Salty Air

Honoring Mercy Otis in a Modern World

Written by Cape Cod Wave

BARNSTABLE – Judy Walden Scarafile is in search of a few good women.

There are many hard-working, gifted women who contribute so much to their community . . . we just need to find them and identify them,” she said.

As the new chairman of the Mercy Otis Warren Cape Cod Woman of the Year Selection Committee, Scarafile has taken on the task of increasing the number of nominees to the award by the due date April 21, 2014, and to pack the room when the award is presented in June 2014.

**This story originally ran September 9, 2013. The 2015 due date for nominees is April 20, 2015.**

Alice George at home in Yarmouthport.

Alice George at home in Yarmouthport.

Alice George of Yarmouthport, the previous chairman of the committee, said that the inspiration behind the award came out of an understanding of what an influential woman Mercy Otis Warren was in her day.

Giving the award, George said, serves a dual purpose. While honoring an individual, it also “educates the public that there was this outstanding woman from Cape Cod.”

Another former member of the committee, Louis Cataldo of Barnstable Village, who at 93 years old has been promoting attention to the historic aspects of Barnstable since he moved to Cape Cod 65 years ago, took time on a recent afternoon to explain the significance of the woman behind the award.

“Mercy Otis Warren was the silent figure behind a lot of historical things that happened in the Town of Barnstable,” he said. “She was sort of a legend in her time.”

The fact that she accomplished so much as a woman in that era is of particular significance, he said.

“She was a shaker mover in the early days when women were supposed to be in the background and not involved in things,” he said.

Lou Cataldo at the Mercy Otis Warren Woman of the Year award ceremony in 2012.

Lou Cataldo at the Mercy Otis Warren Woman of the Year award ceremony in 2012.

As the effort goes forward to get nominees, Scarafile is working to spread the word.

“We want to increase public awareness from Falmouth to Provincetown,” said Scarafile, who herself was presented with the award in 2011.

Scarafile, who lives in Barnstable Village, is a pharmacist and is also president of the Cape Cod Baseball League. She is an active volunteer in numerous causes both local and international, from organizing food drives and soup kitchens in Hyannis to helping earthquake victims in Haiti.

She has run the baseball league for so many years that the matter of a woman holding the top position in the peninsula’s most prestigious male sporting event may be overlooked.

Scarafile came to her position with the league through sports-writing, which decades ago was also a pioneering career for a woman.

Mercy Otis Warren, a native of West Barnstable who lived from 1728 to 1814, was also a woman ahead of her time.

Like Scarafile, she was a writer, but her focus was politics, in particular the American Revolution, which she witnessed first hand.

In fact, she is credited with advocating in 1788 for a Bill of Rights as part of the US Constitution.

Peter and Judy Scarafile with the Mercy Otis Warren Woman of the Year statuette and a painting of Mercy Otis Warren in the background.

Peter and Judy Scarafile with the Mercy Otis Warren Woman of the Year statuette and a painting of Mercy Otis Warren in the background.

She wrote plays, poetry and pamphlets about the cause of opposition to the British rule of the American colonies.

After the revolution, her activism continued through her work as a historian.

A friend not only of Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, but also of their more famous husbands, Mercy Otis Warren was a pioneer in women’s rights through her writings.

One hundred and fifteen years before women in the United States had the right to vote, Mercy Otis Warren wrote a three-volume first-hand history of the American Revolution.

A buzz began in Barnstable about Mercy Otis Warren’s many accomplishments back in the late 1990s as an effort was underway to erect a statue to her brother, James Otis, who was a recognized Revolutionary War patriot.

A committee was soon formed to fundraise for a statue of Mercy Otis Warren. It was commissioned from Osterville sculptor David Lewis who had also made the James Otis statue.

The effort to erect a statue of Mercy Otis Warren was successful and the statue was erected on the Barnstable Superior Courthouse lawn on July 4, 2001.

But, according to Alice George, the committee was so energized by the effort, they wanted to continue to promote the ideals that Mercy Otis Warren stood for, including patriotism, education and community involvement.

A new committee soon sprung up to select an annual recipient of an award to honor a local woman who emulates the ideals of Mercy Otis Warren.

The statue of Mercy Otis Warren in sillouette on the lawn of Barnstable Superior Courthouse

The statue of Mercy Otis Warren in sillouette on the lawn of Barnstable Superior Courthouse

The new committee was supported by Barnstable County, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, Cape Cod Writers’ center, Jewish Women for Historical Preservation and Tales of Cape Cod, and later joined by the Barnstable Civic Association and the West Barnstable Civic Association.

On a recent Sunday in the colorful garden at St. Mary’s Church in Barnstable Village where Scarafile is an active volunteer, a group of several dozen people associated with the Cape Cod Woman of the Year award along with local politicians gathered to honor Alice George and Louis Cataldo for their service on the committee.

Over the years, the award has been given to a who’s who of well-known and accomplished women on Cape Cod. The first award went to Marion Vuilleumier of Barnstable, a historian and author.

Other awardees have been Jean Gardner of Yarmouth, Eugenia Fortes of Barnstable, Felicia Penn of Barnstable, Bonnie Snow of Orleans, Lynne M. Poyant of Barnstable, Josephine Ives of Chatham, Mary J. LeClair of Mashpee, Gloria Rudman of Barnstable, and Susan French of Barnstable.

This year’s award went to Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank President Dorothy Savarese.

Alice George recalled that she first became involved with the committee through Barnstable District Court Judge Richard O. Staff who years earlier had been in a law practice with her husband former state representative Tom George.

She also recalled that John Ohman of Dennis, a longtime member of the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, first had the idea of the award.

Ohman said he initiated the award after a conversation with sculptor David Lewis about Mercy Otis Warren’s accomplishments.

“I’m a history buff. I love history and the history of Cape Cod,” he said.

He said learning about Mercy Otis Warren made him think about all the present day women on Cape Cod with significant accomplishments.

“The volunteerism on Cape Cod is just outstanding,” he said.

For him the award’s significance is simple. “I love that it ties present day heroes of Cape Cod with the past,” he said.

Nomination forms for the Mercy Otis Warren Cape Cod Woman of the Year Award can be picked up at town halls on Cape Cod or downloaded from the county website at


– Laura M. Reckford

About the author

Cape Cod Wave

Cape Cod Wave is an online magazine covering the character and culture of Cape Cod. We feature long-form journalism, slices of Cape Cod life, scenic slide shows, and music videos of local bands playing original music.

1 Comment

  • Thank you for this very nice article highlighting Alice George and Lou Cataldo’s leadership in underscoring the legacy of Mercy Otis Warren – exemplified by the accomplished women of the Cape who have been honored over the years. Kudos to Judy Walden Scarafile for carrying the banner forward. It has been an honor and a privilege to have been involved with this Committee and these true patriots in their own right!

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