The Back Bay West Walk starts at Copley Square and ends at the Boston Women’s Memorial. Focusing on women of the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the sites demonstrate the high energy devoted by women to the arts and education, pointing out educational institutions, clubs, and art associations as well as women’s sculptures.
Time: 1 1/2 hours
Begins: Boston Public Library, Copley Square
Directions: Go into the library at the Boylston Street entrance.
(Click on a number for details on each site.)
- 1: Boston Public Library 700 Boylston Street
- The “BPL,” as it is commonly known, has served as an intellectual and educational center for Boston women, from reformers to newly-arrived immigrants, since it opened in 1854. Housed in the elegant McKim building since 1895, the library was called a “noble treasure house of learning” by Russian immigrant, Mary Antin (1881-1949). She wrote, to be “in the midst of all the books that ever were written was a miracle as great as any on record” (see SE23). Many Boston women have also worked as library professionals including Louise Imogen Guiney (1861-1920), who later became a respected poet and writer and filled a role as an ambassador between the Irish Catholic community and the Boston Brahmins.Women pioneered children’s services at the library. Alice M. Jordan (1870-1960) was the first Supervisor of Work with Children, serving from 1900 to 1940. In 1906, she founded the New England Round Table of Children’s Librarians to provide a meeting ground for this emerging profession. Since 1960, the Round Table and the Massachusetts Library Association have sponsored the Jordan-Miller Storytelling Program in recognition of Jordan’s commitment to storytelling. Beryl Robinson (1906-89), an African American, introduced story-telling to children in the BPL branches all over the city in the 1940s and 1950s. Her stories came from many cultures. In 1958-59, she produced and told stories on public television, extending her audience to children throughout eastern Massachusetts.Several women are included in the library’s art collection. The Charlotte Cushman Room on the third floor of the McKim building is named for one of Boston’s favorite nineteenth-century dramatic actresses and art patrons, who was born in the North End. A bust by Anne Whitney of Lucy Stone, Boston suffragist and founder of the Woman’s Journal, is displayed in Bates Hall, along with a bust of her daughter Alice Stone Blackwell by Frances L. Rich. Dioramas created by Louise Stimson (1890-1981) in the 1940s, also on the third floor of the McKim Building, depict miniature scenes of famous artists and their paintings.Return to top
- 2: Women’s Mural: Nine Notable Women of Boston Boston Public Library, Johnson Building entrance hall
- Note: in 2014 the mural was moved to Simmons College. Formerly displayed in the entrance hall of the Johnson Building, the mural Nine Notable Women of Boston was originally created by Ellen Lanyon for the Workingmen’s Co-operative Bank’s centennial in 1980, in order to acknowledge the presence of women among its shareholders. The mural was believed lost after the bank moved and changed ownership. After a search it was found at Simmons College which loaned it to the BPL so the mural could be displayed to the public. The notable women are: Anne Hutchinson, religious dissenter; Phillis Wheatley, first published African American poet; Sister Ann Alexis (1805-1875), hospital founder and administrator for the Daughters of Charity; Lucy Stone, suffrage leader and editor (see BBW23, D7); Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist; Ellen S. Richards, pioneer in ecology; Mary Morton Kehew, social reform leader; Annie Sullivan, teacher of Helen Keller; and Melnea Cass, African American leader.
- 3: Boston Marathon Finish Line, Tortoise and Hare SculptureCopley Square
- In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boston Marathon in 1996, Nancy Schön, a former marathon runner, created the sculpture, The Hare and the Tortoise, at the finish line. Her Make Way for Ducklings statue is located in the Public Garden. A bronze circle recessed in the pavement displays the names of all the Boston marathon winners. Women were not allowed to enter the marathon as official runners until 1972 when Nina Kuscsik became the first female to be crowned with the laurel wreath. The first unofficial woman winner was Roberta Gibb in 1966. Joan Benoit Samuelson, who in 1984 was awarded the gold medal in the first women’s Olympic marathon, won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983. Other women Olympic gold medal winners who also placed first among women in the Boston Marathon were Fatama Robba, Boston winner in 1997 and 1998, and Rosa Mota, Boston winner in 1987, 1988, and 1990.Return to top
- 4: Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ Union Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, Copley Square
- Until the mid-1960s, only male waiters could work in local hotels organized by the Greater Boston Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ Union. At that time, fifty-seven women waitresses, who were members of an all-women’s union (Local 277) took their traveling cards to Local 34 of the union and asked for membership. When they were refused, the women sued. Supported by the Massachusetts Council Against Discrimination, the waitresses won their battle in June 1966. As members of the current local, Number 26, women now have the right to equal employment and equal pay in such union hotels as the Fairmont Copley Plaza, and are represented on the executive board of the union.Return to top
- 5: Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association Chauncey Hall, 585 Boylston Street
- Chauncy Hall in 1913 was a “busy bee hive full of workers for women,” according to the Boston American in 1913. It had housed the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association and the Woman’s Journal since 1909 when they moved from 5 Park Street. In the last years of the suffrage campaign, the MWSA shared the building with the College Equal Suffrage Association, the Massachusetts Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government, and the New England Woman Suffrage Association. Women opponents to suffrage were not far. The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women had its office two blocks west, at the corner of Boylston and Exeter Streets. The group worked closely with the men’s Massachusetts Anti-Suffragist Committee.Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950), daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, edited the Woman’s Journal for thirty-five years after her graduation from Boston University in 1881. She served as president of the MWSA from 1910 until women achieved suffrage in 1920. In addition to helping start the League of Women Voters, successor to the MWSA, Blackwell was active in many other causes including relief for Armenian refugees, the Women’s Trade Union League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the American Peace Society. As a young valedictorian, she had predicted her life of dissent, saying, “It’s perhaps the first, but I don’t mean it to be the last, old fence I shall break through.”Return to top
- 6: Sarah Wyman Whitman and Margaret Redmond Windows Trinity Church and Parish House, Clarendon and Boylston Streets
- Two women, Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904) and Margaret Redmond (1867-1948), created stained glass windows in the Trinity Church Parish House. Redmond’s work is also represented in Trinity Church itself. Whitman’s window commemorates the life of the Reverend Phillips Brooks, first rector of the church. A devoted member of the church, Whitman taught Sunday Bible classes for women for thirty years. Upon the death of Brooks in 1893, Whitman and her class campaigned for three years before she was allowed to create the window. A stained glass window across from Whitman’s window is dedicated to her memory. In addition to fabricating stained glass, Whitman painted landscapes, flowers, and portraits, and designed more than two hundred book covers for the Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin. In addition to creating the window, Tree of Life, in the Trinity Parish House to memorialize Boston painter Susan Hinckley Bradley (1851-1929), Margaret Redmond’s windows inside Trinity Church include Saul Anointeth David, David Plays before Saul, and Queen of Sheba before King Solomon in the northwest vestibule. In the nave are her Eight Apostles and The Evangelists.
- 7: Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) 140 Clarendon Street
- The Boston Young Women’s Christian Association, the first in the nation, was founded in 1866 by upper middle-class Protestant women. Led by Pauline Durant (1832-1917) until 1905, the YWCA hoped to guide and guard the young rural women coming to the city to work. The YWCA provided them with lodging and employment assistance. By the early twentieth century, the YWCA had added a School of Domestic Science and a popular gymnasium. The young women whom they served began to take an active role in the organization’s management and established a busy club program. Confronting racism in the 1930s and 1940s, the YWCA integrated its branches and named Lucy Miller Mitchell (1899-2002) as the first board member of color in 1941. Mitchell, who became executive director of Associated Day Care Services of Metropolitan Boston, was a local and national pioneer in the development of standards for child care.The YWCA on Clarendon Street was constructed in 1929 and still hosts the organization to this day. It is now named for Melnea Cass (1896-1978), a leader in increasing educational and occupational opportunities for African Americans. Known as “The First Lady of Roxbury,” she was also a tireless activist for civil rights and a pioneer in the day care movement (see SE16). During its 150 years in operation in Boston, the YWCA has supported training for non-traditional careers, operated a child care center, run a transitional housing space and job training at Aswalos House in Dorchester, and opened the nation’s first public housing facility for “grand families”—families consisting of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Today, YW Boston continues to work to eliminate racism and empower women through programs in community, including leadership development, facilitated dialogues between youth and police, community dialogues on race and ethnicity, and health education for women and girls.
- 8: Rogers Building, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 501 Boylston Street
- Although she was not directly connected with the Rogers Building, known as “Tech on Boylston Street” from 1886 to 1916, Ellen Swallow Richards (1842-1911) holds an important role in the history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When she was admitted as a special student in chemistry in 1870, she became the first woman to study at MIT. She was awarded a B. S. degree three years later, but the doctorate for which she was qualified was refused her, it is believed, because the school did not want a woman to receive the first doctorate in chemistry. Richards, who pioneered the field of sanitary engineering and home economics, established a Woman’s Laboratory at MIT in 1875 with funding from the Woman’s Education Association. When her students were admitted to regular courses at MIT, Richards closed the laboratory and, aided by Ednah Dow Cheney (1824-1904), Lucretia Crocker (1829-86), and Abby W. May (1829-88) (see D12), established a parlor and reading room for women students in a new MIT building. It was dedicated to the memory of Cheney’s daughter Margaret, a student at MIT who would have been the second woman graduate had she not died of typhoid fever in 1882. In that year, four women received regular degrees. Richards continued to be connected with MIT as an instructor and laboratory scientist in sanitary chemistry and engineering, and in connection with her pioneering studies of air, water and food, is said to have coined the word “ecology.”Return to top
- 9: Museum of Natural History 234 Berkeley Street at Boylston (now Louis of Boston)
- At its founding in 1830, women were not allowed to become members of the Boston Society of Natural History whose museum was at this site from 1864 to 1951, although they could use its resources. When the Society sought to expand its membership in 1876, a great debate ensued. An opponent believed that “the presence of charming girls among the young students of science would be a great hindrance to any cold consideration of abstruse scientific thought.” A proponent countered that women “would make as good members…and as interested an audience, as 9/10ths of the male members.” Another supported the admission of women because they were “human beings even if they are of one sex.”Although fifteen women were soon admitted, women did not have a major influence until the Society established a Teachers’ School of Science in 1870. When support for the school lagged, Lucretia Crocker (1829-86) (see SE8), supervisor of science for the Boston Public Schools, and philanthropist Pauline Agassiz Shaw (1841-1917) (see N13), raised the necessary funds to continue it. Noting the progress women teachers made in the school, the Woman’s Education Association sponsored summer classes for teachers at Annisquam (Gloucester), Massachusetts, in 1881. This led to the establishment of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole on Cape Cod a few years later. In 1951 the museum, renamed the Museum of Science, moved to Science Park on the Charles River.
- 10: American Academy of Arts and Sciences 28 Newbury Street
- Although the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has not occupied this building since 1955 and now is located in Cambridge, its roots are in Boston. Founded during the American Revolution to promote the arts and sciences, it was open only to men until 1943. The exception was astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818-89), who was elected to the academy in 1848 and for a century held that exclusive position in history. Soon after women were granted suffrage, the academy reconsidered its policy of electing only men to its membership. Even though a survey showed 147 members in favor and only 72 opposed, the academy did not elect women until 1943 when it admitted four women including another astronomer, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-79) of Harvard. In 1976 Elma Lewis, the founder of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury, was elected to membership (see BBE7). Currently about twenty percent of the academy’s new members each year are women.Maria Mitchell was a favorite of nineteenth-century Boston women, and her annual visit to speak at the New England Women’s Club was much celebrated. She grew up on Nantucket, where she learned celestial navigation from her father. In 1847 her discovery of a comet brought her fame and induction into the academy. Mitchell was a strong proponent of women’s rights and helped found the Association for the Advancement of Women. She said, “The eye that directs a needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer.” She also observed that, “Until women throw off reverence for authority, they will not develop. When they do this…the truth which they get will be theirs and their minds will go on and on, unfettered.” Mitchell became Vassar College’s first woman science professor and director of their observatory. Her observatory and birthplace are maintained by the Maria Mitchell Science Center on Nantucket Island.Return to top
- 11: Church of the Covenant, The Women’s Lunch Place 67 Newbury Street
- The Church of the Covenant has supported women since they were given the right to vote in all church matters in 1885. Member Abbie Child was the head of the Women’s Board of Missions of the Congregational Church in the late nineteenth century. Member Dr. Elsa Meder was one of the first women ordained to the office of elder in the Presbyterian Church in New England. Elizabeth Rice and Alice Hageman, who were ordained in 1974 and 1975, were the first women to serve as pastors at a Back Bay church. When they were joined by Donna Day Lower, the church became the only one in the United States with three women clergy. The church sanctuary is noted for its Tiffany stained glass windows, including Four Women of the Bible, portraying Miriam, Deborah, Mary of Bethany, and Dorcas. Since 1982, when Jane Alexander and Eileen Riley opened the Women’s Lunch Place, the church has served as a haven for poor women and their children.Return to top
- 12: Junior League of Boston 117 Newbury Street
- Boston’s Junior League, established in 1907, is the second oldest Junior League in the country. Growing out of the nineteenth century sewing circle tradition, the league was first known as “The Sewing Circle League.” Originally membership was by invitation only among the debutantes of the season. The league soon became interested in the social and industrial problems of the city and changed its name to the Junior League of Boston in 1916. The current Boston League has more than 1,500 members who contribute more than 30,000 hours each year in community service programs. They welcome as members all women who are committed to volunteerism. The League focuses a significant part of its programming on the positive development of adolescent girls and works in collaboration with several organizations with similar goals.Return to top
- 13: Gibbs College 126 Newbury Street
- Gibbs College was formerly named the Katharine Gibbs School. Gibbs founded her first business school for women in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1911. She opened a Boston branch six years later. Originally designed to train young women in the new careers in office work that opened up to skilled women at the beginning of the twentieth century, the school is now coeducational and offers associate’s degrees in office administration, computer networking, medical/clinical assisting, and graphic design.
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- 14: School of Fashion Design 136 Newbury Street
- The School of Fashion Design was founded in 1934 by Carolyn L. Dewing and Donald Smith-Fedey as the Modern School of Applied Art. In 1936, Dorchester native Isobel Sinesi joined the faculty and was instrumental in adding fashion design to the curriculum. Serving as co-director from 1952 until her death in 1997, Sinesi led the school in developing its curriculum to focus entirely on fashion design.Return to top
- 15: Muriel Snowden International High School 150 Newbury Street
- In 1988, the Boston School Committee renamed Copley Square High School to honor long-time African American community activist Muriel S. Snowden (1916-88). With her husband, Otto, Muriel Snowden founded Freedom House, Inc., in Roxbury as a nonprofit community-based organization dedicated to human rights and advocacy for African Americans in Boston. Her leadership moved Freedom House into areas of urban renewal, minority employment, and educational equality for children as well as being a positive force for interracial cooperation in Boston. The high school encourages the study of international cultures and foreign languages, fields Snowden also fostered.The building once housed the Boston Art Club, founded in 1855. Although women could not be members until the 1930s, they did exhibit there. Among the new members was Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller whose sculpture Emancipation stands in Harriet Tubman Square.Return to top
- 16: The Copley Society of Boston 158 Newbury Street
- The oldest art association in America, the Copley Society was founded as the Boston Art Students Association in 1879 by the first graduating class from the Museum School of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The founders wanted a place to exhibit the work of young artists and to continue their Museum School associations. The organization changed its name to the Copley Society of Boston in 1901 and membership was no longer restricted to those persons with an affiliation. Sarah Choate Sears and Sarah Wyman Whitman served on the Copley Society’s committees. Among other distinguished members were painter Margaret Fitzhugh Brown (1884-1972); Lillian Westcott Hale (1881-1963), known for her carefully drafted charcoal drawings; and Marie Danforth Page (1869-1940), whose portraits often depicted women and children. In addition to showing works by Boston women artists, the Society exhibited paintings by internationally known artists Mary Cassatt and Cecelia Beaux (1855-1942).
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- 17: Guild of Boston Artists 162 Newbury Street
- In addition to the art galleries along Newbury Street, many displaying the work of women artists and some owned or managed by women, is the Guild of Boston Artists. It is an association of painters, sculptors, and printmakers founded in 1914. Women have always been active in the guild and were among the charter members. One of its goals is to bring to public attention the work of young greater Boston artists. In addition to its public gallery, the guild sponsors art classes in its building.Among women members was Bostonian Lilla Cabot Perry (1847-1933), whose paintings are included in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D. C. She studied in Paris and was influenced by Claude Monet. She was his neighbor in Giverny for ten summers, beginning in 1889. Perry also taught and painted in Tokyo for three years. Other Boston women painters include Adelaide Cole Chase (1868-1944), who also studied in Paris and painted still life and portraits, especially of women and children; and painter Gertrude Fiske (1878-1961), who was a founder of the guild and was the first woman named to the Massachusetts Art Commission.In 1930, Boston sculptor Amelia Peabody (1890-1984) held a major exhibition at the guild. Her sculpture End of an Era, depicting the last of the Boston one-horse cabs, was very popular and was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts. Although she continued to create and exhibit her sculpture, Peabody was also a philanthropist. An ardent sportswoman and lover of animals, especially horses, she provided support to the new Tufts Veterinary School. She divided her time between her home at 120 Commonwealth Avenue and her farm in Dover. Peabody continued creating sculpture late in life, turning to the medium of ceramics. She served on the boards of many Boston hospitals, donating funds—and sculptures—to them.Return to top
- 18: Society of Arts and Crafts 175 Newbury Street
- Women were active in the Society of Arts and Crafts from its beginning. It was founded in 1897 as an expression of the Arts and Crafts Movement and is the oldest nonprofit crafts organization in America. It encourages the creation and collection of the work of craft artists and awards an annual Medal of Excellence in Craft. Painter and art patron Sarah Choate Sears (see BBE9) was a member of the original incorporating committee and, along with Sarah Wyman Whitman (see BBW6), was an early officer. Women who were awarded the Medal of Excellence in the early years included: Mary Crease Sears, bookbinder; Josephine H. Shaw and Margaret Rogers, jewelers; Sister Magdalen, Winifred Crawford, and Beatrix Holmes, illuminators; Lydia Bush-Brown, batik dyer; and Louise Chrimes, needleworker.
- 19: Massachusetts Normal Art School Site Northwest corner of Exeter and Newbury Streets
- The Massachusetts Normal Art School, the predecessor of the Massachusetts College of Art, operated on this site from 1873 until 1886 when it moved to its present location at 621 Huntington Avenue. Because the school was a response to the Drawing Act of 1870 requiring free drawing classes for municipalities with a population of 10,000 or more, students training to be teachers had free tuition. In the first thirty years, eighty percent of the students were women.Return to top
- 20: Spiritualist Temple and Exeter Street Theater Southeast corner of Exeter and Newbury streets
- Though known as the Exeter Street Theater after 1913, this building was built as the First Spiritualist Temple in 1885. Young women played an important role in spiritualist meetings. They sometimes served on stage as mediums through whom it was believed a departed spirit was speaking. Two sisters, Viola Berlin and Florence Berlin, ran the Exeter Street Theater for many years, turning it into a popular place to see foreign films. The theater closed in 1984.Return to top
- 21: Women Sculptors on Commonwealth Avenue Mall Commonwealth Avenue Mall
- The statue of Samuel Eliot Morison near Exeter Street by Penelope Jencks is one of four statues created by women on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall before the installation of the Boston Women’s Memorial. Jencks is well known as the sculptor of the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial in New York’s Riverside Park. Boston sculptor Anne Whitney created the statue of Norwegian explorer Leif Eriksson at the end of the mall near Charlesgate. Yvette Compagnion won the competition sponsored by the Argentine government to make the sculpture of Argentine president Domingo Sarmiento near Gloucester Street. Theo Ruggles Kitson worked with her husband, Henry Hudson Kitson, to create the group statue honoring Mayor Patrick Collins near Clarendon Street.Return to top
- 22: Fanny Mason and Peabody Mason Music Foundation 211 Commonwealth Avenue
- The Peabody Mason Foundation, established in the memory of Fanny Mason (1864-1948), a patron of musicians during her lifetime, gives grants to orchestras and performers and offers free concerts. The organization founded the Fanny D. Mason Professorship of Music at Harvard University. At her home on Commonwealth Avenue and in other venues, Fanny Mason sponsored public concerts by such well-known performers as Jan Paderwski, Pablo Casals, and Nadia Boulanger.Return to top
- 23: The Boston Women’s Memorial Commonwealth Avenue at Fairfield Street
Installed in 2003, the Boston Women’s Memorial represents three literary women: presidential advisor and correspondent Abigail Adams, suffragist and editor Lucy Stone, and the first African American published poet Phillis Wheatley. The bronze sculpture by New York artist Meredith Bergmann takes the women down off their pedestals so that they can use the pedestals for their work. The Memorial is the result of a twelve-year public process led by the Boston Women’s Commission.