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.
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 the tour by walking from the Boston 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!
Begins: Boston Women’s Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue at Fairfield Street
Boston Women’s Memorial
Commonwealth Avenue at Fairfield Street
The Boston Women’s Memorial honors three important contributors to Boston’s rich history—Abigail Adams (1744-1818), letter writer and progressive thinker, Lucy Stone (1818-1893), abolitionist and leader of the woman’s suffrage movement, and Phillis Wheatley (c1753-1784), poet and first published African American writer. 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.
Biographies and Words on the Boston Women’s Memorial
Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Abigail Adams was the wife of the second president of the United States and the mother of the sixth. Her letters establish her as a perceptive social and political commentator and a strong voice for women’s advancement.
Abigail Adams’ Words
Letter to John Adams, March 31, 1776
… 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 Mercy Otis Warren, March 9, 1807
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.
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.
Phillis Wheatley’s Words
To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth
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?
Letter to the Reverend Samson Occom, February 11, 1774
… 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.
Born in Brookfield, Lucy Stone 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.
Lucy Stone’s Words
Speech, Woman’s Rights Convention, Worcester 1851
Let woman’s sphere be bounded only by her capacity.
Speech, National Woman’s Rights Convention, Cincinnati 1855
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. The legal right for woman to record her opinion wherever opinions count, is the tool for whose ownership we ask.
Woman’s Journal, 1891; Last published statement, The Independent, 1893
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.
Boston Public Library, Bates Reading Room
700 Boylston Street
Busts of Lucy Stone and of her daughter Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950) 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.
Massachusetts State House
24 Beacon Street
Lucy Stone is one of six women represented in the bas-relief mural Hear Us by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and Susan Sellers, 1999. 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. Lucy Stone addressed the Massachusetts Legislature in the Senate chambers 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.
Former Site of Hancock House
State House Grounds at 24 Beacon Street
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…”
The Woman’s Journal
Paulist Center Chapel, 5 Park Street
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.
Old South Meeting House
310 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.
Corner of Beach and Tyler Streets
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. 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. Who could have dreamed that she would become the mother of African-American literature?
Old State House
206 Washington Street
On July 18, 1776, Abigail Adams went to the Old State House, then called the New Town House, where the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in Massachusetts. This poster, created 167 years after the event, closely matches Abigail’s description.
She wrote her husband John: “Last Thursday … I went with the Multitude into Kings Street to hear the proclamation for independence read and proclamed…When Col. Crafts read from the Belcona of the State House the Proclamation, great attention was given to every word. As soon as he ended, the cry from the Belcona was God Save our American States and then 3 cheers which rended the air, the Bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and Batteries, the cannon were discharged, the platoons followed and every face appeard joyfull….After dinner the kings arms were taken down from the State House and every vestige of him from every place in which it appeard and burnt in King Street. Thus ends royall Authority in this State and all the people shall say Amen”
Letter, July 21, 1776
City Hall Plaza
1 City Hall Square
Although Abigail Adams lived most of her life in Weymouth, Braintree and Quincy, she also lived in Boston for a few years during the Revolutionary War period, and, of course, she visited Boston frequently. Abigail Adams and her family lived here in two locations between 1768-1774 when it was the fashionable section known as Brattle Square. They worshipped at the Brattle Square Church and two of their children, Susanna and Charles, were baptized at the church. When 10,000 British troops occupied Boston in 1774, the family fled to Quincy.
Court and State Streets
In June and July 1776, Abigail Adams moved her household to Boston for two months to State Street (then called King Street) to the home of her uncle Isaac Smith so that they could all be inoculated against smallpox. John Adams’ uncle Dr. Zabdiel Boylston had actually started the program 50 years earlier, getting the idea from an enslaved man, Onesimus, who told him about the practice in Africa. Many of the household members were very sick, but they all recovered.
Abigail Adams wrote her husband John:
“We had our Bedding etc. to bring. A Cow we have driven down from B[raintre]e and some Hay I have had put into the Stable, wood etc. and we have really commenced housekeepers here… Our little ones stood the operation Manfully… Such a spirit of inoculation never before took place; the Town and every house in it, as full as they can hold … I wish it was so you could have been with us, but I submit.”
Letter, July 13, 1776
Near the end of her life, from about 1778-1781, when she was a free woman, Phillis Wheatley lived on Court Street (then called Queen Street) with her husband, John Peters. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about her life then.
Corner of State and Kilby Streets
As you stand at this corner, look at this print of the buildings and streets. Phillis Wheatley lived right on this corner in the heart of the city in the Wheatley’s mansion, at what was then King Street and Mackerel Lane, from 1761-1774. From the windows of the mansion she could have seen lots of comings and goings and lots of “revolutionary” action, including patriots protesting the Stamp Act, or the Redcoats marching up from the harbor. Many of her poems were inspired by nearby events such as the Boston Massacre.
In this house, Phillis Wheatley proved herself a genius, learning English in only 16 months with the Wheatley’s daughter Mary as her tutor, and then going on to master Greek and Latin and write poetry. Phillis Wheatley’s Book of Poems was published in England in 1773. In 1774, 300 copies arrived in Boston and sold quickly. That same year, at age 21, Phillis Wheatley became a free woman, and, when the Wheatleys left their mansion during the conflicts surrounding the occupation of Boston by British troops, she moved to Providence, RI, to live with Mary Wheatley. She also wrote a special letter to the Reverend Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian Christian missionary, about freedom. An excerpt from it is on the Women’s Memorial.
4 South Market Street
As you can see, Lucy Stone is the only woman represented in all of Faneuil Hall! She joined the men in 2001. Her bust was done by artist Lloyd Lillie. His other work includes a statue of Abigail Adams in Quincy and a sculpture of 19 assembled bronze figures at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY. He also did the statues of James Michael Curley and Red Auerbach here in Boston.
In 1873, on the 100th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Lucy Stone organized a suffrage meeting she named the New England Women’s Tea Party. The call said: The women of New England who believe that “TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION IS TYRANNY” and that our forefathers were justified in resisting despotic power by throwing the tea into Boston Harbor, hereby invite the men and women of New England to unite with them in celebrating the One Hundredth Anniversary of that event, in Faneuil Hall, on MONDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING, DEC 15, from 4 to 9 P.M.
The December 20 edition of the Woman’s Journal reported that “Long before the hour appointed for the opening of the meeting, the crowd began to assemble, and at 4 o’clock the Hall was literally packed solid with a dense mass of humanity, composed of ladies and gentlemen representing all classes in life who were interested in the object of the meeting – the elevation of Woman to an equality with men in citizenship, no less than the celebration of the patriotic deed of our forefathers.”
In her speech, Lucy Stone, introduced as “the founder of the feast,” said “We are taxed, and we have no representation. We are governed without our consent. We are fined, imprisoned, and hung with no jury trial by our peers. We have no legal right to our children, nor power to sell our land, nor will our money.”
- Butterfield, L. H. The Book of Abigail and John. Harvard University Press, 1975.
- 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.