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A Walking Tour in the Heart of Boston

[Copyright 1999 Mary Lee Cox]


This six-block walk in the heart of the city recalls a group of Boston women whose stories span centuries, whose fates varied from international fame as a hostess to exile and execution, and whose contributions are often forgotten.

The walk follows the path from the top of Beacon Hill down toward the Harbor.  It begins on Boston Common.  In the earliest days of the settlement of Boston, this big field was held in common by all the colonists.  Their cattle grazed here while their houses hugged the shore.  On the first of the three mountains behind the common field, an iron basket on a pole held oily rags, to be lit and seen at sea in case of trouble.  The beacon was never lit, but the name remains as “Beacon Hill,” as does the field, “Boston Common.”  In the decade following the American Revolution, the tops of the three mountains were cut down to provide building lots, one of the lots designated for the handsome new State House.

Though there have been three centuries of change in this part of the city of Boston, visible associations and memories of women’s work remain.

Start at the corner of Park Street and Tremont Street, at the entrance to the subway, on Boston Common.  Walk up the hill, inside the Common fence,  toward the gold-domed State House.  Halfway up the Common, near the fence on your right, is a bench.  Sit on the bench with your back to the new building at Number 4/5 Park Street.  Your view over the Common is one Lucy Stone  looked at from her desk when she edited The Women’s Journal here, beginning in 1870.

In the last half of the nineteenth century, the building at 4/5 Park Street was occupied by the editorial offices of The Women’s Journal, one of a series of rented offices for the most influential journalistic voice for woman suffrage in the United States.  Downstairs in the same building, for a period of time, were the rooms of the New England Women’s Club.  The original building has been replaced.  Photographs show it looking much like the Union Club, still standing next door, does now.

1. Lucy Stone [1818-1893] came to Boston in 1870 as the designated editor of the voice of the more conservative pole of the suffrage movement, The Women's Journal.  She was then 44, and well known for her work in the cause of abolishing slavery and the linking of equal rights for women to that cause.  Stone was the first woman in the United States to get a bachelor’s degree (at Oberlin College - she worked her way through).  Initially, at a time when women did not speak publicly, she spoke from her pew in churches against slavery and, on her own because no church would sponsor her, on women’s rights.  At her wedding to Henry Blackwell, she read with him these joint objections:  “We believe that personal independence and equal human rights can never be forfeited, except for crime, that marriage should be an equal and permanent partnership, and so recognized by law . . .”  Lucy Stone kept her own name throughout their marriage.  She led in calling a national women’s rights convention in 1850, two years after Seneca Falls;  it was the first national convention and, unlike Seneca Falls, it was chaired by a woman.

1. Alice Stone Blackwell. [1857-1950], Lucy’s and Henry’s daughter, continued editing The Women's Journal when Lucy died.  Alice was instrumental in negotiating the joining of the two national women’s rights groups, the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association.  Efforts directed at federal rather than local change culminated in the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; in 1920 women were able to vote in all states.

One of the early locations of the New England Women's Club was in the same building here.  Lucy Stone was one of the members of the club.  This influential club was established in 1868 by Julia Ward Howe, Ednah Cheney, Harriott Hunt and their friends, “for the comfort and convenience” of Boston women.  Probably one of the intentions in renting permanent space for the club was to provide decent and private ladies’ room facilities for women on day trips to the city; there was little available in Boston at the time.  Ednah Cheney, the Club’s biographer and historian, said, “the Tie between the members was very strong, and we loved to be together, in the times of sadness as well as of joy and merriment.”  The New England Women’s Club was the focus of efforts of Boston middle-class women to improve the lot of all women.  It was their center for suffrage efforts.  A number of very effective working committees spun off, committees dedicated to education, women’s health, the needs of children, and vocational training.  Study groups on art, music and philosophy were part of the program.

Continue up the hill on Park Street, cross Beacon Street and walk to the left of the State House as you face it.  There are benches near the memorial statue of Anne Hutchinson with two of her children.

2.  Anne Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson [1591-1643] was a Boston midwife and a follower of Joseph Cotton’s “covenant of grace” - the theological concept that the Holy Spirit dwells in each person, and that salvation was not limited only to those obedient to the local Puritan church fathers.  She held meetings in her home to discuss scripture and theological matters; this direct challenge to theocratic government was met with attack and eventual court trial.  Hutchinson was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  She and her younger children were killed in New York by Indians in 1643.

Inside the State House, in the Great Hall, is a monument to the nurses of the Civil War.  The superintendent of Army nurses was Dorothea Lynde Dix.

3.  Dorothea Lynde Dix [1802-1887] was a crusader for the mentally ill.  She made a personal and exhaustive study of every jail, house of correction and almshouse in Massachusetts.  The facts she presented to the legislature here in the State House led to widespread reforms; she carried her crusade to other states before the Civil War.  She was more successful as a reformer than as a superintendent of nurses, the appointment she received during the Civil War.  Louisa Alcott, who was a nurse herself immediately after the war, said of Dix, “she is a kind old soul, but very queer and arbitrary.”

Walk back outside, and to the other side of the State House, where there is a statue of Mary Dyer.

4.  The serene statue of Mary Dyer [? - 1660] - the sculptor was Sylvia Judson, herself a Quaker - displays the contemplative side of this woman rather than her contentiousness.  Dyer was also a midwife, a member at one time of Anne Hutchinson’s “study group” and, after a stay in England, a convert to George Fox’s Quaker faith.  She was hung in Boston not for her religious beliefs, but for her failure to obey the terms of her banishment from the Colony.  When she was banished to Rhode Island, she kept returning to Boston to visit and support Quaker men imprisoned here.  Dyer was saved from the gallows twice.  Her execution in 1660 was unpopular, and it marked the end of Puritan power, already losing political strength as Boston became a world port.

Continue down Beacon Street until you are opposite Number 10 ½, the Boston Athenaeum.  The only sign on the building is a National Historic Buildings plaque.  Behind the dark stone Athenaeum facade is a private library, established for its male members in 1807.  Its collections are extraordinary.  It is both a research library and a circulating library for current members, now including women as well as men.

5. The first woman to use the Athenaeum collection on her own was Hannah Adams [1755 -1831].  She wrote a history of the American Revolution, and another history of New England.  Because she sold her writings, she is often called the first professional writer in America.  Her portrait hangs in the Athenaeum

5.. Later, Lydia Maria Child [1802-1880] was granted research privileges in the Athenaeum collection.  In the 1830’s she was already enormously successful:  her magazine for children, The Juvenvile Miscellany, was the first children’s magazine in the United States.  One of her books, The Frugal Housewife. went into thirty-five editions; in it she said, “The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments of time as well as materials.”  Though the book sold well, she was still rather poor; her husband’s business ventures had failed as they consistently did, and Child supported herself and her husband through their long lives together.  Child met William Lloyd Garrison, read the first issue of his newspaper, and joined wholeheartedly the cause of the abolition of slavery.  Using the privileges extended to her by the Athenaeum, and researching respected classical sources, she wrote the first full-length book against slavery:  An Appeal on Behalf of That Class of Americans Called Africans in 1833, followed by five other books and pamphlets on the same subject.  Lydia Child was a long way ahead of public opinion on the slavery question in Boston.  Doors shut, subscriptions to her children’s magazine were canceled, the Athenaeum did not allow her in again, and her husband’s business ventures continued to falter.  The two of them tried New York City, where they edited The National Anti-Slavery Standard.  They returned to Massachusetts, and she was still writing stories and novels and editing anthologies in her last years.  One of her widely quoted poems:  “Over the river and through the woods, to grandfather’s house we go...”
[Although the materials these two women writers used are still in its collections, the Athenaeum building was not at this location until 1847].

Continue down Beacon Street and cross Tremont Street.  The continuing street on the other side of Tremont is School Street.

6..  The ashlar granite church on the corner is King’s Chapel, built for Church of England services by local Anglicans before the American Revolution.  One of the worshipers here in 1770 as the colony became restive would have been Margaret Kemble Gage [1734-1824], wife of the British General Thomas Gage.  Recent historians have suggested that Mrs. Gage, who was American born, may have been the source of military information on British troop movements, information passed on to American patriots.  Margaret Gage was, perhaps, a mole.

6.. Buried in King’s Chapel is Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton [1759-1846], an important published poet during her lifetime.  Her contemporaries called her the “Sappho of America.”

Walk along the side of King’s Chapel, down School Street to the front of Old City Hall and the statue of Benjamin Franklin.

7.. Benjamin Franklin and his much-loved sister, Jane Franklin Mecom [1712-1794] were born in nearby Milk Street.  Jane’s letters form part of the Franklin papers.  She was a lively and humorous writer, and said to be Ben’s favorite sister; certainly their correspondence was lifelong.  Her letters provide insight and information about the life of women in Boston in the eighteenth century.

Notice also the hopscotch memorial set into the sidewalk on School Street near the Franklin statue.  The first public school in the United States, Boston Latin School, was established in 1635 on this site.  Ben went to school there, though Jane could not.  A few of Latin School’s better-known graduates are spelled out within the grid; none are women.  A Girls’ Latin School was not established until 1878.  Boston Latin School became coeducational in 1972, and still operates on Avenue Louis Pasteur, away from the center of town, as part of the Boston public school system.

The elaborate French-influenced building just in back of the Franklin statue is the old Boston City Hall (the second of three).  The Boston School Committee met here after the building was completed in 1866.

The first political success of the Women’s Education Association (a spin-off of the New England Women’s Club)  was a state law passed in 1872 allowing women to vote for members of the school committees in towns and cities in the Commonwealth.  Lucretia Crocker and four other women were elected to the Boston School Committee in the next year.  There were difficulties in getting seated; the women were not actually admitted to meetings of the School Committee until an act of the legislature forced it in 1874.

8.  Lucretia Crocker [1829-1886] was a science teacher in the Boston public schools, and the author of a standard, nationally-used text on the teaching of geography.  Her efforts throughout her career centered on the improvement of science education, both in the public schools and for adults.  When the Boston School Committee membership was cut from 145 members to 26 in the year after her election to the committee, Lucretia Crocker was not only reelected by voters but also elected by the Committee members to the Board of Supervisors.  In this capacity, she upgraded science and laboratory equipment, reference books, curriculum, and the training of science teachers.

The first successful attempt at woman suffrage in the Commonwealth, allowing women to vote for school committee members, was also the last attempt in the city.  Nearly fifty years passed before women could vote for other municipal offices in Boston.

Walk on down School Street to its end at Washington Street.  There are benches in the small square at the intersection.

 The little rose brick building across from you as you sit in front of the bookstore was originally a dwelling house, and it is the oldest brick dwelling still standing in the city.  It was built in 1718 on the site of Anne Hutchinson’s wooden house, which burned in one of the many early fires in Boston.  In the nineteenth century the office and book store of Ticknor and Fields, then one of the most renowned publishing houses in the United States, occupied this building.  Longfellow, Lowell, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Louisa Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe were some of the authors who visited their publisher and editor, James T. Fields, at his offices and print shop here.

9. Annie Adams Fields.[1834-1915], James T. Fields’ wife, was herself an author, a social welfare worker, a reformer, and a very successful fund raiser for the causes she believed in.  “Abby” Fields was one of the principal designers and founders of Associated Charities of Boston, a group that coordinated the work of all of the private organizations in the city that helped the poor.  Abby wrote a handbook for welfare workers, How To Help The Poor.  She proposed that charity should come as training and work which helped the recipient become independent.  After Boston’s great fire of 1972, she opened work rooms and provided sewing machines so that women who had lost work when their employers were burned out could continue to support their families.  Abby Fields entertained at elegant parties in their home on Charles Street, and she corresponded with the authors of the day.  One of her lifelong friends was Sarah Orne Jewett, who came from her home in Maine to live part of every year in the Fields house.  Ticknor and Fields also employed women clerks in their book store, rather unusual at the time.  Abby’s opinions on the place of women might possibly have had something to do with this.  She was also an active member of the New England Women’s Club.
 On the other side of Washington Street is a brick church, the Old South Meeting House.  Built in 1729, this was the location of protesting citizens’ meetings just before the Revolutionary War.  Old South narrowly escaped the great fire of 1872, but when its congregation moved to a new church in Copley Square in 1876,  there were plans to demolish it.  A group of Boston men and women, among them Mary Porter Hemenway, bought it and set up the Old South Association.  The Association still maintains the building and its exhibits, and offers programs in American history, still funded by Hemenway’s endowment.

9. Mary Porter Hemenway9. Mary Porter Hemenway [1820-1894] was a philanthropist.  She often funded a demonstration program, expecting that visible success would lead to more widespread adoption of her ideas. She funded the first school kitchen facility in the United States, as well as the Boston Normal School for Cookery (for cooking teachers rather than for cooks).  Half of the money - $100,000 - to save Old South was raised by the twenty women donors she organized.

 Old South Church was also the location of Lucy Wheelock’s kindergarten, the first free kindergarten in Boston, in 1885.

10.  Phyllis Wheatley [1753? - 1784], an African-American poet, has associations with Old South Church.  She was baptized there and attended meetings at the same time as her owners, the Wheatleys, although she would have been required to sit in the balcony.  Phyllis was brought to Boston from Africa as a slave at the age of seven or eight.  Her owner, Susanna Wheatley, taught her to read and later found a publisher for Phyllis’ early verse.  Phyllis wrote:
 “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain
 May be refined, and join th’angelic train.”
Freed from slavery by the Wheatleys when she was twenty, she married soon after they died.  Phyllis herself died in poverty soon afterward.

 Across Washington Street from this corner there is a short pedestrian lane, marked “Spring Lane.”  This marks the old path to Boston’s source of fresh water in the seventeenth century.  At the end of the lane where it meets Devonshire Street there is a tablet in the wall to Mary Chilton Winslow [? - 1679], the only Mayflower passenger who ever lived in Boston.

 There are benches in the triangle made where School Street and Washington Street meet.  There are three possible T Stations close by:  the Orange Line directly under the Old State House, approximately two blocks to your left along Washington Street.  Two blocks to your right on Washington Street is Filene’s department store; the Red Line and the Orange Line station is below the store.  You can also return to the Park Street station.  There are rest rooms in the National Park Service Visitor Center, just across State Street from the Old State House, and also in Filene's.  Close to the beginning of this walk, there are rest rooms in the Boston Information Center, facing Tremont Street on Boston Common.