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Mary L. Fonseca papers

Identifier: MC-055

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of correspondence, legislative and committee notes, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, awards, photographs, and four of Fonseca’s trademark hats. There are some personal records, as well as records of the Portuguese American Civic League. The collection is divided into ten series and spans the period from 1932 until 2006. Series I are personal records; Series II are legislative records; Series III are speeches; Series IV are political records, events, and banquets; Series V are photographs; Series VI are scrapbooks of newspaper clippings; Series VII are awards and certificates; Series VIII are published material; Series IX are ephemera; and Series X are Portuguese American Civic League records.


  • 1932-2006

Language of Materials

Materials predominantly in English, with some materials in Portuguese.

Conditions Governing Access


Biographical / Historical

Mary Leite Fonseca (1912-2005) served as a Democratic Massachusetts state Senator for the First Bristol District in Southeastern Massachusetts for 32 years. A pioneer in the Massachusetts Legislature, she was the first person of Portuguese decent to serve in the state Senate. She was appointed Second Assistant Majority Leader by Senate President Kevin Harrington in 1973, and later that year became the first woman appointed Assistant Majority Floor Leader — Senate Majority Whip. She held that position for the rest of her career in the senate. Mary Leite was born in Fall River on March 30, 1912, to Portuguese immigrants Mary B. and Joseph Leite. The second-oldest child in a family of 12, she attended Fall River public schools and graduated from B.M.C Durfee High School in 1932. Before beginning her political career, she worked as a secretary, a translator and at the Fall River Public Library. In 1938 she married John C. Fonseca Jr. Together they had two children, a daughter, Irene V. Fonseca, and a son, John G. Fonseca. In 1945, she earned her first political appointment by winning a seat on the Fall River School Committee. Her first run at the Massachusetts state Senate came in 1952 with a successful, low-budget campaign for the seat in the Second Bristol District. She served on many committees while in the Senate, including the Education and the Ways and Means committees. See appendix A for a complete list. Fonseca was a supporter of many women’s rights bills. She was a vocal proponent of equal pay for women and the right for women to keep teaching after marriage. Fonseca served as the chair of the Massachusetts Special Commission on the Status of Women – a commission formed in 1964 by Gov. Endicott Peabody to study and file legislation concerning women’s equality issues. Although she never went to college, she was known as a champion for public education in southeastern Massachusetts — from elementary schools to universities. Fonseca was instrumental in crafting legislation that would convert the former Southeastern Massachusetts Technical Institute into Southeastern Massachusetts University. The university recognized her efforts by presenting her with an honorary degree in 1974. Fonseca was a board member of the Fall River chapter of the Portuguese American Civic League. She received many awards over the years. In 1980, the Portuguese-language newspaper O Jornal presented her with the Luso American of the Year Award for her contributions to the Portuguese community. Though Fonseca’s political career ended in 1984 in an unsuccessful bid for re-election, she remained active in the Southcoast community. Fonseca died on June 13, 2005 at the age of 90.


21 Linear Feet (6 manuscript boxes, 13 oversize boxes, 3 record cartons, 3 photo boxes)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Irene V. Fonseca, January 2006, Accession # 06-16.

Processing Information

Gift of Irene V. Fonseca, January 2006, Accession # 06-16.

MC 55, Mary L. Fonseca papers
Mike Pacheco, Judy Farrar, and Maura McGurk.
October 2006
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Repository

285 Old Westport Rd.
N. Dartmouth MA 02747 USA