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A Walking Tour on Beacon Hill

[Copyright 1999 Mary Lee Cox]

BEACON HILL AND STRONG WILLS
Part II

Second Half: If you are starting this segment separately, begin at the Charles Street T Station, go down the stairs toward Cambridge Street, and walk down Cambridge Street approximately six blocks to Joy Street. Walk up Joy Street - it is steep - to Mt. Vernon Street.  You will walk past a small court just off Joy Street, where the African Meeting House is located.  Mariah Stewart was married here, and Ellen Craft and her husband spoke to large crowds here.  If you are retracing your steps back up Joy Street, you have already visited Joy Court, so continue up to Mt. Vernon Street, and start with Number 12.
 

9.  Mariah Stewart [1803-1879].  An African American woman widowed and done out of her husband's ship chandlery business - it appears that a local judge awarded the business to a male employee, despite the terms of the will - she was married to Stewart in 1826 in the Meeting House.  In the 1830’s she wrote for the antislavery publication The Abolitionist.  She was the first American born woman to speak publicly on politics.  In 1832 she drew crowds at Franklin Hall and the African Masonic Hall.  In one of her speeches, later published, she said, “O ye daughters of Africa, awake! Show forth to the world that you are endowed with noble and exalted faculties.”  Her dramatic statements, which drew  parallels of the African American condition in the United States with that of the colonists and the English government in the American Revolution - a message of confrontation rather than dutiful obedience - were too much for the rather conservative professional leaders of the African Meeting House.  Mariah Stewart left Boston for New York city and taught in the public schools there for the rest of her career.

 Many Abolitionists spoke at the African Meeting House in the first years of the movement.  Among the most dramatic and the most popular speaker they sponsored was Ellen Craft

10.  Ellen Craft [1826-1897].  Ellen and her husband, both slaves, made a daring run for freedom from their Georgia owners in 1847.  Ellen, light skinned, posed as a white man who could not speak; her husband traveled with her as her servant.  Boston abolitionists published the exciting story, and the Crafts spoke here at the African Meeting House while living in Boston.  The publicity caught up with them.  Pursued by slave catchers in 1850, they fled to Canada and then to London.

Across Joy Street, a short way down from Smith Court, there is a blue plaque commemorating Rebecca Lee Crumpler on the wall of a building.

11. Rebecca Lee Crumpler [1831- 1895]  67 Joy.  Crumpler may well have been the first African American woman to earn a medical degree. In 1864 she graduated from the New England Female Medical College (absorbed later by Boston University School of Medicine) with a “Doctress of Medicine.”  After she served as a doctor to Civil War wounded, she married and returned to practice medicine in Boston.  The original building has been replaced.

Continue up Joy Street to Mt. Vernon Street.  The contrast between the North slope of Joy Street and Mt. Vernon Street is striking.  Mt. Vernon Street is the grandest street on Beacon Hill.  This is the only street where, on one side,  the houses have front “yards” - small as they are, this setback was part of the original owners’ agreements and remains part of the deed.  Some historians believe it was the first real estate restriction in the United States.  As you walk down Mt. Vernon think, first, of the way such vertical living structures a family's life, and remember, also, that the houses had no running water and no indoor toilets when they were first built.

12.  The Irish Maids [1840-1910]  The servants in these houses were usually new immigrants from Ireland.  Rising at 5:00, they cleaned the fires, swept the carpets with damp tea leaves, emptied the slops, carried the water, turned the beds, dusted, polished, served at table, and finished sometime between 9:00 and 11:00 at night.  They got a half day off every other week.  Without their efforts, comfortable living in these fine houses would not have been possible.  Most of the women so employed used their savings to bring members of their families over, one by one and year by year, from Ireland.

13.  Julia Ward Howe 1819-1910].  The Howes lived at 32 Mt. Vernon Street for a period after the Civil War; the plaque, however, is on the Chestnut Street house later in the walk.

Walk down Mt. Vernon Street to Number 55, on your right.  Now known as the Nichols House, this was one of the first dwellings built by the Mt. Vernon Proprietors on the cut-down slope of Beacon Hill.  Note the street sign incorporated in the side of the building.  This house was designed by Charles Bulfinch for Joseph Mason, who commissioned it for his daughter.  It faces what was once a front garden, rather than the street, and originally there was a garden in back also.  The land became so valuable so quickly that within ten years of the construction of this house, both gardens had been sold as building lots.  The Nichols house is now a center for foreign visitors, and one of the few houses on Beacon Hill regularly open to the public for tours.  Rose Nichols lived here most of her life.

14.  Rose Standish Nichols [1872-1960].  A landscape architect with a lifelong interest in foreign affairs, Nichols was the founder of the Women’s International League, and the organizer of the group that became the Foreign Policy Association.  Rose herself was the publisher of the journal Foreign Policy.

 Walk on down Mt. Vernon Street.  At number 92, look up and see studio windows visible at the top of the house.  Two women sculptors, Anne Whitney and Edmonia Lewis, worked in this studio.

15.  Anne Whitney [1821 - 1915].  Whitney made her living as a sculptor, and she was also active in Boston suffrage groups.  Among her works are the statue of Samuel Adams just outside Fanueil Hall, the bust of Lucy Stone in the main reading room of the Boston Public Library, and the statute of William Lloyd Garrison in the New England Historical Society.  Her statue of Sumner in Harvard Square was her commission-winning entry in an 1885 competition.  She was not awarded the commission when the jury members found out she was a woman.  Toward the end of her life, she had the Sumner statue finished with the help of friends and her own funds.  In 1902, she donated it to the city of Cambridge, where the seated Sumner presides over the traffic of Harvard Square.  She purchased this house toward the end of her career, and used the top floor as her studio.

15.  Edmonia Lewis [1846-1909].  A sculptor with an African American and American Indian heritage, Lewis came to Boston and was helped by William Lloyd Garrison to get started on her art career.  Other artists loaned her studio space, Whitney among them.  When the Massachusetts 52nd Regiment, one of the African American units in the Civil War, was wiped out at Fort Wagner, Lewis sold 100 copies of her bas-relief bust of Robert Gould Shaw, the colonel of the 52nd.  She used the money to move to Rome, continuing her sculpture there as part of the expatriate colony of American artists.

Turn now and walk back up Mt. Vernon Street as far as the intersection with Walnut Street.  As you walk, note the low houses, once stables and now renovated,, at 50, 56 and 60.
These stables are directly behind, and once belonged, to the Swan daughter houses facing Chestnut Street, the next stop on the walk.  Turn onto Walnut Street to the head of Chestnut Street - an especially charming Beacon Hill Street, with a human dimension somewhat lacking on Mt. Vernon, and a harmonious mingling of styles.

16.  Hepzibah Clarke Swan [1757-1825)  13, 15 and 17 Chestnut Street.  Swan was the only woman among the Mt. Vernon Proprietors. She used her inheritance from her father in a number of successful business deals.  The real estate development of Beacon Hill was among them.  Her own house on Chestnut Street no longer exists; she commissioned Charles Bulfinch to build the three identical houses across from it, one for each of her daughters, as dowries.  Number 13 has a plaque commemorating Julia Ward Howe.  The Howes rented this house for a period of years.

17.  Julia Ward Howe [1819-1920]  She is best known now for her words to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  Howe was nearly fifty when she joined with her friends to found the New England Women's Club and became a lifelong campaigner in the national woman suffrage movement.  Her husband, Samuel Howe, directed the Perkins Institute for the Blind.  He was opposed to her active involvement in his own causes.  Howe once said, “I have never known my husband to approve any act of mine which I valued.”  The success of “Battle Hymn,” and the association with her colleagues Lucy Stone, Ednah Cheney, Harriett Hunt and others opened new doors.  She said about the club, “One of the comforts I found in the new association was the relief which it afforded me from a sense of isolation and eccentricity.”  Her career blossomed once past middle age and in her eighties she was still an active, popular, country-wide lecturer.   In her later years she appeared before the Massachusetts State Legislature annually, testifying for woman suffrage.  There is a photograph of her (by Sarah Choate Sears) in old age, still wearing a lace cap and wide Bertha collar, looking a great deal like Queen Victoria.  An overflow crowd of over 3,000 people stood in the streets around Symphony Hall at her memorial service in 1910, singing “Battle Hymn” together.

Julia Ward Howe’s daughters were also writers, and lived here as children.

15.  Maud Howe Eliot [1854-1958].  With her sister Laura, she was the co-author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning biography of her mother, Julia Howe.

15.  Laura Howe Richards [1850-1943].  Julia Howe’s first child, and wife of Ellen Richards' brother, Laura was a popular and prolific children’s writer.  She moved to Maine in adulthood.  Her book Captain January, with its coastal Maine setting - the story on which the Shirley Temple film was based - was one of her favorites.

Continue walking down Chestnut Street and cross Charles Street.  Stop across from number 92.  The facade of the original house appears to have been covered by a more modern treatment,  but this was the home of Ednah Cheny for a long period of her active life.

17.  Ednah Cheney [1824-1904].  Ednah was responsible for most of the documentation of the New England Women’s Club and the reform activities associated with it.  She wrote biographies of her friends Louisa Alcott and Julia Howe.  As a young woman, she attended Margaret Fuller’s “Conversations.”  At nineteen she married Seth Cheney.  He died three years later, leaving her with a daughter, a small fortune, and more independence than most women of her time.  She was president of the board of the New England Hospital for Women and Children for thirteen years; the secretary of the New England Freedman’s Aid Society, a friend of Harriet Tubman.  She wrote a play, produced in Boston, as a sequel to A Dolls House.  The Cheney memorial is in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

At the end of Chestnut Street, turn right at Brimmer Street to the Church of the Advent.

18.  Isabella Stewart Gardner [1840-1924].  The best way to meet “Mrs. Jack” is to visit her Italianate palace in the Fenway, a building she designed around elements of old castles and palaces shipped over from Europe,  intended to house in elegance her magnificent art collection.  When she died, she left the building and the collection to the city, for the public to enjoy.  The Gardner Museum is described on the driving tour, and is easily reached by public transportation.  On this walk, stop at the Church of the Advent, which she attended.  Among the art she presented to this church is a  reredos and richly colorful liturgical robes.  The story about the scrubbing of the steps of the Advent on Good Friday - personally, on her knees - is not true, but remains part of Boston folklore.

 Just off Brimmer Street around number 45 is a private court of houses; this is Otis Place.  Beacon Hill has many small courts and hidden corners; this is one of them.  Kate Gannet Wells lived at Number 7

19.  Kate Gannet Wells [1838-1911].  Votes for women was a radical idea, and by no means all Boston women endorsed it.  Kate Wells was a member of the New England Women’s Club and also an influential anti-suffrage voice.  Nevertheless she worked all her life for women’s interests.  Her idea of  “feminine goals” included vocational education for women.  One of her special interests was art education, especially the work of the Normal Art School for training teachers of art.  She was appointed to three eight-year terms on the Massachusetts State Board of Education.

Retrace your steps on Brimmer Street to Byron Street.  In what is now a private house, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom had their headquarters in the nineteen thirties and forties.

20. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. 6 Byron Street.  The two women associated with the League are Florence Luscomb and Emily Greene Balch.

20.  Florence Luscomb[1897-1985].  She was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an architect.  She became the leader of the second wave of the woman's movement and the first executive secretary of the League of Women Voters.  She ran for governor of the Commonwealth, unsuccessfully.  From 1929-1933 she was the secretary of the International League.

20.  Emily Greene Balch.[1867-1961]. Balch was a native Bostonian and a professor at Wellesley College.  She was the first international secretary of the League when it organized in Geneva, Switzerland.  Her work for the League and her political opinions labeled her as "pacifist," the reason given for Wellesley to end her career there.  The early research and reports of the international League formed the unacknowledged base for the structure and formation of the League of Nations.  Balch was the second woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1946.  She once said "We have a long, long way to go.  So let us hasten along the road, the road of human tenderness and generosity.  Groping, we may find one another's hands in the dark."

From Byron Street, walk back to busy Beacon Street, and cross the street to the Public Garden for a well-earned rest on one of the benches, and perhaps a sedate ride on the swan boats.