South End Walk
The South End Walk starts at Back Bay Station, goes down Massachusetts Avenue, and then works it way back up and across to the Boston Center for the Arts. The walk presents a wide diversity of women, from mid-nineteenth through the twentieth centuries, particularly a flourishing African American community and their organizations. It takes us to two impressive sculptures,
crafted by women, honors the area’s immigrant populations including the newest group, the Latino community, and presents the work of women in settlement houses, hospitals, and schools.
A Victorian neighborhood, the South End was laid out in 1801 by architect Charles Bulfinch and built on filled land. It is a designated Landmark District featuring brick and brownstone row houses, cast iron fences and railings, and streets with center parks. The South End is home to an active arts community, as well as restaurants, cafés, and shops.
Time: 2 hours
Begins: Back Bay Station
Directions: Enter Back Bay Station. Find the statue to A. Philip Randolph.
(Click on a number for details on each site.)
- 1: Back Bay Station and Neighborhood Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets
In the Back Bay Station, Tina Allen’s statue of A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, signifies the importance of the role of porters in developing and sustaining African American communities all over the country, including one in the South End. Women in the union’s Boston Ladies’ Auxiliary served as hostesses at the nearby union headquarters every afternoon. Although one of the union’s goals was for the men to make a living wage so their wives would not have to work, women did operate boarding houses where porters from other cities could stay between runs.
Los Angeles Sculptor Tina Allen, whose goal is to preserve the African American legacy, has sculpted many other statues of African American leaders including one of Sojourner Truth in Battle Creek, Michigan.
- 2: Cora Reid McKerrow and the Reid Funeral Home 81 Dartmouth Street
- Among the businesses serving the South End African American community was the Reid Funeral Home founded in 1926 by Cora Reid McKerrrow (1888-1984) and her brother Millard Fillmore Reid. After his death, McKerrow ran the funeral home for thirty years until she closed it in 1971. McKerrow was born into a family of fifteen children in Churchland, Virginia. When she first came to Boston, she worked as a chiropodist and beautician until she became a partner with her brother.
- 3: Rice School and Boston Normal School (former) Corner of Dartmouth and Appleton Streets
- The Boston Normal School, designed to train women teachers for the Boston Public Schools, became a separate entity when it moved from Girls’ High to the top floors of the Rice School in 1876 (see SE23). Founded in 1852, the two-year normal course trained women to be assistants to male masters in primary and grammar schools. When the Normal School moved to the Rice School, women were required to be high school graduates and the course was one year, becoming two years in 1892. Women assistants taught in the two training schools: a boys’ grammar school in the Rice School and a mixed primary school, the Appleton Street School (later the Bancroft School). By the time Boston Normal was renamed Boston Teachers College in 1922, it had its own building on Huntington Avenue and, in 1925, a four-year program. In 1952 the Teachers College became part of the state college system and, as Boston State College, merged with the University of Massachusetts at Boston in 1965.
- 4: Home of Susie King Taylor 23 Holyoke Street
- The remarkable life of Susie King Taylor (1848–1912) is honored by a marker at this site. Born a slave, she was freed with her family when they escaped to the Union Army during the Civil War. She served as a teacher and a nurse with the army while still in her teens. After the war, she opened a school for African American children in Savannah, Georgia. After the death of her husband, she came north as a cook and settled in Boston before remarrying. In 1886, she helped organize Corps 67 of the Women’s Relief Corps, an auxiliary to the GAR that served veterans, and became its president in 1893. In her book A Black Woman’s Civil War Memoirs, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp published in 1902 in Boston, she protested the current treatment of African Americans in the United States.
- 5: Harriet Tubman House Site 25 Holyoke Street
- The Harriet Tubman Crusaders, an African American branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Boston, created the first Harriet Tubman House in 1904 as a residence for African American women who were excluded from the city’s college dormitories and respectable rooming houses. The Crusaders rented a brownstone on Holyoke Street until 1909 when member Julia O. Henson donated her own townhouse at 25 Holyoke Street as a permanent headquarters for the organization’s expanding programs. Harriet Tubman visited Boston several times in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, often staying with Julia Henson at this site. In 1960, the Harriet Tubman House merged with other settlement houses in the area to form the United South End Settlements (USES) and in 1976 USES erected a modern building at the corner of Columbus and Massachusetts Avenues.
- 6: Harriet Tubman Square Statues: Emancipation by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller and Step on Board by Fern CunninghamWest Newton Street and Columbus Avenue
Dedicated at a community-wide celebration on June 20, 1999, these two powerful statues by African American women sculptors stand as a testament to the African American drive for freedom. Although Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968) completed Emancipation in 1913 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it was not cast in bronze until it was selected to be placed at Harriet Tubman Square. Instead of showing the paternalism of a white president freeing enslaved people, Fuller presented the freedman and freedwoman as active agents moving out of slavery into the world. Fuller was a community activist herself in addition to being a sculptor. She married Solomon Carter Fuller, America’s first African American psychiatrist in 1909.
In Step on Board, Boston-based Fern Cunningham shows both the power and compassion of Harriet Tubman (1822-1913), the most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Among Cunningham’s other public sculptures in Boston are Earth Challengers at the Joseph Lee School in Dorchester and Sentinel in the Forest Hills Cemetery.
- 7: Union United Methodist Church 485 Columbus Avenue
- The congregation of the church has been housed in this building since May 9, 1949, when Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955) gave the dedication speech to an overflowing audience. The church, which has had four locations, originated as an African American church in 1818 on the north side of Beacon Hill. When the church was located in Lower Roxbury in 1916, the Women’s Home Missionary Society, under the leadership of Hattie B. Cooper (1862–1949), provided services for the growing population of African Americans in that area. The church continued these services in Lower Roxbury and now houses them in the Hattie B. Cooper Community Center which opened in 1975.
- 8: Home of Lucretia Crocker 40 Rutland Square
- As the first woman supervisor in the Boston Public Schools, appointed in 1876, Lucretia Crocker (1829–86) pioneered the discovery method of teaching mathematics and the natural sciences during her decade-long tenure. Earlier, she joined Abby May (1829–86) and three other women in their successful drive to be the first women elected to the Boston School Committee (see D12). Previously, Crocker’s ten years of service to the Teachers’ Committee of the Freedmen’s Aid Society included visits to schools in the South as well as selecting and training teachers and providing curriculum. She also taught at Antioch College under Horace Mann’s presidency to illustrate her belief in women’s right to higher education.
- 9: Home of Louise Chandler Moulton 28 Rutland Square
- An author, critic, correspondent, and hostess to literary notables of her day, Louise Chandler Moulton (1835–1908) was perhaps best known as a person who encouraged new talent and introduced American readers to new poets and writers. Her influence extended over both Boston and London where annually for six months in each place she held weekly salons for writers over a period of three decades. Among the people with South End roots who attended her salon was the Irish American writer Louise Imogen Guiney (1861–1920) (see BBW1). Chandler’s own writings included poems, travel and narrative sketches, children’s stories, and reviews frequently published in the journals and newspapers of her era. Like many other women of the time, Moulton was also interested in the practice of spiritualism.
- 10: Home of Estella Crosby 1 Greenwich Park
- Estella Crosby (1890–1978), beautician and community activist, formed the Boston unit of the Housewives League with Geneva Arrington and E. Alice Taylor. The organization was active from the 1930s to the 1960s with units in many major cities. Its goal was to overcome economic and educational barriers to African American advancement. Crosby also operated a dry goods store with her husband and was active in trade unions.
- 11: Mildred Davenport’s Silver Box Studio 522 Columbus Avenue
- Mildred Davenport (1900–90) housed her dance studio at this address. Born in Roxbury, Davenport became a trailblazing dancer and renowned dance instructor. A graduate of Boston University’s Sargent College, she taught physical education at Tuskegee Institute (later University) in Alabama from 1921 to 1932. Later she entered show business. In 1938 she danced her interpretation of African American spirituals with the Boston Pops. She appeared on Broadway with such revues as Blackbirds and Flying Colors and danced with white performers including Imogene Coca and Clifton Webb, virtually unprecedented for an African American dancer in that period. For more than five years she toured in the Chocolate Revue in New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D. C. When she put her dancing career behind her, she served as an officer in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. From 1947 to 1968, she worked for the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination. She also founded the 464 Community Workshop, a fund raising auxiliary of the Women’s Service Club which still presents an annual review called 464 Follies.
- 12: Anna Bobbitt Gardner Academy of Musical Arts 1-3 Claremont Park
- In 1932, Anna Bobbitt Gardner (1901-97) became the first African American women to be awarded a bachelor’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. She operated at least five studios in Boston under the same name for more than sixty years. She first opened the Academy in 1924 in the basement of her home. She managed Colored American Nights, featuring African American musicians at Symphony Hall, and produced local radio and television programs for an African American audience. In 1945, Gov. Maurice J. Tobin appointed her state director of Negro History Week programs to accompany fine arts exhibits at selected historic buildings. Succeeding governors reappointed her to the position. Since 1997, the New England Conservatory has granted a musician the Anna Bobbitt Gardner Lifetime Achievement Award.
- 13: Home of Gladys A. Moore Perdue 22 Claremont Park
- Before the New England Conservatory of Music awarded degrees, Gladys A. Moore Perdue (1898–1998) was the first African American woman to receive a diploma from the institution when she received a Diploma in Pianoforte in 1924. From 1925 to 1931, she taught music at Tuskegee Institute. After she returned to Boston, the Albanian Church in South Boston appointed her as its organist for thirty years. Among her many performances in the South End was music accompanist for the 464 Follies performed by the Women’s Service Club (see SE11, SE16). For her one hundredth birthday, the Back Bay Stompers, a jazz sextet comprised of New England Conservatory students, entertained Gladys Perdue and other residents of Goddard House in Jamaica Plain.
- 14: Mary Baker Eddy, Massachusetts Metaphysical College 571 Columbus Avenue
- For seven years between 1882 and 1889, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), founder of the Church of Christ Scientist (Christian Science Church), operated the Massachusetts Metaphysical College at this site. More than 4,000 students attended her classes during this period. Eddy also conducted church services in the building. A few years before moving here, the Christian Science Association had voted to organize as a church and ordained her as its pastor. Despite the death of her husband in 1882, she continued to move ahead. Here she published the first issue of the Journal of Christian Science and her sixth edition of Science and Health, which she would continue to revise throughout her life. The religion she founded grew rapidly and in 1895, the “Mother Church” was installed in its first building on Huntington Avenue. The domed building followed in 1906.
- 15: Harriet Tubman House 566 Columbus Avenue
- The modern Harriet Tubman House is headquarters for the United South End Settlements (USES) which was a merger in 1960 of five independent agencies: the South End House branches, the Children’s Art Centre, Lincoln House, Hale House and the Harriet Tubman House. USES built their present headquarters on the former site of the Hi-Hat, one of Boston’s notable jazz clubs. Serving the South End and Lower Roxbury, the mission of the USES is to to build a strong community by improving the education, health, safety and economic security of low-income individuals and families in Boston’s historic South End/Lower Roxbury and to serve as a national model of successful neighborhood engagement. Another South End settlement house, founded in 1885, is the Ellis Memorial Center at 95 Berkeley Street.
- 16: The Women’s Service Club of Boston 464 Massachusetts Avenue
- The Women’s Service Club began as one of Mrs. Wilson’s knitting clubs, organized by Mary Evans Wilson (1866–1928), when, during World War 1, members met to knit scarves and gloves for soldiers. Wilson and her husband, Attorney Butler Wilson, were organizers of the Boston branch of the NAACP, which had the largest membership in the national organization during its first decade, 1909–20. Mary Evans Wilson traveled throughout the northeast recruiting members for the NAACP. In Boston her knitting clubs produced 300 new women members. In 1919, the club, by then called the Women’s Service Club, purchased this building and incorporated with a goal of providing service programs for the African American community. Among the club’s former presidents was Harriet Hall (1890–1975), who co-founded the interracial Women’s Republican Club on Beacon Hill in 1920. As president of WSC, she spearheaded the WSC’s drive to allow African Americans to live in dormitories of local educational institutions. Melnea Cass (1896–1978) served as president for more than fifteen years. Cass initiated the Homemakers Training Program which certified domestic workers so they would be assured social security and other benefits. She worked to open employment for African Americans in stores and hospitals, helped found Freedom House, was president of the Boston NAACP, and a charter member of the anti-poverty agency ABCD. Known as the “First Lady of Roxbury,” Melnea Cass is honored by having the Boston YWCA on Clarendon Street named for her.
- 17: Chester Square: Anna Quincy Waterston, Harriet Boyd Hawes, the South End Historical Society, and Betty Gibson 532 and 530 Massachusetts Avenue
Before the widening of Massachusetts Avenue in the 1950s, Chester Square was an elegant park surrounded by a wrought iron fence and centered with a fountain. Among the notable women living there with their families was writer Anna Cabot Lowell Quincy Waterston (1812–99), whose witty 1833 diary has recently been republished. She was a minister’s wife and the daughter of Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy. Archeologist Harriet Boyd Hawes (1871–1945) was born and spent her childhood on Chester Square. After training at Smith College and joining excavations in Crete, she became the first woman to lead an archaeological expedition when she discovered the ancient town of Gournia on Crete. In later years she also served as a volunteer nurse during the Greco-Turkish War and World War I.
The South End Historical Society has worked to preserve the history and restore the buildings of the South End. The Society purchased 532 Massachusetts Avenue in the 1970s and occupies the parlor on the second floor which still has many original features. Architect Luther Briggs Jr. designed the building in 1860 for Francis and Zervia Dane. Realtor Betty Gibson also helped revitalize the South End. In the 1960s she moved to 530 Massachusetts Avenue to demonstrate her commitment to the area’s renewal.
- 18: The League of Women for Community Service 558 Massachusetts Avenue
- The League of Women for Community Service is one of the oldest African American women’s organizations in the city. The League honored its first president Maria Louise Baldwin (1856–1922) by dedicating their library to her in 1921. Baldwin was the first African American woman headmaster in New England, serving for over thirty years as head of the Agassiz School in Cambridge. In 2002 in her honor, the city renamed the school the Baldwin School. Among other presidents were Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842–1924), founder of the Women’s Era Club and publisher of the Women’s Era newspaper, and her daughter Florida Ruffin Ridley (1861–1943), the second African American teacher in the Boston Public Schools (see B17). Other presidents included Wilhelmina Crosson (1900–91), another pioneering African American teacher in the Boston schools who became the second president of Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, a preparatory school for African American young people, and Gladys Holmes (1892–1969), a Radcliffe graduate who was an author, educator, and social worker. Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) lived here when she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music.The building is believed to have been a station on the Underground Railroad when it was owned by James Farwell, a sea captain and anti-slavery activist.
- 19: Louisa May Alcott School and Alcott residences West Springfield Street and Shawmut Avenue
The presence of author Louisa May Alcott (1832-88) in the South End covers many areas and activities. The Louisa May Alcott School was on this site from 1910 until it closed in 1961. A settlement house named the Louisa May Alcott Club, located on 15 Oswego Street north of East Berkeley Street, offered activities to Italian and Jewish immigrants.
In addition, Louisa May Alcott herself lived off and on in the South End, both with her family and as an independent woman. As early as 1835, they lived in three locations in the South End, including rooms on Harrison Avenue and Beach Street, before moving to Concord in 1840. By 1848 the family was back, living in a small house on Dedham Street. For a brief time, Louisa assisted her sister Anna B. Alcott (1831-93) who operated a school on Canton Street. In later life, Louisa often spent summers with the family in Concord and winters in Boston; for example, in the winter of 1873 she brought her family to 26 East Brookline Street overlooking Franklin Square. The South End and Concord came together when Louisa rented a quiet room on West Brookline Street for several months in 1868 where she wrote the sequel to Little Women.
- 20: Bethany Home for Young Women West Concord Street
- Operated as a home for single young women by the Universalist Church at this site from 1890 to 1940, the Bethany Home was open to women of all faiths who paid a small entrance fee. The home was partly supported by Bethany Sisters Circles in churches throughout the state and beyond. It moved to 256 Newbury Street in the Back Bay where it still provides affordable housing for young women and is now known as Bethany Union.
- 21: View of New England Female Medical College, now the Boston University School of Medicine and the Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller Center East Concord Street and East Newton Street at Harrison Avenue
Dr. Samuel Gregory founded the New England Female Medical College in 1848 because he believed having male doctors deliver babies offended female decency. Despite his limited goals, the college did open its doors to women for medical training and did employ a female faculty. Among the college’s graduates in 1864 was Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831–95) (see B9) who is considered to be the first professional African American woman doctor. Julia Ward Howe, Ednah Dow Cheney, and Abby May were among others who served on the Board of Lady Managers. In 1859 Dr. Marie Zakrzewska asked that a clinical department be added so students could get practical experience. When the college closed the clinic after she left in 1862, Zakrzewska and the clinic’s board members founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children.
The New England Female Medical College moved to several different locations in the South End until 1870 when it erected its own building on East Concord Street. In 1873, Boston University (B. U.) took over the Female Medical College as its own School of Medicine, practicing homeopathy and making it coeducational. Women faculty from the Female Medical College who continued at the B. U. School of Medicine included Dr. Adeline B. Church (1846–1927) and Dr. Mary Safford-Blake (1834–91), who both taught gynecology, and Dr. Caroline Hastings (1841–1922), who taught anatomy. Safford-Blake is considered the first woman gynecologist. She was also involved in homeopathy, and made such a reputation as a Civil War nurse that she was called the “Cairo Angel.” She later held a term on the Boston School Committee as did Hastings who served for six years.
The impetus for the Fuller Mental Health Center was the Fort Hill Mental Health Association organized in the mid-1960s by the Boston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, an African American sorority. Volunteers from church and community organizations ran the association and advocated for mental health services for minority populations in Boston. In 1974 the center opened as part of the B. U. Medical Center. It was later named for Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, America’s first African American psychiatrist. His wife was Meta Vaux Warwick Fuller, the sculptor of Emancipation in Harriet Tubman Square.
- 22: South End House and Children’s Art Centre 36-48 Rutland Street
Boston’s settlement house movement was one of the earliest in the country. Patterned after Toynbee Hall in London’s East End where university graduates lived or “settled” within the disadvantaged communities they hoped to serve, the movement in America was a response to the consequences of immigration, industrialization, and urbanization. Initiated in Boston by Robert A. Woods as Head Resident in 1891, the South End House had many locations in the South End and Lower Roxbury and included women’s and men’s residences (see SE31). College women in Boston also founded their own settlement house, Denison House. The present South End House is the home to the youth programs of the United South End Settlements. Its newly renovated building was built in 1840 by the Children’s Friend Society as a home for orphaned children. Among its recent social workers was Gladys Gusson (1935–88) who counseled families, was a tenant advocate, and ran after-school groups and girls’ clubs.
Long-time activist and Dominican community leader Frieda Garcia was Executive Director of USES from 1981 to 2001. A portrait of her hangs inside this building. She was the first director of La Alianza Hispana, a community based nonprofit organization providing a wide range of services to Latino families, founded by Ana Maria Rodriquez, a Boston teacher.
The Children’s Art Centre, incorporated in 1914 and built in 1918, was the first fine arts museum for children in the country. The Centre offers a wide range of art and music for children under the sponsorship of the USES. Another South End institution, the Community Music Center of Boston at the Boston Center for the Arts, was founded in 1910 by Annie Endicott Nourse (1878–1965), a piano teacher.
- 23: Girls’ High and Girls’ Latin School Site Between West Newton and Pembroke Streets, now the Thomas F. O’Day Playground
A high school for girls opened in 1852 after more than twenty-five years of efforts to provide high school education for girls. The new Girls’ High opened on this site in 1870. Girls’ Latin School was added as a separate school in the same building in 1877 (but with the same headmaster) after the first women elected to the Boston School Committee used their new political power to guarantee girls a Latin School education. The building was considered to be elegant with 66 classrooms “all well lighted and cheerful” and an assembly hall on the upper story. Girls’ High continued at this site until 1954, but by 1907 all Girls’ Latin School classes had moved into the new Boston Normal School building on Huntington Avenue.
Girls continued to go to a Latin school separate from boys until 1972 when the Latin schools became coeducational, ending 337 years of a separate Latin school education for boys.
Among the graduates of Girls’ Latin when it was at this site was Mary Antin (1881–1949). Born in Russia, Antin immigrated with her family to America in 1894. They eventually moved to the South End where Antin took advantage of the public schools and library. Her book, The Promised Land, was a best seller when it was published in 1912. A classic about the American immigrant experience, the book captures the heart of the South End of her youth, particularly in the New York streets area between what is now East Berkeley and the Massachusetts Turnpike, a community wiped out by urban renewal in the 1960s.
- 24: Lebanese-Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society 44 West Newton Street
When the Arab American community moved from South Cove to the South End, the women also moved the headquarters of the Lebanese-Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society to 44 West Newton Street (see C9). Although the society continued its mission of providing aid and scholarships to the Arab American community, its mix of ages created an extended family. According to its historian, Evelyn Shakir, it served as a “benevolent matriarchy” for the young women who worked in the shops or attended nearby Girls’ High School.
Among the Arab American women who were the first to teach in the Boston Public Schools were art teacher Labeebee Hanna Saquet (1904–97) and media specialist Evelyn Abdalah Menconi (1919–2003). Both woman served as bridges between Arab Americans and the general public, beginning in 1930 when Saquet directed Arabian Nights, a Boston Syrian Tercentenary celebration presented at Symphony Hall. Menconi worked with Shakir on the Arabic Hour television program and was the curator of the William A. Abdalah Memorial Library at St. George Orthodox Church in West Roxbury, which offers a Memorial Cultural Series in her name. She wrote Eastern Mediterranean Cooking, and was co-editor of an issue of Cobblestone on Arab Americans.
- 25: Franklin Square House 11 East Newton Street
A former well-known residence for working women and students, the Franklin Square House provided decent and safe housing for Boston women for more than forty years in the mid twentieth century. In addition to individual rooms, the building had a ballroom on the first floor edged with curtained cubicles with couches, where the women could entertain their guests. A cafeteria provided breakfast, dinner, and box lunches. The Blue Goose restaurant on the main floor was open to the public.
Constructed as the St. James Hotel in 1868, the largest in Boston and able to accommodate 500 guests, the building became the New England Conservatory of Music in 1882. In 1902 the Rev. George L. Perin, minister of the Shawmut Avenue Universalist Church, organized a corporation to purchase it as a self-supporting residence for women. In the early 1970s it was converted to elderly housing.
- 26: View of Holy Cross Cathedral High School and St. Helena’s House 74 and 89 Union Park Street
The Sisters of St. Joseph have directed and staffed Cathedral High School since its founding in 1926 and the nearby Cathedral Grammar School since 1911. In addition to emphasizing academic excellence, the high school staff encourages their culturally diverse student body to participate in the school’s sports, drama, and choral programs. The Sisters of St. Joseph operated St. Helena’s House at 89 Union Park Street as housing for women who had just arrived in Boston. It was formerly the Grey Nuns Home for Working Girls and is now elderly housing.
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- 27: John Williams Municipal Building, former Little City Hall, and South End Branch Library Corner of Shawmut and West Brookline Streets
- One of the locations for community meetings supporting the creation of Villa Victoria was the John Williams Municipal Building. As the first woman mayor of the South End’s Little City Hall, established by Mayor Kevin White in the 1970s, Jeanette Hajjar (1928–2004) worked to sustain community programs and institutions. Hajjar was a scholar of Middle Eastern studies and later served as a Peace Corps volunteer and an English teacher in Morocco.
- 28: Home of Helen Morton 83 West Brookline Street
- The former home of Helen Morton (1898-1991) is now owned by the Salvation Army. Morton was a long-time South End activist, beginning with her service as a worker in the South End House in 1922 after she graduated from the Simmons College School of Social Work. In 1945, she helped with post war restoration in Europe. She returned in 1949 as associate head worker of the South End House and later as woman’s worker for nearby St. Stephen’s Church. Morton changed from a social worker to a political activist during the 1960s when she joined the effort to create Villa Victoria out of the city’s Parcel 19. She and Paula Oyola (see SE29) were the two women chosen to break the ceremonial ground for Villa Victoria.
- 29: Villa Victoria Cultural Center, Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA) and Paula Oyola, Latina activist 405 Shawmut Avenue
Latino community residents founded Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA) in 1968 to develop and now maintain Villa Victoria, a subsidized housing community built on a parcel of city land slated for urban renewal. IBA promotes the social and economic well being of Villa Victoria’s residents with programs that support the arts, especially expressing the Latino cultural and artistic heritage. IBA offers intergenerational activities, programs for elders, educational initiatives, and job training.
Among the Latina activists was Paula Oyola (1917-2004), who was born in Puerto Rico, the ninth of eleven children. Although she left school after the second grade to help on her family’s farm, she taught herself to read and write with the help of her grandmother. In 1961, then the widowed mother of five, she moved to the United States and settled in the South End. She enjoyed introducing people to Puerto Rican culture. She said, “If you learn to dance salsa, you can dance anything.” Once Villa Victoria was on its way, Oyola traveled to cities in Texas, California, and Florida helping to empower Latinos to fight urban renewal plans that would force them out of their neighborhoods.
- 30: Myrna Vazquez and Villa Victoria Center West Dedham Street
- Signs in the center of Villa Victoria illustrate community pride. One of the founders of Villa Victoria was Myrna Vazquez (1935–75), a renowned actress in Puerto Rico who had a lasting influence on the community. Although she lived
in the South End only during the last year of her life, she was a charismatic political activist who combined art and action and helped found the IBA art component and the annual Puerto Rican Festival. Casa Myrna Vazquez, New England’s largest shelter for battered women, is named for her.
- 31: South End House Site 20 Union Park
- One of the first branches of the South End House was 20 Union Park (see SE22). It began as a men’s residence in 1901, and later became a service center until 1959. Beatrice Williams (1898–1986) lived and served the community in this South End House residence for twenty-five years. She represented the South End on many city commissions. She began her life-time of service in 1920 when she worked in France as a member of the American Committee for Devastated France helping with the restoration of twenty-six villages in northern France destroyed during the first World War.
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- 32: Boston Center for the Arts, E. Virginia Williams of the Boston Ballet 539 Tremont Street, 19 Clarendon Street
The Cyclorama building, the centerpiece of the Boston Center for the Arts, has a long history since it opened in 1884 to huge circular displays of historic scenes. Now adapted to the many activities of the BCA, its main hall has been the space for many events including opera impresario Sarah Caldwell’s performance of Louise in 1980 (see C3) and artist Judy Chicago’s exhibition, Dinner Party, in 1990. A lower floor includes three small theaters, the Community Music Center (see SE22), and the Boston Ballet Costume Shop. The BCA’s goal is to “connect arts to the community” by supporting working artists “to create, perform, and exhibit new work.” Its complex of buildings includes studio and rehearsal space for artists in the old Smith Organ building. It is a co-sponsor with Boston University of the Huntington Theater Company’s new theater named for Virginia Wimberly (1936–2004), a piano teacher and philanthropist.
One of the newest buildings in the BCA complex is the Boston Ballet Building opened in 1991. The founder of the Boston Ballet in 1963 was E. Virginia Williams (1914–84), a dynamic leader and artist. A dancer herself, Williams chose to devote her life to creating the first professional repertory ballet company in New England. Under Williams’s leadership and those of her successors, the company is now one of the top five ballet companies in North America. Upon the recommendation of choreographer George Balanchine, Virginia Williams started the Boston Ballet with a large Ford Foundation grant, changing its name from the New England Civic Ballet Company. The Boston Ballet’s official debut was on January 25, 1965, in John Hancock Hall. Committed to developing new generations of dancers, Williams’s dance education program has grown to become the Center for Dance Education. It includes the Boston Ballet School, summer dance programs, Citydance, and Taking Steps. The Ballet’s Nutcracker is an essential part of Boston’s annual holiday celebration. The Boston Ballet tours internationally, and, when in Boston, its audiences fill the theaters.