party, and the Republican Party absorbed the state’s slowly diminishing Yankee Protestant majority.)

— 1857 Representation moves to a district system based on the number of legal voters. The House is limited to 240 members. A lingering notion that the Senate should represent property has concentrated half the 40senators in Suffolk, Essex and Middlesex Counties. The imbalance resolved by creation of 40 statewide Senate districts each with one senator.

— 1885 The General Court’s authority to prescribe regulations for elections is expanded. This reduces power of local officials and political bosses.

— 1891 A constitutional amendment ends House quorum figure of 60 and stipulates a majority quorum. It quells fear over passage of laws by a “thin House” of special interests.

— 1903 Nation’s first Registry of Motor vehicles, established, and first license plate issued.  Plate number 1 has been held by the Tudor family of Wellfleet ever since.

— 1911-15 Legislature’s eminent domain powers are enlarged to accommodate land takings for highways in advent of auto, industrialization, and urbanization. Power is extended to include taking land for home construction to reduce population congestion. The Legislature gets full authority to impose and levy income taxes.

Bread and Roses strikers marching through Lawrence in 1912.
Bread and Roses strikers marching through Lawrence in 1912.

 — 1912 State Board of Labor and Industries and a Minimum Wage Commission are established.  Determination of minimum wages for women and minors is provided. Textile workers strike in Lawrence, demanding “Bread and Roses, too!”

 –1913 James Michael Curley elected to first of four terms as Boston mayor. David Walsh elected state’s first Catholic governor.

 — 1914 State Sen. Calvin Coolidge elected Senate President, and delivers an address titled “Have Faith in Massachusetts,” which earns him statewide notice, launching an ascension that sees him elected Lt. Gov. in 1915and governor in 1918, and from there to the U.S. vice presidency in 1920. He becomes President upon the death of Warren Harding in 1923.

— 1918-19 An initiative to assert the public’s right to introduce new legislation and a referendum allowing submission of a proposed public measure or actual statute to direct popular vote are adopted with labor’s help,reserving for first time people’s right to legislate. It helps overcome perceived Senate propensity to reject progressive legislation. Senate defenders respond that the upper chamber is a serious check on frivolous but popular House bills. The Senate votes 34-5 and House185-47 to ratify the national woman suffrage amendment.

— 1919 Executive, administrative functions of state government reorganized. Boston police strike. The Metropolitan District Commission is established to succeed the Metropolitan Park Commission.

— 1920 East Brookfield is the last town in the state incorporated to date.

— 1920 Women win the right to vote.

— 1925 Edith N. Rogers of Massachusetts is first woman to serve in U.S. House.

— 1926 The Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission created to oversee construction of the Quabbin Reservoir.

— 1926 Fall River Board of Finance is created to bring city out of bankruptcy (the first of a series of similar actions).

— 1931 The Legislature approves a three-man commission to run city of Fall River for 10 years during Great Depression after city defaults on $3 million in loans. It provides $3.5 million to pay city’s debts.

— 1936 Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill elected to Massachusetts House. Rising to minority leader, he engineers the culmination of the state’s ethnically- and union-driven power shift, from Protestant Yankee Republicans to ethnic, mostly-Catholic Democrats. He is the last Democratic minority leader.

Quabbin Reservoir
Quabbin Reservoir looking toward the site of Enfield.

— 1938 Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott are disincorporated as Massachusetts communities by the Legislature, in preparation for the flooding of the Swift River Valley to create the 419-billon gallon Quabbin Reservoir.

— 1939 State Legislature ratifies Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution (March 2, 1939)—147 years after its introduction. Biennial legislative sessions begin (annual sessions resume following the Special Session of1944).

— 1941 The Senate holds the first impeachment trial in 120 years, culminating in the ouster of Executive Councilor Daniel H. Coaxley, 76, impeached by the House on charges relating to pardons for pay, including that of Raymond Patriarca, who later leads the notorious organized crime family known as La Cosa Nostra from Providence, R.I.

— 1942 Fire at Coconut Grove nightclub in Boston kills 492, leads to extensive building code revisions.

— 1943 Appellate division of the Superior Court established for review of certain sentences in criminal cases.

— 1945 World War II ends.

— 1945 Establishment of urban redevelopment corporations authorized.

— 1946 Fair Employment Practice law enacted, commission established.

— 1947 Metropolitan Transit Authority takes over Boston Elevated Railway Company.

— 1948 Democratic sweep nationwide results in the first-ever Democratic majority elected to the Massachusetts House, and the first-ever election of 20 Democratic senators. “Tip” O’Neill becomes the first-ever Democratic House Speaker, and the Republicans and Democrats split the Senate leadership over the next two years. The election ends a century of Republican dominance of state politics, and signals the ongoing rise to power of immigrant, largely Irish, largely Catholic, Democrats in Massachusetts – though the Democratic tide will continue rising for the next half-century.

— 1952 Massachusetts Turnpike Authority created.

— 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka rules public schools segregation violates 14th amendment to federal Constitution. This lays the groundwork for court-ordered busing in1970s.

— 1958 Democrats take control of Legislature from Republicans and remain in power to present.

— 1958 Department of Mental Health unit added to state Correctional Institution at Bridgewater to treat sexually dangerous persons.

— 1959 Democrats begin uninterrupted majority status in state Legislature that continues today.

— 1960 Massachusetts favorite son John F. Kennedy elected President. Delivers his famous “City on a Hill” speech from rostrum of the House Jan. 8, 1961.

— 1964 U.S. Supreme Court’s one-man one-vote decision settles the state’s centuries old representation fight. It compels apportionment of legislative districts and subsequent decennial redistricting to accommodate demographic movement.

— 1964 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, one of 15 regional state transit authorities, is established.

— 1965 Willis-Harrington act to improve and extend state educational facilities is passed. It represents a three year, $300,000 effort to identify problems in Massachusetts public education and recommend changes. The study commission behind the act makes 111 recommendations, the most impactful of which is the creation of the state college system. But the reform effort is ultimately seen as a failure.

— 1965-68 The legislature enacts Gov. John Volpe’s sales tax after a long and — acrimonious battle. The Legislature wanted an income rate hike instead to provide for skyrocketing state budgets ($290 million in 1950, $6billion in 1980, $21 billion in 2000). The state takeover of welfare from municipalities is approved. A Home Rule amendment is passed, approved and ratified. This gives municipalities more control over their own destiny and relieves the Legislature of the necessity to micromanage routine local actions requested by cities and towns.

— 1966 Comprehensive mental health and developmental disabilities services act passed, mandating move towards community-care facilities for the mentally ill and intellectually disabled.

— 1966 Voters approve 87th amendment to state Constitution granting the governor authority to submit plans for reorganization of state government. Home rule amendment to the constitution (89th) approved by the people. Medicaid is implemented from a 1965 federal law.

— 1967 State sales tax established. Act passed to reorganize Department Public Welfare and pass responsibility for public welfare from community level to the state. The Supreme Judicial Court rules (Alecata v. Commonwealth) that it is no longer a crime to be poor, unemployed, homeless, or a vagrant.

— 1968 First state halfway house for the intellectually disabled is established.

— 1969 Governor’s cabinet system established.

— 1970s Voters approve a cut in House membership to 160 members after long battle between initiative sponsor, League of Women Voters, and Democratic leaders in both chambers. The Legislature keeps the right to conduct redistricting and voters ratify single House districts— where one representative represents 1/160 of the state’s population.

— 1970 Mental health reform act limits hospital commitments.

— 1971 State lottery established. Governor’s cabinet (i.e., Executive Offices led by secretaries) holds its first meeting.

— 1972 Office for Children established as an advocate for children’s needs and to encourage the provision of services that strengthen family life. Legislation further regulating programs for children requiring special education and providing reimbursement is enacted. Intermediate appellate court to be known as Appeals Court is established. A suit against the state is filed on behalf of residents of Belchertown State School citing deficiencies in client care.  This is the first in a series of similar suits involving state schools between 1972-1975.

— 1974 Statewide food stamp program initiated. Federal Housing and Community,Development Act passed, offering communities wider discretion in expenditure of funds provided activities meet community development objectives.

— 1975 Executive Office of Environmental Affairs established.  Deinstitutionalization becomes a priority of the Department of Mental Health.

— 1976 Title XX of federal Social Security Act takes effect and forces changes in administration of the Welfare Department’s social services. It leads to the establishment of the Department of Social Services in 1978.

— 1978 Commercial Area Revitalization District (CARD) program initiated to assist communities with older business districts experiencing decay. Court reorganization act establishes a unified trial court. Departmentof Social Services created and defined.

— 1980 Proposition 2½ passed, limiting local property tax increases to no more than 2.5 percent annually, and totally property tax income to constitute no more than 2.5 percent of the assessed valuation of a community. Law provides for local referenda on overriding its provisions on year-by-year basis, inaugurating the era of periodic override battles in many towns.

— 1981 Slowdown of deinstitutionalization is recommended as homeless population soars.

— 1983 House Rule 81 provides for open television coverage of formal debate.  “Bottle Bill” requires refunds on beverage containers to reduce litter, and authorizes a major hazardous waste cleanup program.

— 1986 Evelyn Murphy elected lieutenant governor, becoming the first woman tohold statewide office in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Archives opens at Columbia Point in Dorchester.

— 1988 Gov. Michael Dukakis wins the Democratic presidential nomination; defeated Nov. 7 by George H. W. Bush. Warnings of a growing state budget deficit were dismissed by Dukakis administration officials, leading to the Republican revolution of 1990.

— 1990 Voter anger over Dukakis budget deficits, the existence of which was denied during the presidential campaign, and tax hikes imposed to cover them, leads to the so-called Republican revolution of 1990; election of William F. Weld, the first Republican governor in 20 years, and 18 Republican senators, enough to sustain Weld’s vetoes.

1993 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules in case of McDuffy v.Executive Office of Education that financial dependency of public schools on local property taxes violates constitutional right to  educational equality of students in poorer areas of state. It determines that the state, not communities, is constitutionally responsible for providing and equalizing public education.

— 1993 The Education Reform Act, signed three days after the McDuffy ruling,provides for a public education system of “sufficient quality to extend to all children the opportunity to reach their full potential.” A reform funding formula favors poorer urban centers. Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) established; remains  controversial into the 21st century.

— 1995 Joint rules reform allows bills submitted in the beginning biennial of session to carry over into the following year. Prior to 1995, bills died at the end of the first biennial year and had to be completelyre-filed and processed.

— 2001 Gov. Paul Cellucci resigns to accept posting as U.S. ambassador to Canada, making Jane Swift the Commonwealth’s first female chief executive. On May 15, she becomes the first sitting governor in the nation’s history to give birth in office, delivering twin girls.

— 2002 Swift declines to run for governor in her own right, pushed out of the race by Mitt Romney, but Democrat Shannon O’Brien becomes the first woman to win a gubernatorial primary in Massachusetts history. Romney defeats O’Brien.

— 2003 Ruling Nov. 17 in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Supreme Judicial Court declares same-sex couples have the right to marry, making Massachusetts the first state in the nation to grant full-fledged marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

— 2004 Hillary and Julie Goodridge become the first same-sex couple in American history to legally wed on May 17 in Boston, after a spring of wrangling and unsuccessful attempts to block implementation of the Goodridge decision.

— 2004 U.S. Sen. John Kerry wins the Democratic nomination for president and is nominated at the first Democratic National Convention ever held in Boston. Kerry and John Edwards go on to lose to George W. Bush, 53 to48 percent.

— 2006 Democrat Deval Patrick is elected the first black governor in Massachusetts history.

— 2006 Landmark health-care law enacted April 12 makes Massachusetts the first state in the nation to require citizens who can afford to carry health insurance to do so; law is seen as model for national health insurance reform.

— 2007 Legislature votes to block referendum on legalization of gay marriage, maintaining what has become the status quo of the right to marry for same-sex couples.

— 2012 Former Governor Mitt Romney, who lost the Republican nomination for president to John McCain in 2008, beats Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul to become his party’s choice. Romney and Paul Ryan loseto Barack Obama in November, 51 to 47 percent.

— 2015 Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst becomes the first openly gay presiding officer of a legislative branch when he’s elected Senate President.

— 2016 Voters approve a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use statewide.

— 2017 Rosenberg is forced to resign as Senate president after reports he ignored repeated complaints of harassement and sexual assault of Senate affiliates by his husband, Bryan Hefner.

— 2020 The coronavirus upends the economy, the schools and the operations of all three branches of government as the state marshals all its powers to slow the spread of the disease.  The governor is granted broad emergency powers to decide what businesses and other establishments can open and close and the Zoom revolution consumes every part of public and civic life.

Sources: Leading the Way: A History of the Massachusetts General Court; Boston Herald; Boston Globe; State House News Service;

A Few Firsts in Massachusetts 

1634 Boston Common becomes the first public park in America.

1635 The first American public secondary school, Boston Latin Grammar School, is founded in Boston.

1636 Harvard, the first American university, is founded in Newtowne, now Cambridge.

1638 The first American printing press is set up in Cambridge by Stephen Daye.

1639 The first free American public school, the Mather school, is founded in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.

1653 The first American public library is founded in Boston.

1704 The first regularly issued American newspaper, The Boston News-Letter, is published in Boston.

1775 First shot of the American Revolution fired in Lexington.

1806 The first church built by free blacks in America, the African Meeting House, opens on Joy Street in Boston.

1831 The first abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, is published in Boston by William Lloyd Garrison.

1838 First regular municipal police department organized in Boston.

1863 The first black American, Sgt. William Carney of New Bedford, to earnthe Congressional Medal of Honor, joins the Union Army. He later becomes a messenger at the Statehouse. He dies from injuries in anelevator accident there.

1866 The first African-American legislators in New England are elected to the General Court.

1876 The first telephone is demonstrated by Alexander Graham Bell in Boston.

1898 The first American subway system opens in Boston.

1914 Nation’s first statewide Department of Health established, one in acenturies-long series of public-health firsts for Massachusetts.

1926 The first successful liquid fuel rocket is launched by physics teacherand Worcester native Dr. Robert Goddard in Auburn. NASA’s Goddard Space Center is named in his honor.

1944 The first automatic digital computer is developed by Howard Aiken of Harvard.

1961 The first nuclear-powered surface vessel, USS Long Beach CG (N) 9, is launched at Quincy.

1971 Ray Tomlinson of Beranek & Newman in Cambridge sent the first email.The first email message was “QWERTYUIOP” and was sent between two side by side computers connected via ARPANET.

1976 Boston was the first city in America to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a “First Night” event.

1979 The first PC-based electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc, is developed byDaniel Brickman and Bob Frankston, who found Software Arts in Cambridge. Selling 700,000 copies, it transforms the personal computerfrom novelty to useful tool.

1980 Walter Gilbert was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering a technique to decode DNA.

2004 First legal same-sex marriage in U.S. history solemnized in Cambridge.

Source: Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office;

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