Women Artists in the Back Bay

Women artistsBy 1875, Boston was far from the somber City on a Hill settled by English Puritans in 1630. Buoyed by wealth from the old China Trade and from new industry and investment, proper Bostonians proclaimed their city the “Athens of America” and proudly supported its artistic and intellectual growth. Boston had space for this cultural expansion. An ambitious landfill project, begun in 1857 and completed by 1890, transformed unsightly tidal mudflats into the fashionable Back Bay, inspiring cultural, religious, and educational institutions to migrate there from Boston’s older business district.

New money, new land, and a new interest in advancing American culture after the Civil War were joined by another late nineteenth century innovation: the “New Woman.” Women played increasingly significant public roles in literature, education, social work, medicine, and especially fine arts. They became expert artists in a variety of media. Many lived, worked, exhibited, and assembled in homes, studios, and societies scattered across Boston’s new Back Bay.

This ninety-minute walking tour takes visitors past the sites of former homes, studios, and works of many women artists. It was created to complement the Museum of Fine Arts exhibition “A Studio of Her Own: Women Artists in Boston 1870–1940″ which was on view from August 15 through December 2, 2001).
(Click on a number for details on each site.)

Women Artists in the Back Bay Map

1:  Park Square: The Early Years 2: Lily Glass Works: Women in Multiple Media 3: The Public Garden: Challenge & Change 4: The Women's Educational and Industrial Union: Art, Society  & Charity 5a: Sarah Sears: Women Art Collectors & Patrons 5b: Belle Gardner: Women Art Collectors & Patrons 6: Art Galleries and Schools: Marketable Skills 7: Copley Square: The Art World's Hub of the Hub 8: The Art Club Scene: Art & Acceptance 9: The Society of Arts and Crafts: Creating & Collecting Crafts 10: Massachusetts Normal School: Wealth & the Woman Artist 11: Commonwealth Avenue Mall: Progress &  Process

1: Park Square: The Early Years Park Square at Boylston Street
antiqueBoston’s early women artists, like their male colleagues, worked in Park Square and adjacent stretches of Tremont and Boylston streets, once the center of the city’s art world. Here in 1868 Boston’s leading painter, William Morris Hunt (1824–1879), began teaching classes for women in the Studio Building (1864) on the corner of Boylston Street and Park Square. Despite criticism from those who thought he was wasting his time, Hunt offered his female students technical skills, inspiration, and a sense of self-worth. His efforts lived on through his pupil Helen Knowlton (1832–1918), who used his methods in her own classes for many years. Hunt empowered these early women artists, but Knowlton maintained their circle of support and friendship.Also in Park Square is Thomas Ball’s Emancipation Group (1877), probably his most famous sculpture.Return to top

2: Lily Glass Works: Women in Multiple Media 184–320 Boylston Street
Leif Eriksson by Anne Whitney
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