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by Mary Lee Cox

Go walking!  Unexpected history and the women who made the stories are waiting in Boston..

On this site, detailed information and maps for a series of easy walks in Boston, plus one walk in Cambridge, that commemorate women.

There are three criteria for including a person on on the walks as a  “Boston women.”  First, she actually lived in the city.  She unpacked her trunks for a while; she was not a visitors from a nearby city.  Second, no living women are included; these are not celebrity tours.  And third, she did something interesting with her life. Some of the women commemorated are very well known, but most are not, though all are documented.  As walkers we are prisoners of space and time; so these are not inclusive walks but are easy, taking about an hour and a half.

Another parameter for inclusion is the existence in the present of something visible and interesting associated with the woman of the past, and the weaving together of those places into a pleasant walk.  Much of the past is restored or renovated in Boston, but much also has been replaced.  I have tried to avoid parking lots where something used to be (Elizabeth Peabody’s wonderful West Street book store is an example), and to place women in areas associated with their work or their lives, places that still evoke those lives.  In some cases it is an actual house, still standing; in others, an organization descended from an original vision.  Most of the buildings are unmarked.  Some plaques exist, for Julia Ward Howe and for Louisa Alcott, for example.  There are statues of Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer.

What to Expect on these Boston Walks
The walks are intended to be leisurely and pleasant.  I have led all of them with groups of people of varying abilities and ages.  Information bout hills and walking difficulty is included; so is information about rest room facilities nearby, and benches for a rest..

A Walker's City
Boston is a walkers’ city.  It is one of the oldest cities on the American continent, and much of its history is still visible:  architecture, street patterns, literary and political associations.  Boston occupies a smaller geographic area than any other large American city.  Places of interest are close together.  People who do not walk at home walk the Freedom Trail, following the red line connecting colonial and revolutionary Boston sites.  There are walking tours led by guides and docents.  Boston-by-Foot’s well-trained volunteers help walkers explore architectural history, as do the docents of Historic Boston Neighborhoods.  Other organizations provide guides for walkers and for those touring on buses.  The United States National Park Service presents walks daily through the city, including a women’s history walk during March, Women’s History Month, and at other times.

There is also much information available in print.  There are: pamphlets for walkers, outlining special interest trails: “The Trail of the Law” and the “Black Freedom Trail.”  More extensive books with self-guided tours have been  published in every decade over the last century, as well as individual neighborhood histories.  A curriculum developed for the Boston Public Schools included a series of walks called “Boston Women’s Heritage Trail,” and there is a guidebook of five tours spun off from these student educational materials..

Finding Out More After Your Walk
 It is frustrating to read delightful letters and diaries, to find that the biographical information all checks out, and then to cut it down to a small portion of that information to be read as one walks. The hope here is that walkers, and readers, will become curious and seek further information.  Links to related sites are on the web page. There is a short bibliography for further reading at the end..

The Pleasures of Boston
The city of Boston holds many other pleasures for visitors.  It is difficult to choose among its museums, historical sites, musical and theatrical performances, college campuses, shopping and restaurants.  Two activities, which would fit into one morning, are personal recommendations for those whose time is limited.  First, view the city from the observation space in the Hancock Building in Copley Square.  The room is enclosed completely with windows, comfortable even for people with a fear of heights.  You can listen there, if you wish, to the voice of Boston’s quintessential historian, Walter Muir Whitehill, comment on what you are seeing.  Before or after a walk, this will give you a sense of just where you have been, or where you are.  The water, the distant mountains, the crooked old streets, the neat grid layout of Back Bay and the South End (all filled land), the spires of every church and the green islands of Boston Common and Boston Garden spread below you.  Follow this pigeon’s-eye-view with one of the hourly boat trips into Boston Harbor, starting from Long Wharf near the Aquarium.  The great sheltered harbor, dotted with islands and busy with shipping, is the city’s reason for being, and Boston should be approached from the sea.  Both of these activities are accessible for those with limited mobility.