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A Walking Tour in Cambridge

[Copyright 2000 Mary Lee Cox]


 Cambridge is a small industrial city, not part of Boston proper.  It is separately governed and home to a vital multicultural population.   Cambridge is best known to visitors as an academic center, and this walk starts from one of the academic locations, Harvard Square.  This square is the oldest part of Cambridge, established as a fortified town in 1630 because the original settlement, Boston, was considered too exposed and difficult to defend.  The area was easy to reach by water from the first settlement on the bay.  Six years after the founding of the town,  Harvard College was established right across from the Cambridge town common, and the village was renamed “Newtowne” first and then later “Cambridge.”  Harvard was not the first college in the New World, but it was the first corporation.  Not inappropriately, the theme of this walk is women and education.

 Harvard Square isn't a square - the original 1630 street plan survives here almost intact, confusing anyone used to grid street patterns and probably contributing to the sense that something is always happening around a corner.  There is still a Common, where the grazing animals were kept and open elections were held.  Facing the Common is the 1731 Christ Church (Episcopal), plain and simple Georgian architecture  (it survived being used as a stable by English troops during the Revolution) Visible from Massachusetts Avenue are the oldest buildings still standing of Harvard College.   There is an ancient burial ground.  Many head stones are slate, with the characteristic Puritan skull and bones.  One of them commemorates an early Cambridge woman:  “here lies the body of Cicely, Negro.  Late servant to William Brattle.  She died April 8, 1714, being 13 years old.”  Nothing more is known of her.

 Begin your walk at the Harvard Square T stop.  Massachusetts Avenue makes a nearly right-angled turn here, and JFK Street, Garden Street, Church Street, and Brattle Street all meet at medieval angles.  From the T stop exit, cross Massachusetts Avenue toward the Coop (Harvard Cooperative Society book store) and turn right.  Anne Bradstreet  lived on this street, between Brattle Street and Church Street, at about what is now number 1380 Massachusetts Avenue.  There have been many recent renovations to the buildings here and the commemorative plaque is currently missing.

1. Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672).

This first person on the Cambridge walk was a woman of learning and education well beyond most women (or men) of her day.  Anne Bradstreet was America’s first published poet, although she was not aware at the time that her brother-in-law had her work printed and distributed in London.  Anne came to Cambridge at age eighteen with her husband Simon Bradstreet, an officer of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and her parents.  She had been educated by private tutors in England, and she had access through her father’s privileged position to the library of the Earl of Lincoln.  The crude new world wilderness must have been a shock.  She and Simon lived in “Newtowne” only a few years, and then moved even further into the wilderness.  Together they had eight children and seven of them survived her.  Making a home and bearing children on a frontier, under great difficulties,  she wrote at the same time poetry still studied and highly regarded.  Her later poems reflect her love of family, her knowledge of the classics, and the woods and water of the New World.   In one poem to her husband she said:  “If ever two were one, then surely we.  If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.”

 Continue half a block on Massachusetts Avenue to Church Street.  On your right, in a small island in the middle of the avenue, is a larger-than-lifesize statue of William Sumner, seated.  It is the work of Anne Whitney.

2.  Anne Whitney -  [1821-1915].  One of America’s most distinguished woman sculptors, Whitney lived in East Cambridge with her parents and taught in a small school in Salem until she found sculpture as her real calling in her late thirties.  She won first place in 1875 for this memorial to William Sumner.  Competition entries were anonymous, but when the judges found out their winner was a woman, they denied her the commission.  It was not her competence that was in question, for she had already won the commission for the statue of Samuel Adams, a statue contributed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to the national capitol building; .  Whitney completed this Sumner statue many years later, when she was eighty years old, using her own funds and the contributions of friends, and then donated it to the City of Cambridge.
Turn left on Church Street.  Note the yellow Colonial house at number 53, the Torrey Hancock House.  In 1917 the first school of architecture for women only was established here.   A very few women had previously, and with some difficulty, entered and studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  While the school here did not last long, its establishment indicated that this professional field was opening to women in the early twentieth century.

At the end of Church Street is Brattle Street.  Turn right.  If you have time for a short excursion down Storey Street, beside the Crate and Barrel store across the street, you will find close to the end a marker outside one of the homes of Harriet Jacobs.

3.  Harriet Ann Jacobs [1813-1897]

In 1857 Jacobs, once a fugitive slave and at that point just freed herself, wrote an account of her life:  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself.  She used the pseudonym of Linda Brent, and the book was edited by Lydia Maria Child.  When it was finally published in Boston in 1860, no one wanted to believe it was true.  The story of rape and exploitation, the garret hideaway, the efforts to save her children from her owner, the melodrama of escape were too awful for genteel readers to believe.  Readers wanted to believe that Child (a fervent abolitionist)  wrote a fiction.  But it was Jacobs’ own story. of her slave origins in North Carolina, her seven-year-hiding, her escape to New York and her activism in the antislavery movement.   In Cambridge in her later life she ran a boarding house and continued to take care of the sons of her Quaker friends.  She lived in this house from 1873-1876.  She is buried a few miles away in Mt. Auburn cemetery where her headstone reads “Patient in tribulation, fervent in sprit, serving the Lord” - one of the most frequently visited graves in that Cambridge cemetery

Return to Brattle Street and continue down it, away from Harvard Square, for three blocks to the first gate into Radcliffe Yard. Enter the gate, sit on the steps of Alice Mary Longfellow hall, and look around you.  The Schlesinger Library, Agassiz House, and Fay House make a semi circle across the yard.  Radcliffe as a college has been absorbed into Harvard University and now existsas Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.  It began, however, in 1885 as the  “Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women,”  nicknamed the “Harvard Annex.”    A little later it was renamed “Radcliffe” in honor of the first donor of scholarships to Harvard University, the Lady Radliffe.

 On the left as you look across the yard is the Schlesinger Library, the foremost library in America on the history of women.  It is a repository for the archives of the women’s suffrage movement, for letters and papers of women in many fields, for an outstanding collection of photographs, and what is probably the best collection of cook books and cookery information in the world.  In the first floor reference room is a stained glass window, “Courage, Love and Peace” by artist Sara Wyman Whitman [---] whose work is also in Harvard’s Memorial Hall.  Agassiz Hall, the building with the stately pillars immediately across from you, is named for Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz.

4.  Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz [1822-1907]

Elizabeth Agassiz was an educator, a writer, a  naturalist, and the first president of Radcliffe College.  This presidency was not a full time job.  She was appointed not as an administrator but as a  liaison to the Harvard Corporation and a fund raiser for the new education enterprise for women.. .  Her diplomatic skills and close connections to Harvard faculty were invaluable as Radcliffe became a coordinate college dependent on its relationship with a man’s college.  When her work began for Radcliffe she was the widow of  Louis Agassiz, a world famous naturalist and a towering figure at Harvard.  He was many years her senior, and when they married he was newly widowed with a small son and two daughters to raise.  Elizabeth never had children of her own, but she raised Louis’ chilcren and later three step-grandchildren also left motherless.  In her husband’s Harvard classes, she took the notes which became the basis for his famous books.  She wrote books on her own, popularizing the natural sciences.  She accompanied Agassiz on field trips as far away as Brazil, maintained his correspondence, and at the same time ran a school on the third floor of their Cambridge home, an effort to augment the family income..  The Agassiz house was on the corner of Oxford Street and Broadway, where the Fogg Museum is now located.
 The last building on your right is Fay House, once a private home and the first building Radcliffe purchased (in 1885).  Exit the yard through the gate next to Fay House and turn left.  Note that the second gate you pass is a memorial gate to Elizabeth Agassiz, erected by her children and grandchildren.  (the word “step”-children does not appear). Cross Mason Street at the light.  This is an intersection, not a square, but high on a post, not easily visible on this busy corner, is a plaque with these words: “Marchesa Margaret Fuller Ossoli Square.”

5.  Margaret Fuller (Ossoli)  [1810-1850]

This extraordinary woman  “began as a Cambridge prodigy and ended as a citizen of the world.”  Her rigorous classical education was at home (the family home in Cambridgeport is now a neighborhood center).  After a stint as a language instructor at Bronson Alcott’s new progressive school in Boston, she found fellow minds and friends within a circle that became the Transcendentalists.  From 1839 to 1844 she led (and was paid for) a series of “Conversations” held in Elizabeth Peabody’s bookstore in Boston.  These were adult seminars for women.  Topics discussed  included art, ethics, faith, and women’s rights.  One series of Conversations included men.  Fuller produced and edited, with Ralph Waldo Emerson,  a quarterly journal of Transcendentalist thought, Dial.  Her book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, expanded from one of her Dial essays, remains a classic on women’s rights.  She moved to Manhattan and continued to write, notably for the newspaper mogul Horace Greely.  He sent her in 1847 to cover the unrest and revolution in Italy.  Greely chose his first assigned foreign corespondent well.  Italian was one of the many languages Fuller had mastered and she was a proven writer.  In Italy she met Count Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a dashing figure associated with the liberal cause.  Their son was born in 1849.  During the French siege of Rome that year, Fuller directed an emergency hospital but she, with Ossoli and their son, was forced to flee to Florence when the city fell.  A year later they decided to return together to the United States.  All three died in a shipwreck off Fire Island.  Fuller left an extraordinary body of work, hundreds of letters, and a major impact on American thought.  “Very early,” she once said, “ I knew the only object in life was to grow.”

You are now at the corner of Mason and Garden Streets.  Walk up Garden Street  to the grassy triangle between Garden and Concord Streets.

7.  Theo Ruggles Kitson [1876-1932]

Set in this little city park is a memorial statue commemorating the veterans of the Spanish American War.  It may look somewhat familiar because it is one of a series titled “The Hiker.”.  There are a number of similar Hiker memorials in parks throughout the United States.  The sculptor, Theo Ruggles Kitson, was one of the most prolific female sculptors in the United.States.  Her bronze of Thaddeus Kosciuszko is in Boston Garden
                                                                                                                                                         About five blocks away and across Massachusetts Avenue,  out of the path of this walk (and consequently not numbered below or on the map)  is a site well worth a later visit.  The Agassiz School, a City of Cambridge public elementary school, is on Sacramento Street. Inside the school is a memorial to Maria Louise Baldwin.

Maria Louise Baldwin [1856-1922]
Baldwin was the principal (called “master” at that time) of Agassiz School at a time when there was only one other woman with a similar position in Cambridge.  What was more unusual for the time was that she was black.  Agassiz School counted among its students many children of Harvard faculty members; President Charles Eliot called Maria Baldwin the best teacher in New England.  She spent four decades at this public school, at the same time serving as a community leader and a popular lecturer throughout the United States.  From the Cambridge Chronicle, one of the many tributes to her reads:  “She has left to all whose life touched her the memory of a rare and radiant nature, the keynote of whose  character was service.”

Continue your walk on Garden Street.  Where Shepard Street comes in on the right is the Quadrangle.  The modern building on the corner is the Hilles Library.  Beyond it a group of dormitories, once those of Radcliffe College,  now house Harvard students of both sexes.  One of the dormitories is named for Ada Comstock, the first full time president of Radcliffe.

8. Ada Comstock  [1876-1973]

 Tall, charismatic, Midwestern by birth, a brilliant speaker and wise administrator, Radcliffe’s first full time president had some other firsts under her belt before she came to Cambridge.  She was the first Dean of Women at the University of Minnesota, the first Dean of Smith College and the first president of the American Association of University Women.  Once here, Comstock did not consider Radcliffe an “annex” for the men of Harvard, but helped open other choices for women students.   She established research and doctoral fellowships, making the college a destination for international scholars.  She found creative ways for women to use their education.  One of her pioneer approaches was a management training program for Radcliffe women in the summer.  And she moved from the annual necessity of negotiations for faculty to more secure contracts which eventually (after her retirement) led to coeducation.  She was, in some ways, the model of a woman dedicated to her work - but she also had more.  A week after retiring from Radcliffe - when she was 66 - she married a long time friend and suitor, Wallace Notestein, and they spent the next twenty-seven years together in New Haven.

This is a long walk and much of the rest of it will be in residential areas.  There are some walls along here for sitting and resting.  When you are ready, continue up Garden Street another block to Bond Street and turn left down it.  As you walk, on the hill above you across the street, are the buildings of the Harvard Observatory, the center of the university’s astronomical studies.  One of America’s important women scientists, Williamina Paton Stevens, spent her professional life here.

9. Williamina Paton Stevens [1857-1911]

Sometimes you just need a chance.  Mina Stevens was an immigrant from Scotland, pregnant and on her own in Boston in 1879 when her marriage failed.  Professor Edward Pickering, the director of the Harvard College Observatory, hired her as a housekeeper.  Fleming went back to Scotland for the birth of her child and came back to work again in the Pickering household almost immediately.  There is a story that Pickering, annoyed at the incompetence of Harvard student assistants at the Observatory, said “my Scots maid could do a better job.”  True or not, he offered Stevens a clerical job at the Observatory where her capabilities for detail and organization emerged in a new setting.  Together Pickering and Fleming developed a complicated scheme of classifying stars whose features, once invisible to the naked eye, were now becoming apparent through the new technology of celestial photography.  Fleming eventually published important papers on the new system. first as co-author with Pickering and then on her own.  Additionally she trained and  supervised a series of young women to classify stars.  She was the first woman to have an official Harvard Corporation appointment - as curator of astronomical photographs.  Her honors were many, among them election to the Royal Astronomical Society, the first woman member.  The baby?  He graduated from MIT in 1901 as a mining engineer.


Walk down Bond Street and stop at Number 4, Annie Cannon’s “Star Cottage.”

 10. Annie Jump Cannon [1863-1941]

Cannon began as one of Mina Fleming’s assistants.  She learned to classify stars from celestial photographs.  An astronomer and investigator of stellar spectra, the sheer amount of her work is astounding.  Cannon classified 350,000 stars from the very brightest to the faintest, publishing her work in many volumes. .  Cannon was a popular lecturer and gifted at explaining clearly to lay people the wonder of the skies and the work that fascinated her.  A League of Women Voters survey in the 1920’s named her America’s leading woman scientist.  Following in Fleming’s footsteps, she was also curator of astronomical photographs.  Over her career, Cannon expanded Harvard’s star photograph collection to half a million plates.  She was the first women to hold a titled appointment at Harvard.  Her honors included honorary doctorates from the Netherlands and Oxford,  . Here at Star Cottage her parties were famous, especially the annual egg rolling party for observatory children.

You are close to the end of Bond Street.  Cross busy Concord Avenue and continue almost directly opposite you down Parker Street to Buckingham Street.  Turn left on Buckingham to Craigie where a sharp, short right turn will put you in sight of Brattle Street.  Turn left on Brattle.  This street is known as “Tory Row," where wealthy loyalists lived when the Revolution began.  Only a few of those houses remain, and they are marked along this route.
Most belong to  later periods in the Nineteenth Century, and Craigie House, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's home at 105 Brattle Street, is part of the National Park Service.

 11. Alice Mary Longfellow [1859-1928]
You may remember her from her father’s poem The Children’s Hour.   Longfellow’s daughter lived in this house her entire life, and the family trust left it to the National Park Service later,  a memorial to one of America’s great poets.  Alice Longfellow appears in few biographical dictionaries.  Her life emerges in other places: she joined with Gilman and Agassiz in the founding of Radcliffe College; with Appleton in the founding of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, she established and funded the Cambridge Homes for older women (still existing in Cambridge as an assisted living facility, much as she envisioned it originally).  She funded traveling fellowships for women students so they could go to Europe.  She was a serious gardener and gifted designer of gardens; her extensive work here at Craigie House is being restored as she left it.  There are trunks of letters and original materials pertaining to Alice still in the house; scholars of the National Park Service are currently working on them for publication.  If you take a tour of the house when it is open, you will probably learn much more!

Continue on down Brattle Street back to Harvard Square.  Have a rest and enjoy the rich street life.  There are many places to sit outdoors in good weather, and restaurants and coffee places with outdoor tables.  In bad weather, consider the many bookstores made for browsers, the cafe at the Coop, or several small indoor arcades - the Garage and the Holyoke Center Arcade on Massachusetts Avenue.  Rest rooms (except for those in restaurants, for patrons only) are not easily visible, but the one in  Holyoke Center is clean and accessible (up a short flight of stairs), and there is another in the Harvard Coop on the corner.