Boston Marks Women's Path Through History

Walking tours highlight a notable but once-neglected group

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE only two statues of women in downtown Boston stand on the State House lawn. Both women were white, from the Colonial period, and their stories are tragic: Anne Hutchinson was banished from the city in 1638 for heresy. She often invited friends to discuss Sunday sermons, an activity seen as a threat to the community.

Mary Dyer, Anne's friend, preached the Quaker faith - outlawed in the city at that time. In 1660, she was hanged on Boston Common.

The other hundreds of historical monuments, sites, and walks that crisscross Boston focus mostly on the accomplishments of famous men.

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But now more tourists and residents are learning about the scores of white, black, and other minority women who made important contributions to society but have been forgotten or neglected by the historical record.

They are discovering these women through the Boston Women's Heritage Trail, several walks in different sections of the city that introduce the women in their wide variety of settings, occupations, and backgrounds.

"People get really excited about these trails," says Mary Smoyer, executive secretary of the Boston Women's Heritage Trail. "We tell them they have to go back to their city and do one."

The Boston Women's Heritage Trail grew out of a project in the Boston Public Schools in 1989. The United States Department of Education had given the schools a grant to develop a curriculum that would focus on a number of notable women in the city's history. The teachers and students in the project also designed a walking tour of historical women's sites. But the group found many more women than they could include on one trail or in one curriculum, Ms. Smoyer says. So she and several others at the Boston

Women's Heritage Trail published a booklet of four walks.

Only a handful of published guides to women's history trails exist, says Barbara Westmoreland, author of an upcoming book on women's trails in New England and upstate New York. These include one on the Oregon Trail called "Women's Voices From the Oregon Trail: The Times That Tried Women's Souls," by Susan Butruille (Tamarack Press, 1992). Ms. Butruille also published a women's history trail in Portland, Ore. In Washington, a group called the Feminist Institute offers guided tours of radical and modern fe minist sites.

But a movement to preserve and mark women's historical sites is under way throughout the country, Ms. Westmoreland says.

"There's really a deep interest," she says: "People are starved" for access to women's history.

The growing interest in women's history is phenomenal, says Mary Ruthsdotter, projects director of the National Women's History Project in Windsor, Calif., which initiated the concept of women's history week. "We started our work ... in 1980 and for quite a while we were having to hold people by the shirtsleeves and insist gently they listen." Now, especially since the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings and the 1992 presidential election, her organization is being bombarded with calls from people who wa nt to know more about women in history.

In Boston, so much material exists on notable historical women that Patricia Morris, president of the National Women's Heritage Foundation, a group working independently of the Boston Women's Heritage Trail, plans to publish more walking tours. One includes Boston's Victorian women.

Some of the women on the Victorian tour (which, like the other women's trails, is not yet marked) include:

* Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804-94), who brought the kindergarten movement to the United States. A teacher, lecturer, and social activist, Peabody was also proprietor of a bookstore in downtown Boston. There the feminist philosopher Margaret Fuller led discussions about women's rights and helped crystallize New England Transcendentalism.

* Lucy Stone (1818-93) spent her life working for the abolitionist cause and the rights of women. She was the first woman in Massachusetts to graduate from college and the first to use her own name in marriage. She edited the weekly Women's Journal, the newspaper published by the American Woman Suffrage Association. Each year she petitioned the state legislature for woman's suffrage. Her daughter edited the Journal until suffrage was won in 1920.

* Ellen Craft (1826-97) and her husband, William, were slaves in the South. At age 11, her white father took her from her slave mother and gave her as a wedding present to her half-sister. After she married William, they escaped to Philadelphia and then to Boston where they were active in abolition meetings at the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill until the Federal Slave Law threatened them with recapture. They fled to England but returned to the South after the Civil War.

* Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), after a life of semi-invalidism, was healed through prayer of the effects of a serious accident in 1866 and went on to found the Christian Science religion. She published her major work on Christian healing, "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures," in 1875. (See accompanying story.) When her ideas were rejected by the churches of her day, she organized The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston in 1879 and reorganized it in 1892. She founded this newspaper in 1908.

* The National Women's Heritage Foundation, P.0. Box 833, Boston, Mass., 02120. The Boston Women's Heritage Trail, c/o Mary Smoyer, 22 Holbrook Street, Jamaica Plain, Mass., 02130.

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