The Women’s Era

108 Charles Street, Beacon Hill

Inaugural issue of The Women’s Era.

From roughly November 1894 to January 1897, 108 Charles Street was home to The Women’s Era, the first newspaper in the United States produced and funded by Black women. The newspaper played a key role in the holding of the first National Conference of Colored Women (which took place in Boston in 1895) and in the establishment of the National Association of Colored Women.

The newspaper grew out of the Women’s Era Club, an advocacy group for Boston-area Black women founded by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and her daughter Florida Ridley Ruffin, members of a small, but significant Black, upper-class community on the north side of Beacon Hill. The club, which allowed white women to join, had a wide array of interests, but primary were issues affecting the well-being of the Black community and racial equality.

The publication’s first issue came out on March 24, 1894. Soon the newspaper went national and became the leading publication for Black clubwomen across the country.

106-108 Charles Street today. Number 108 is the doorway on the right hand side.

Like the Women’s Era Club, the newspaper championed women’s suffrage, while also focusing on a broader set of issues. They ranged from the activities of local clubs and matters of health and literature to poverty and education. The publication was, according to historian Teresa Blue Holden, one that “broadcast the perspectives of black women nationally and linked their interests with those of white American women who were also contributors to the paper.” Animated by a spirit that rejected divisions of class, race, and religion, the paper advocated for the well-being of all women.

The first few issues of the newspaper listed St. Augustine’s Trade School, an Episcopalian church-related institution at 185 Charles Street, as the home of The Women’s Era. By November 1894, however, presumably because it now had its own office, the building at 108 Charles Street was listed as the publication’s address. This address endured until the paper’s last issue, which was published in January 1897. A combination of declining financial resources and differences with the national club movement (many within perceived the newspaper as too radical) led to the publication’s demise.  

The four-story building (106-108 Charles Street) in which The Women’s Era’s offices were located today houses commercial space on the ground floor and private residences above.

Getting there:

Red Lines to Charles/MGH Station. 0.1-mile (3-minute) walk.

Related site:

The home of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and the meeting place of the Women’s Era Club (founded in 1893, it existed until some point in the first decade of the 1900s), 103 Charles Street; it is diagonally across the street from the former offices of The Women’s Era.

Historical marker outside of 103 Charles Street.

To learn more:

Teresa Blue Holden, “Earnest women can do anything”: The public career of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, 1842–1904, Ph.D. dissertation, Saint Louis University, 2005.

Kaitlin Woods, “’Make the World Better’: The Woman’s Era Club of Boston,” U.S. National Park Service, undated publication.

The Women’s Era, digital repository of all issues of the newspaper.

Lithuanian Hall

17 St. George Avenue, Norwood

In the late 1800s, a significant Lithuanian population resided in South Boston. By 1900, some of them had moved to Norwood—particularly South Norwood, a part of town with a lot of multifamily, working-class, and tenement-like housing. According to historian Patricia Fanning, heavily immigrant, polyglot South Norwood was “like a foreign country” to Norwood’s more established residents, its inhabitants “increasingly viewed as the source of social problems and political unrest.” One institution that was highly associated with these negative views was Lithuanian Hall.

17 St. George Avenue, the former Lithuanian Hall, March 2023. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

The venue was established due to political differences among Lithuanians in Norwood. In 1905, members of the community formed a mutual aid society, but divisions soon emerged—between individuals who had strong religious (Catholic) beliefs and socialist “freethinkers.” In response, and at a time when Lithuanians on the other side of the ideological divide were discussing the building of a Lithuanian Catholic church in Norwood, freethinkers decided to build a meeting place of their own. Lithuanian Hall, that meeting place, opened in November 1914.

Groups ranging from the Lithuanian Literary Society to the Norwood Lithuanian Men’s Glee Club took advantage of the new site. In March 1915, Lithuanian Hall hosted its first wedding: a Jewish ceremony as Norwood’s small Jewish community did not have a temple. Soon thereafter, socialist and radical political figures began to visit Norwood as part of their lecture tours, with Lithuanian Hall often their location of choice.

In the context of World War I, matters in Norwood took an ugly nativist turn. In February 1917, two months before the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany, the Town of Norwood established a General Committee for Public Safety, a subcommittee of which was known as the Night Riders. Made up of armed young men, the “Riders” patrolled the town to guard against sabotage of public property and the area’s industrial infrastructure. Norwood residents of German descent became targets of harassment. Anti-German sentiment overlapped with efforts to repress leftist and other radical movements, with the immigrant community often the focus of condemnation. Lithuanian Hall, as both “foreign” and leftist, was thus doubly suspect.

The aftermath of the war saw continuing tensions between socialists and non-socialists in Norwood. These tensions dovetailed with the outbreak of a “Red Scare” nationally, one that resulted in raids by federal authorities in immigrant areas across the United States, with South Norwood being one of the targets. Authorities arrested 12 Norwood residents, all of them men of Lithuanian descent. One of the arrests took place in Lithuanian Hall.*

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Lithuanian Hall continued to be an occasional site for radical politics. In 1927, for example, a very large meeting took place in support of Sacco and Vanzetti. At the same time, the venue expanded the types of activities—from athletic events and weddings to movies—that it hosted; it even became the home for a Sons of Italy lodge. In the 1930s and 1940s, the second floor became a music and dance venue known as the Butterfly Ballroom.

Over the decades, many of the most dedicated members of Lithuanian Hall passed on. Relatedly, the radical politics associated with the venue declined. In 1980, Lithuanian Hall was sold and turned into a community residence for adults with Down’s syndrome. Sometime in the 2000s, the building was sold again and redeveloped. It is now home to condominiums.

Getting there:

An MBTA bus that runs between Forest Hills Station (Orange Line) and Walpole passes within one block of the site.

To learn more:

Patricia J. Fanning, “From ‘Bolshevik Hall’ to Butterfly Ballroom: The Assimilation of South Norwood’s Lithuanian Hall,” in Peter Benes (ed.), Life in the Streets and Commons, 1600 to the Present (The Dublin Series for New England Folklife, Annual Proceedings 2005), Boston: Boston University, 2005: 109-123.

Patricia J. Fanning, Influenza and Inequality: One Town’s Tragic Response to the Great Epidemic of 1918, Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010.

Norwood Historical Society website.

To learn more about South Norwood, see the entry on Morrill Memorial Library, South Norwood Branch.

*For more on the Palmer Raids, see the entry on “Socialist Hall” in the Lowell section of A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

YWCA Building/Office of 9 to 5

140 Clarendon Street, Back Bay

YWCA building, 140 Clarendon Street, March 4, 1929. Photo credit: Edward A. Scanlan, Boston Globe Library Collection via Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections.

A few months after the March 4, 1929, opening of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) building on Clarendon Street, Boston Business featured an article about the new facility. The 13-story structure, gushed the Boston Chamber of Commerce publication, has “practically everything conducive to the welfare—physical, mental and spiritual—of the girl living away from home in a large city.”

Founded in 1866, the Boston Young Women’s Christian Association was the first YWCA in the United States. Its establishment was a response to the growing presence in Boston of single women working outside the home. At its initial location in Downtown, in a Congregational building at 23 Chauncey Street (where Macy’s now stands), it sought to support “the temporal, moral and religious welfare” of such women, So, in addition to assisting women to finding appropriate boarding, the YWCA offered classes in singing and the Bible and a prayer meeting every Thursday.

Congregational House, Chauncey St., Boston, occupied by the YWCA in its early years
Congregational House, 23 Chauncey Street, artist and date unknown. Source: Wilson 1916 via Wikimedia Commons.

Soon thereafter, in response to many more requests for assistance in securing room and board than it could accommodate, the YWCA purchased two houses at 25 and 27 Beach Street in what is now Chinatown. When the refurbished houses opened in 1868, they provided housing for 80 women. The typical resident was under 25 years of age, and a little more than half of them worked as seamstresses. Within six years, the YWCA had to move again when the City of Boston widened Beach Street. The newly constructed building, at 68 Warrenton Street, accommodated 200 residents; an adjoining house on Carver Street (now Charles Street) served as the YWCA’s employment bureau.

It would be more than 60 years later when the YWCA moved to the building on Clarendon Street. As detailed by Boston Business, the YWCA’s new home had myriad amenities: “A gym and swimming pool, facilities for social and recreational activities, educational classes, and even a meditation chapel tucked away from the gaiety and laughter in the remainder of the building, are but a few of the attractions that careful planning has provided.” The building also housed “a cafeteria, bowling alleys, which are open to men, a men’s dressing room, public showers, a vocational guidance department, and a tea room [sic]. The tea room, like the bowling alleys, is open to men. And men may smoke in both.”

Among the important functions of the YWCA is that it served as a space for women-led organizing. One manifestation took place in September 1973, when a group of women rented a small office in the building. There, they published a newsletter, one launched the previous year, called 9 to 5 for Boston’s women officer workers—there were over 200,000 of them in the city at the time; they ran an organization by the same name as well. The initial goal of 9 to 5 was to inform women clerical workers of their rights, to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, and to compel Boston’s major employers to end discriminatory practices.

Florence Luscomb, famed suffragette and women’s rights activist, speaking at 9 to 5 rally, Copley Square, April 25, 1974. Source: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Harvard University.

On the evening of Monday, November 19, 1973, in the YWCA’s auditorium, 9 to 5 had its first public meeting. More than 200 women attended. “Boston women are some of the worst paid office workers in the country,” declared Karen Nussbaum, along with Ellen Cassedy, one of the organization’s founders. According to 9 to 5, of the fifteen largest U.S. cities at the time, only office workers in Birmingham, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee were paid less.

9 to 5 would soon grow by leaps and bounds, in part by organizing chapters throughout the Northeast—in cities such as Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, and Worcester. It also joined forces with other organizations of women office workers—in Cleveland, Dayton, New York, and San Francisco—and, in 1978, created a national entity, one which became known as 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women; at its height, it had more than 12,000 members in at least 22 city-based chapters in addition to at-large members in all 50 U.S. states.

In addition, as a way of formalizing its power and engage in contract negotiations with employers, 9 to 5 organized a Boston-area labor union. Founded in 1978, Local 925 was affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). And in 1981, Local 925 went national, becoming District 925.

Group of people at 9to5 rally for John Hancock action
9to5 rally, John Hancock action, Boston, August 26 1981. Photo by Jane Jewell. Source: Collections, Schlesinger Library, Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

Over the years, 9 to 5 made substantial gains for women clerical workers. Through lobbying, demonstrations, lawsuits, media work, public hearings and other pressure tactics, 9 to 5 brought about back pay and raises, improved working conditions, and better hiring practices—among other advances.

Today, 9 to 5 lives on—not least in popular culture due to the 1980 movie 9 to 5 with Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton (who sang the accompanying hit song), and Lily Tomlin. While SEIU District 925 did not last long for a host of reasons, 9 to 5, the national advocacy organization, endures, albeit as a smaller entity, one now based in Milwaukee. With an agenda that goes far beyond women office workers, 9 to 5 focuses on matters ranging from paid sick leave and childcare to equal pay and an end to discrimination; it also helps renters facing eviction.

File:YWCA on Clarendon Street, Boston MA.jpg
YWCA building, June 2011. Photo by John Phelan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As for the building at 140 Clarendon Street, the YWCA sold it in 2019. Via a public-private partnership, the building is currently undergoing a process of renovation that will lead to 210 units of affordable housing, 111 of which will be supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals who will receive services from the Pine Street Inn. When completed, the historic building will continue to house current tenants, including the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, the Snowden International School (a City of Boston school), and YW Boston, as the YWCA in the Back Bay is now known.

Getting there:

Orange Line to Back Bay Station or Green Line to Copley Station. The building is a 0.2-mile (3-minute) walk from Back Bay Station; it is a 0.3-mile (5-minute) walk from Copley.

To learn more:

Ellen Cassedy, Working 9 to 5: A Women’s Movement, A Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie, Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2022.

City of Boston, “Groundbreaking for 140 Clarendon Street Celebrated,” December 13, 2021.

“Hub Women Office Workers Unite for Higher Pay,” The Boston Globe, November 22, 1973: 75.

Tim Logan, “Work Launches on Re-do of Former YWCA into Affordable Housing,” The Boston Globe, December 9, 2021.

“New Y.W.C.A. Offers Many Facilities,” Boston Business, Vol. 20, No. 6, June 1929: 28+.

Daphne Spain, “Women’s Rights and Gendered Spaces in 1970s Boston,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2011: 152-178.

Judy Waxman, “Interview with Karen Nussbaum,” The VFA Pioneer Histories Project, August 2020.

Elizabeth Wilson, Fifty Years of Association Work Among Young Women, 1866-1916: A History of the Young Women’s Christian Associations in the United States, New York: National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Associations of the United States of America, 1916.

Morrill Memorial Library, South Norwood Branch

1159 Washington Street, Norwood

On November 9, 1951, FBI agents visited the South Norwood branch of the Morrill Memorial Library to speak with Mary Knowles, a librarian. They asked about individuals she knew and their involvement in the Communist Party. Knowles declined to answer their questions.

Mary Knowles was of interest because she had worked for a time as a secretary at the Samuel Adams School for Social Studies, a Communist Party-affiliated institution in Downtown Boston. Some months after the school was forced to close in the spring of 1948, the City of Norwood’s public library hired Knowles for its South Norwood branch.

Immediately following the FBI’s visit, Knowles informed her supervisor, Edna Phillips, of what had transpired and offered to step down from her position. Phillips, however, saw no reason for Knowles to resign and encouraged her to stay on.

Mary Knowles (center) at the South Norwood Branch of the Morrill Memorial Library with a young patron (date unknown). Edna Phillips is in the left corner of the room. Photo courtesy of the Morrill Memorial Library.

The issue would have likely died there had not an undercover FBI agent identified Ms. Knowles as a member of the Communist Party in testimony before the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (also known as the Jenner Committee) on May 6, 1953. This would lead to the Committee issuing a subpoena for Knowles.

When Mary Knowles went before the Jenner Committee, she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer its questions, including one regarding whether she was or had been a member of the Communist Party. She only supplied her name and address and information about her employment at the library. In a brief statement, Knowles asserted that “attempts to impose uniformity of thought or religion by using the weapons of economic pressure or unwanted publicity … is a deep threat to our liberties and the strength of the United States.” Her appearance before the committee lasted less than five minutes.

In a context of “Red Scare” politics, Knowles became a target of anti-Communist individuals and organizations in and around Norwood. On May 9, 1953, Norwood library trustees suspended Knowles from her position pending the results of her own appearance before the Jenner Committee. On June 1, less than two weeks after her testimony, the trustees, bowing to pressure from Daughters of the American Revolution and an entity called the Community Chest, which threatened to withhold funding for the library, fired Mary Knowles from her position by a 4-0 vote. (The junior high school classmates of Ms. Knowles’s son, Jonathan, responded by electing him president of their class.)

“South Norwood was perhaps a fitting venue” for what befell Mary Knowles, according to historian Allison Hepler. “On January 2, 1920, South Norwood got swept up in the first American ‘Red Scare,’” she writes in reference to what became known as the Palmer Raids.* “Raids, generally aimed at the nation’s urban immigrant groups and led by police and Justice Department officials in twenty-three states, netted twelve men from South Norwood, who were arrested ‘on suspicion of being Reds or members of the Communist Party.’”

South Norwood Branch of the Morrill Memorial Library (date unknown). Photo courtesy of the Morrill Memorial Library.

The South Norwood branch library, which occupied a storefront, opened in 1941, in response to the desires of area residents and the South Norwood Merchant’s Association. At the time, according to Hepler, South Norwood was “the industrial and immigrant heart of the town.” Much of the population of the area, also known as “the Flats,” was comprised of “first- and second-generation Italians, Lithuanians, Poles, and Syrians who provided the labor for the town’s paper, roofing, and building factories.”

The site on 1159 Washington Street remained the home of the South Norwood branch until 1971 when a new facility, located a few blocks south on Washington Street, took its place. Only five years later, however, the South Norwood branch closed for good for reasons of cost and the duplication of services, explains Norwood historian Patricia Fanning. Today, the building in which Mary Knowles worked as a librarian still stands. The former home of the South Norwood branch library now houses a dog grooming salon.

As for Mary Knowles, she moved to Pennsylvania where she found a job at the William Jeanes Memorial Library in what is today Whitemarsh Township. Ms. Knowles remained employed there as a librarian until her retirement in 1979.

1159 Washington Street, March 2023. The storefront on the right side of the building housed the South Norwood Branch. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

Getting there:

An MBTA bus that runs between Forest Hills Station (Orange Line) and Walpole passes by the site.

To learn more:

Allison Hepler, McCarthyism in the Suburbs: Quakers, Communists, and the Children’s Librarian, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2018.

Patricia J. Fanning, Keeping the Past: Norwood at 150, Staunton, Virginia: American History Press, 2021.

Patricia J. Fanning, Norwood: A History, Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.

E. V. McLean, “Suspended Librarian May Face Jenner Committee,” Norwood Messenger, May 12, 1953: 1-2.

Nancy Sullivan, “The Plymouth Meeting Controversy,” blog of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, March 9, 2017.

“Norwood Woman Remains Silent on Red Charges,” Norwood Messenger, May 26, 1953: 1+.

“Trustees Fire So. Norwood Librarian on 4 to 0 Vote,” Norwood Messenger, June 2, 1953: 1+.

*Regarding the Palmer Raids, see the entry for Socialist Hall (in Lowell) in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Related site:

Residence of Mary Knowles during her time in Norwood, 159 Cottage Street.

Acknowledgment:

Thanks to the staff at the Morrill Memorial Library for rendering myriad forms of assistance and for allowing us to peruse its archives related to Mary Knowles and the South Norwood Branch.

Samuel Adams School for Social Studies

37 Province Street, Downtown Boston

“Our aim is not only to teach facts, but social, democratic understanding.” So stated Dr. Harrison L. Harley, a professor at Simmons College, in reference to the pending opening of the Samuel Adams School for Social Studies, according to The Boston Globe. The school advertised itself as committed to a “Democratic America in a world of peace,” one that stood “shoulder to shoulder with the common people.”

Samuel Adams School for Social Sciences, 37 Province Street, Downtown Boston, December 6, 1947. Photo from Record-American newspaper; photographer unknown.

What the Globe characterized as a night school opened on September 25, 1944. The school’s initial offerings were 12-week courses that met one night a week; the cost of enrollment was $6. Over time, courses included the Negro in American Life, the Jewish People, Knowing the Soviet Union, Child Psychology, Contemporary Literature, and History of American Labor.

Its offerings also included Modern Art and Music Appreciation, in addition to courses on socialism and fascism; on Saturday mornings, there were story hours and music lessons for young children and a course on current events for youth, 12-16. Moreover, writes historian Allison Hepler. the school “sponsored a film series and a weekend workshop in folklore and literature, summers courses at Camp Annisquam in Gloucester, and an amateur theater group.” A key focus of the leftist institution was trade union education. It thus offered workshops on collective bargaining and shop steward training.

The Samuel Adams School for Social Studies was one of several adult education institutions across the United States affiliated with the Communist Party. Others were located in cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis. The largest and most well-known was the Jefferson School of Social Science in New York City; it had more than 45,000 students in its first four years of existence.

Schools for “Marxist studies” arose during World War II, a time when the U.S. Communist Party “took a super-patriotic ideological turn” asserts historian Marvin Gettleman. They were the descendants, in effect, of Party-run “Worker Schools” that emerged in the 1920s. But instead of focusing first and foremost on recruiting and educating members of the Party, the new schools were concerned with broad engagement with the cities in which they were located. As such, they had a greatly expanded curriculum and many more students than had been the case with the worker schools—some of them at their peak had thousands of students each term. The Samuel Adams School reported that 449 students, ranging from the ages of 16 to 60 and representing a wide array of occupations and backgrounds, enrolled during its first term. “Yes, truly a People’s School was born,” it proclaimed in its Winter Term 1945 course catalog.

Labor unions often sponsored and helped to finance the schools. Administrators of these adult education centers, as well as many (but certainly not all) of the faculty, were typically members of the Communist Party. In the case of Boston’s Samuel Adams School, manifesting the broad social ties that the Party engendered and enjoyed at the time, its “faculty list was Communist and non-Communist,” says Hepler; and its board of trustees included two Protestant ministers, an editor of The Jewish Advocate newspaper, trade unionists, and the head of a major publishing house.

Following World War II and with the emergence of the Cold War, strong anticommunist sentiment reemerged across the United States. In Boston and, more broadly, in Massachusetts—“something of a pioneer in red scare politics” in the words of historian M. J. Heale—leading politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, and elements of the Catholic Church hierarchy helped to fan the flames of anti-Left hysteria.* In this context, the Samuel Adams School, along with sister institutions in other cities, became a target for FBI infiltration and state repression.

In 1947, U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark added the Samuel Adams School, one of 11 schools included, to his list of “subversive” organizations. Several months later, in October 1948, the Internal Revenue Bureau stripped the school—and 39 other “subversive” entities—of its tax-free status. However, it appears that the Samuel Adams School for Social Studies had already closed its doors by this time.

It is unclear when exactly the Samuel Adams School ceased operations. According to Allison Hepler, it was in May 1948. Similarly, the July 8, 1948 issue of Counterattack, an anti-communist newsletter founded by three former FBI agents, claims that school closed in the spring of 1948, while suggesting that it was, in part, due to the newsletter’s “exposure” of the institution in its initial issue in 1947. As a result of such publicity, and the U.S. Attorney General’s subsequent inclusion of the school on his list of subversive organizations, the newsletter explained, “Some people in and near Boston who had been giving money to the school got scared. So the school folded up in the spring.”

Through much of the 1950s, authorities on the federal level and within Massachusetts continued to harass many individuals associated with the Samuel Adams School as part of their anticommunist crusade. In one particularly infamous case in 1953, the Town of Norwood, a Boston suburb, fired Mary Knowles, a librarian, for her alleged communist ties. Knowles had worked as a secretary at the school; in May 1953, she refused to respond to questions regarding membership in the Communist Party when called before the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (see Morrill Memorial Library, South Norwood Branch).

The building in which the Samuel Adams School was located no longer exists; it stood a little to the north of where Bosworth Street intersects with Province Street. Like most of the west side of Province Street, the site is now occupied by a development dedicated to luxury condominiums.

On the lower-left side of the photo is where Bosworth Street intersects with Province Street. (One accesses Bosworth Street via a stone staircase.) The building in which the Samuel Adams School for Social Science was located stood immediately to the right of Bosworth Street. Photo by Joseph Nevins, March 2023.

Getting there:

Red or Green Line to Park Street Station, or Orange or Red Line to Downtown Crossing Station. The site is a 0.2-mile (4-minute) walk from either station.

To learn more:

“Forty Groups Lose Tax-Free Standing: 8 ‘Subversive’ Organizations Among Those Stricken from Privileged Revenue List,” The New York Times, October 22, 1948.

Simson Garfinkle, “How an MIT Marxist Weathered the Red Scare,” MIT Technology Review, June 29, 2022.

Marvin E. Gettleman, “Defending Left Pedagogy: U.S. Communist Schools Fight Back Against the SACB (Subversive Activities Control Board) . . . and Lose (1953-1957),” Convergence, Vol. 41, no. 2/3 (2008): 193-209.

Marvin E. Gettleman, “The Lost World of United States Labor Education: Curricula at East and West Coast Communist Schools, 1944-1957,” in Robert W. Cherny, William Issel, and Kieran Walsh Taylor (eds.), American Labor and the Cold War: Grassroots Politics and Postwar Political Culture, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2004:  205-215.

“Groups Called Disloyal,” The New York Times, December 5, 1947.

M. J. Heale, McCarthy’s Americans: Red Scare Politics in State and Nation, 1935-1965, Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Allison Hepler, McCarthyism in the Suburbs: Quakers, Communists, and the Children’s Librarian, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2018.

Judith Larrabee Holmes, “The Politics of Anticommunism in Massachusetts, 1930-1960,” Ph.D. dissertation, Department of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1996.  

“Samuel Adams School for Social Studies Will Open Sept. 25,” The Boston Globe, September 11, 1944: 8.

David A. Shannon, The Decline of American Communism: A History of the Communist Party of the United States since 1945, London: Atlantic Books, Stevens & Sons Limited, 1959.

*For examples of anti-Left frenzy in Greater Boston and Massachusetts, see the Sacco and Vanzetti Tour in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston; see also the entry on River Works/General Electric (in Lynn).

Acknowledgment:

Thanks to the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society for allowing us to peruse its holdings related to the Samuel Adams School for Social Studies.

Massachusetts Hall (Harvard University)

Harvard Yard, Cambridge`

A Living Wage banner frames tents in Harvard Yard, where supporters of students occupying Massachusetts Hall were camping out overnight, May 1, 2001. Staff photo by Jon Chase/Harvard News Office.

Twenty-five students exited Massachusetts Hall on May 8, 2001, to cheers and applause of two thousand people gathered outside. The students’ departure marked the end of a 21-day occupation of the university’s oldest extant building, within which is located the offices of Harvard’s president, The action was the culmination of a four-year campaign by Harvard’s Progressive Students Labor Movement (PSLM) to compel the university to pay its employees a living wage—one sufficient for workers to provide for their basic needs. At the time, a living wage in Cambridge was $10.25/hour, plus benefits; the federal minimum wage was $5.15. Harvard’s endowment was about $20 billion.

Although the sit-in divided students and faculty, large numbers of people within the Harvard community backed the PSLM and the workers. Within a week, hundreds began rallying outside Massachusetts Hall each day. A “tent city” was erected in front, with scores sleeping there nightly. Hundreds of Harvard faculty members signed a letter calling for a living wage and voicing support for the sit-in. And university janitors and custodians organized rallies. Meanwhile, high-profile figures visited the occupied building—including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and U.S Senator Ted Kennedy—and national media reported the story.

Eventually, working through intermediaries, the PSLM was able to gain important concessions, ones that allowed the university to save face. The resulting agreement led to the sit-in’s end. The accord promised the creation of a new committee, one headed by an economics professor, Lawrence Katz, and that included two union workers and two PSLM members, to study and make recommendations regarding the economic wellbeing of Harvard’s lowest-paid workers. The University also pledged to begin negotiations with the union of custodians for a new contract, and a moratorium on the outsourcing of Harvard positions (among other concessions).

The Katz Committee, as it came to be known, released its report in December 2001. While it did not back a living wage tied to inflation (and thus regular increases), it did recommend a one-time wage increase to $11.35 for the University’s lowest-paid workers and a parity policy to ensure that Harvard did not pay subcontracted workers less than what they paid those they directly employed. Writing in 2003, Greg Halpern estimated that the resulting changes in wages led to an annual redistribution of $3,738,000 from Harvard to more than one thousand employees.

Designed and built between 1718 and 1720, Massachusetts Hall has been the target of student activists over the last several decades. In 1972, for instance, Black students associated with the Pan-African Liberation Committee occupied offices in the building to protest the refusal of the Harvard Corporation (the University’s most powerful governing board) to sell its stock in Gulf Oil in light of the company’s involvement in Angola, at the time still a Portuguese colony. The students also demanded that Harvard issue “a public statement that it will not be involved in racist imperialist adventures in the future.” And during the Twenty-Teens students blockaded and occupied the building on various occasions to pressure the University to divest from fossil-fuel companies.

The second oldest, still-surviving academic building in the United States, Massachusetts Hall housed hundreds of George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War. Today, offices of Harvard’s top administrators occupy most of the first three floors; first-year students reside on the fourth.

Massachusetts Hall. Photo by Daderot, March 31, 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Getting there:

Red Line to Harvard Station.

To learn more:

Victoria Baena, “A Decade Ago, Another Occupation,” The Harvard Crimson, December 1, 2011.

Robert Decherd, The CRIMSON Staff, and Daniel Swanson, “Black Students Seize Mass Hall,” The Harvard Crimson, April 20, 1972.

Shin Eu-jung, Verita$: Harvard’s Hidden History, Oakland: PM Press, 2015.

Greg Halpern, Harvard Works Because We Do, New York: The Quantuck Lane Press, 2003.

Benjamin McKean, “The Beginning of the End,” The Harvard Crimson, May 9, 2001.

Rachel Traughber, “A College, 98 Feet Long,” The Harvard Gazette, May 4, 2018.

Our Lady of Presentation School/The Presentation School Foundation Community Center

640 Washington Street, Brighton

Eighth-grade graduating class, 1950, Our Lady of the Presentation School. Source: Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston, via Digital Commonwealth.

Graduation ceremonies for Our Lady of Presentation School normally took place inside the Catholic elementary school. On June 9, 2005, however, the one for the kindergarten was held across the street in Brighton’s Oak Square Common. The ceremony was one of both celebration and protest—protest against the Archdiocese of Boston’s abrupt closure of the school the previous day. The Archdiocese had made the move out of fear that parents would occupy the building in order to prevent the shutting down of the school, scheduled for two days later.

The early 2000s was a challenging time for the Catholic Church in Boston.  Growing out-migration of Catholics of European descent to Boston’s suburbs and broader changes in churchgoing among Catholics (decades-long processes) brought about a dramatic decline in church attendance within the city. These factors, combined with the revelations of sexual abuse in 2002, led to a sharp decrease in financial support for the Church from area Catholics. Meanwhile, the sexual abuse scandal itself exacted high financial costs: About two years after the revelations, the Archdiocese of Boston had paid $85 million in a settlement involving 500 victims.* In this context, the Archdiocese announced in mid-2004 that it would close 82 parishes (out of a total of 357) in the coming months. It also announced the closure of Our Lady of Presentation School.

Given the strong identification of Boston’s Catholics with their parishes and the associated institutions, parishioners often resisted the closures, and, in some instances, successfully. In the case of Our Lady of Presentation, parents, students and community members occupied and camped out in Oak Square in protest of the lockout, attracting national and international media attention and strong support across Boston in the process. Eventually, in 2006, the Archdiocese agreed to sell the property to the Presentation School Foundation, an organization of parents and community members.

Today, the former school is the home of the multi-service Presentation School Foundation Community Center, which opened in 2012. It houses a range of non-profit organizations that serve children, families, and recent immigrants.

The Presentation School Foundation Community Center, undated. Source: The Presentation School Foundation Community Center website.

Getting there:

Various MBTA bus lines pass through Oak Square.

To learn more:

“A Community Center Rises from A Closed Catholic School,” WBUR, May 18, 2012.

Brian MacQuarrie, “Once Embattled Brighton School Reborn as Community Center,” The Boston Globe, May 11, 2012.

Michael Paulson, “Catholic School Lockout Angers Parents, Officials,” The Boston Globe, June 10, 2005.

John C. Seitz, No Closure: Catholic Practice and Boston’s Parish Shutdowns, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.

“History,” Presentation School Foundation Community Center website.

* See also the entry on the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Harmony Grove

156 and 166 Franklin Street, Framingham

Established in 1846, Harmony Grove was a commercial pleasure park. It had a lawn area for games, a dancing pavilion, and, as it sat on the edge of Farm Pond, a boathouse. It also had an amphitheater of sorts, in a natural depression, with benches that sat about a thousand people and a platform below.

Undated illustration of Harmony Grove. Source: Historic Framingham blog.

Soon after Harmony Grove’s opening, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society began to hold an annual Fourth of July rally at the roughly 4-acre venue. It was a time of greatly heightened tensions surrounding the question of slavery and growing opposition, particularly in states such as Massachusetts, to what South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun first referred to as “the peculiar institution.” The year 1850 saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, for example; in 1852, John P. Jewett & Company*, a publisher in Downtown Boston, released Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and, in 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Poster for the July 4, 1954 gathering. Source: Massachusetts Historical Society.

In this charged context, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society held its most well-known and controversial gathering at Harmony Grove on July 4, 1854. Hundreds of abolitionists—one newspaper estimated the crowd at 2,000—gathered at the site. Decorating the platform was an upside-down U.S. flag bordered in black, a banner that showed Massachusetts chained to Virginia, and anti-slavery slogans. Speakers included Lucy Stone, a not-yet-famous Henry David Thoreau (Walden came out the next month), and Sojourner Truth, who warned the crowd that God “would yet execute his judgments upon the white people for their oppression and cruelty.”

William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator newspaper, opened the event. He called the U.S. Constitution “the source and parent of all the other atrocities—a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.” He ended his speech by burning a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law as well as one of the Constitution, leading to many cheers but some boos as well from those in attendance.

Political gatherings continued at Harmony Grove for a decade following the end of the Civil War, but with a growing focus on women’s suffrage and temperance. In the 1870s, with the spread of railroads to new destinations, the popularity of Harmony Grove declined, leading to its closure in 1875. By the 1890s, the land was sub-divided into dozens of housing lots.

Plaque at 156 Franklin Street. Source: Historic Framingham blog.

Today, the area that was once Harmony Grove is populated by houses and commercial buildings. At 156 Franklin Street, at the corner with Henry Street, there is a small marker with a plaque, placed there by the Framingham Historical Society in 1913, commemorating Harmony Grove. On the other side of Henry Street, at 166 Franklin, there is a Harmony Grove Welcome Arch. Dedicated on September 6, 2020, the arch sits on the front lawn of a private home. The result of a collaboration between Downtown Framingham Inc. and student organizations at Framingham High School and Framingham State University, the arch, which visitors are welcome to approach, contains sketches of historical scenes and of the landscape associated with Harmony Grove.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail from South Station to Framingham. 0.5 mile (nine-minute) walk.

To learn more:

“Downtown Framingham Inc. Plans to Install Harmony Grove Welcome Arch,” Framingham SOURCE, February 22, 2020.

Framingham History Center, “A Brief History of Framingham’s Harmony Grove,” August 27, 2021.

Stephen W. Herring, Framingham: An American Town, Framingham: The Framingham Historical Society and the Framingham Tercentennial Commission, 2000.

Massachusetts Historical Society, “’A Covenant with Death and an Agreement with Hell,’” July 2005        .

*Regarding John P. Jewett & Company, see the site entry in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.

Boston Fish Pier

Seaport Boulevard and D Street, South Boston

Boston Fish Pier, May 2016. Photo by Newton Court. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Constructed in 1911-1913, the Boston Fish Pier has been the focal point of the city’s fish industry for over a century. According to one study, the efficient and sophisticated nature of the Pier made it a model for the world’s fishing industry in the early 1900s. In 1936, 339 million pounds of fresh fish passed through the Boston Fish Pier. By 1975, however, the amount was 22 million pounds, a manifestation of a dramatic decrease in fish stock due to overfishing, a decline that has intensified since. Massachusetts once had, for example, the world’s richest cod stock. Today, the cod catch is a tiny fraction of what it was.

As a result, the Boston Fish Pier, now owned by the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), has undergone substantial changes in recent decades. Originally focused on the landing and distribution of fresh fish caught in the waters off of Massachusetts, the majority of the fish now processed and sold there arrive from afar. One wholesaler and retailer housed at the Pier reported to The Boston Globe in 2016 that 75 percent of his fish was transported from overseas, arriving in Boston by plane or ship.

The Boston Fish Pier is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located in the Seaport District of South Boston and consists of three buildings, all of which were constructed in 1910-1914; one of them serves as a multipurpose function facility. As of 2020, the pier complex housed 20 commercial fishing boats and 19 seafood-related businesses.

While Massport subsidizes the rents of its tenants, many associated with the pier fear for its future. The key reasons are the lucrative nature of the space the pier occupies in an economically booming Seaport where the fishing business is an outlier and the ever-changing nature of the food industry.

Boston Fish Pier, circa 1910-1930. Public Domain. Source: Arts Department, Boston Public Library, via Digital Commonwealth.

Getting there:

About 1.1 miles (about a 20-minute walk) from South Station (Red Line). The Silver Line bus from South Station passes close by.

To learn more:

David Abel, “A Milestone in the War Over the True State of Cod,” The Boston Globe, April 3, 2017.

Michael Bodley, “Fish Pier’s Seafood Business Evolving with the Industry,” The Boston Globe, June 16, 2016.

William Francis Gavin (Secretary of the Commonwealth), “Boston Fish Pier for Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places” (press release), March 21, 2017.

Hanna Krueger, “The Last of the Seafaring Life, at the Boston Fish Pier,” The Boston Globe, February 15, 2020.

Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Mintz Associates, Boston Fish Pier Feasibility Study, Boston: Mintz Associates, Sept. 15, 1976.

Hyae In Park, Alex Poniatowski, Meryl Prendergast, and Calli Remillard, “Boston’s Last Fishing Pier,” Northeastern University School of Journalism, 2019.

Alana Semuels, Cape Cod’s Namesake Fish Population Rapidly Disappearing, Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2014.

Brown Square

Pleasant Street (between Green St. and Titcomb St.), Newburyport

Postcard of Brown Square, 1913. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

On May 31, 1836, the Essex County Antislavery Society held its first meeting at Brown Square. Among the speakers was the famed poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. Established in 1802, the square was named after Moses Brown (1742-1827), the land’s donor, and, at the time, Newburyport’s second wealthiest individual and largest property owner.

Brown Square features an imposing statue of Newburyport’s most famous son: William Lloyd Garrison. On the base of the statue, which was erected in 1893, are engraved some of his most famous, hard-hitting words. The monument is located very close to what was the North Church, whose pastor, in 1830, invited Garrison to deliver a lecture about slavery. Many in the audience so disliked what the firebrand abolitionist had to say that he was uninvited to speak on a second night.

That the house of worship (the Central Congregational Church now occupies the site) at the western end of Brown Square treated Garrison poorly is related in some ways to the square’s namesake. Moses Brown was a merchant and shipbuilder, and an investor in the sugar, rum, and molasses trade. As such, like many in Newburyport, his wellbeing was tied to slavery. As an informational panel on the green notes, “Brown became wealthy and helped the development of Newburyport based on his profits from the ‘Triangle Trade,’ the economic engine that drove much of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In addition to Newburyport’s City Hall, various commercial establishments sit along the perimeter of Brown Square, including the Garrison Inn, a small hotel. Originally known as the Brown Square House, it was built (or commissioned) by Moses Brown.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail from North Station to Newburyport. Brown Square is 1.3 miles away (about a 26-minute walk). You can traverse most of the distance via the Clipper City Rail Trail, which connects the Commuter Rail station to Newburyport’s Harborwalk, along the city’s waterfront.

To learn more:

Susan M. Harvey, Slavery in Massachusetts: A descendent of early settlers investigates the connections in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Master’s Thesis, Department of History, Fitchburg State University, June 2011.

Dyke Hendrickson, “The Economics of Slavery,” Daily News (Newburyport), April 14, 2014.