A Herstory Trail designed in honor of the Boston Women’s Memorial and celebrating the lives of Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley.
The Boston Women’s Memorial honors three important contributors to Boston’s rich history – Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley. Each of these women had progressive ideas that were ahead of her time, was committed to social change, and left a legacy through her writings that had a significant impact on history.
The sculptures were installed in 2003 on the historic Commonwealth Avenue Mall in Boston between Fairfield and Gloucester Streets. Artist Meredith Bergmann’s vision for this memorial represents the forefront of new thinking about representation in public art. Boston Women’s Memorial, 2003, City of Boston Brochure
(Click on a number for details on each site.)
Who are these women? Where did they live and work in Boston? Where else are they represented in public art? Where can you learn more about them?
This Trail gives you a chance to start answering these questions. Although we have no record of them ever having met, Abigail Adams and Phillis Wheatley lived in Boston at the same time, only a few blocks from one another during the Revolutionary War period. Lucy Stone, on the other hand, was not born until 1818, the same year Abigail Adams died and 34 years after Phillis Wheatley died, and she lived almost to the end of the nineteenth century. By then Boston was a very different place geographically, with landfill having enlarged the original Boston peninsula and created the new Back Bay. Much social change had taken place, but much still had not changed: when Lucy Stone died, in 1893, women still could not vote.
So, take ‘tour’and ‘walk’ from the Women’s Memorial across Boston, to see where these three women lived and worked, and where else they are honored in Boston. Step right out and enjoy yourself!
- Stop 2: Boston Public Library Walk across Fairfield Street and continue down the Mall to Exeter Street. Turn right. Go across Newbury Street to Boylston Street. Turn left and enter the Boston Public Library.
- Here in the lobby on the right you see the mural “Nine Notable Women” by Ellen Lanyon. Both Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley are represented in this mural, which was commissioned by Workingmens Cooperative Bank in 1980. After its completion, the mural was moved several times and eventually was given to Simmons College, where it hung for over ten years. During renovations at the college, the mural ended up in storage.
When the mural was rediscovered in 1999, Simmons College agreed to loan it to the Boston Public Library. Among Ellen Lanyon’s works are many public art projects, including her 1999 “Riverwalk Gateway Ceramic Mural Project” in Chicago. Note the additional names of women written on the curtains in the mural and, on the wall to the left, the framed text of a booklet which accompanied it when it was first unveiled.
Turn 180 degrees from the mural and walk through the Johnson Building and the courtyard to the Research Library. Walk upstairs, turn left as you enter the Bates Reading Room.
Busts of Lucy Stone and of her daughter Alice Stone Blackwell sit together on top of the mantel. The bust of Lucy Stone was sculpted by Anne Whitney in 1892 for the exhibition at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1904 it was presented to the Boston Public Library by Judith Winsor Smith, a local suffrage activist. Anne Whitney was one of America’s most distinguished sculptors. She also did the statues of Sam Adams at Faneuil Hall and of Charles Sumner in Harvard Square.
The bust of Lucy Stone’s only child Alice Stone Blackwell was sculpted by Frances Rich and presented to the library by the League of Women Voters of Boston. Alice Stone Blackwell was an active suffragist in her own right, carrying on her mother’s work at the Woman’s Journal, and embracing many other liberal causes throughout her life.
- Stop 3: Massachusetts State House Now you have a choice: you can either walk approximately 1 1/4 miles to the State House or take the T. To take the T, get on at Copley, going inbound, and get off at Park Street. Walk upstairs and go up the hill to the State House. To walk, continue down Boylston Street to the Public Garden. Cross the Garden diagonally (as best you can!) and walk up through the Boston Common along the Beacon Street side to the State House. You can enter the State House up the right hand steps.
- Inside the State House ask directions to Doric Hall. Just outside Doric Hall you will find the mural Hear Us by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and Susan Sellers, 1999. Lucy Stone is one of six women represented in this mural. The mural, part of the State House Women’s Leadership Project initiated to make State House art more inclusive, was commissioned by The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. Each of these women were chosen for having made a major contribution to the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. To learn more about the mural, take home the handsome pamphlet describing the project.
Now go upstairs to the Massachusetts Senate Chambers.
Lucy Stone addressed the Massachusetts legislature here in 1853, calling for equal rights for women. She was an exceptionally talented public speaker with unusual power over her audience. Lucy Stone had toured the country speaking for abolition and women’s rights and was one of the first women in the United States to make a career of lecturing.
- Stop 4: Former Site of Hancock House Exit the State House as you entered it and look to the left as you stand facing it.
- Here is where John Hancock’s house stood, with his pasture being the present site of the State House. On June 17, 1788, Abigail and John Adams came to Hancock’s house after they arrived in Boston on the ship “Lucretia”. John Adams had been abroad for most of ten years and Abigail Adams had joined him in Paris and London for the last four of those years. Boston was ready to welcome them. In his book John Adams, David McCullough describes the scene:
People were cheering, church bells ringing, as the Adamses came ashore. Along the route to Beacon Hill, more throngs lined the streets. ‘The bells in the several churches rang during the remainder of the day – every countenance wore expressions of joy,’ reported the Massachusetts Sentinel.
McCollough writes that Abigail and John Adams brought with them “…a great accumulation of clothes, books, china and furniture … a York rosebush…a four-post Dutch bed, a great Dutch chest with heavy brass pulls and claw feet, tables of different sizes, a set of six cushioned Louis XV chairs and a settee…”
- Stop 5: Paulist Center Chapel – 5 Park Street Now walk down Park Street to the Paulist Center.
- Here, in a since-razed building, Lucy Stone set up the offices of the Woman”s Journal; she even lived upstairs here for awhile. The Woman’s Journal, called the “voice of the woman’s movement,” was published for so long and so regularly that it significantly influenced the history of women’s rights. It was “devoted to the interests of Woman — to her educational, industrial, legal, and political equality, and especially to her right of Suffrage.” Lucy Stone was one of its founders and helped write, edit, finance and publish it, right here close to the seat of power – the State House.Return to top
- 6: Old South Meeting House At the bottom of Park Street, turn left on Tremont Street and proceed past the Granary Burying Ground. ( John Wheatley, Phillis Wheatley’s owner, is buried here.) Take your first right down School Street to Old South Meeting House, just on the right on Washington Street.
- On August 18, 1771, Phillis Wheatley, who was very religious, became a member of this church. Old South Meeting House, which has been a museum since 1878, honors Phillis Wheatley with a wonderful exhibit. Be sure to go in to see the inside of this lovely, historic church and a copy of her book of poems.
Remember that at the time churches in Boston were not integrated, so Phillis Wheatley had to sit in the gallery out of sight of white congregants and the minister. Further, many doubted an enslaved African woman could write poetry, so the publisher required that she be interrogated by a committee of 18 distinguished male leaders, including John Hancock, who then officially confirmed that she was indeed the author of the poetry.
- Stop 7: Corner of Beach and Tyler Streets Now you have another decision to make: if you are feeling very energetic, turn left out the front door of Old South Meeting House, and walk down Washington Street to Beach Street. Turn left. Proceed to the corner of Tyler Street where you will see a marker honoring Phillis Wheatley. You will then have to retrace your steps to pick up the rest of this Trail. It is interesting to see the corner and imagine it as waterfront with a long wharf. Today after extensive landfill it is a bustling corner of Chinatown. BUT it is a good mile round trip!
- This is where Phillis Wheatley landed in Boston on July 11, 1761, on the slave ship “Phillis”. She was named after the ship by Susannah and John Wheatley when they purchased her here at Griffins Wharf. See Map of Boston, 1774. Notice the marker placed here by the Bostonian Society. Imagine Phillis Wheatley, a small child, age 7 or 8, speaking no English, coming off the ship after a very long voyage during which she must have suffered terribly, then riding in a carriage back to the Wheatley mansion
… and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation. Letter to John Adams, March 31, 1776
If we were to count our years by the revolutions we have witnessed, we might number them with the Antediluvians. So rapid have been the changes: that the mind, tho fleet in its progress, has been outstripped by them, and we are left like statues gazing at what we can neither fathom, or comprehend. Letter to Mercy Otis Warren, March 9, 1807
- Phillis Wheatley ca. 1753 – 1784
- Born in West Africa and sold as a slave from the ship Phillis in colonial Boston, she was a literary prodigy whose 1773 volume Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was the first book published by an African writer in America.
Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
To the Right Honourable William,
Earl of Dartmouth
… in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance … the same Principle lives in us.Letter to the Reverend Samson Occom,
February 11, 1774
- Lucy Stone 1818 – 1893
- Born in Brookfield, she was one of the first Massachusetts women to graduate from college. She was an ardent abolitionist, a renowned orator, and the founder of the Woman’s Journal, the foremost women’s suffrage publication of its era.
Let woman’s sphere be bounded only by her capacity.
Speech, Woman’s Rights Convention, Worcester 1851
From the first years to which my memory stretches I have been a disappointed woman. … In education, in marriage, in religion, in everything disappointment is the lot of women. It shall be the business of my life to deepen this disappointment in every woman’s heart until she bows down to it no longer. Speech, National Woman’s Rights Convention, Cincinnati 1855
The legal right for woman to record her opinion wherever opinions count, is the tool for whose ownership we ask.Woman’s Journal, 1891
I believe the world grows better, because I believe that in the eternal order there is always a movement, swift or slow, toward what is right and true. Last published statement,
The Independent, 1893
- Butterfield, L. H. The Book of Abigail and John. Harvard University
- Gates, Henry Louis. The Trials of Phillis Wheatley. Basic Civitas, 2003
- Kerr, Andrea Moore. Lucy Stone. Rutgers University Press, 1992
- McCollough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster, 2001
- Richmond, Merle. Phillis Wheatley. Chelsea House, 1988
- Wilson, Susan. Boston Sites and Insights. Beacon Press, 2004
Written by Mary Howland Smoyer.
Special thanks to:
Susan Wilson and Liane Curtis, Matthew Greif, Michelle Jenney, Polly Kaufman, Barbara Locurto, John Manson, Sara Masucci, Dan Moon, Gretchen O’Neill, Barbara Rotundo, David Smoyer; Liz Goodwin, Pat Nickerson and Marie Turley, Boston Women’s Commission; Sue Goganian, Nancy Richard, Sarah Thompson, Sylvia Weedman, The Bostonian Society; Earl Taylor, Dorchester Historical Society; Ellen Rothman, Mass Foundation for the Humanities; Anne Cecere, Megan Milford, Massachusetts Historical Society; Emily Curran, Michelle LeBlanc, Kristin Sherman, Old South Meeting House; Dale Freeman, Elizabeth Mock, UMass Boston Archives; Kathy Amico, Stephen Hamilton, Union Printworks, and Mayor Thomas Menino.
- Butterfield, L. H. The Book of Abigail and John. Harvard University