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.
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.
Red Lines to Charles/MGH Station. 0.1-mile (3-minute) walk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’”
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.
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.
“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.”
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 TheJewish 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.
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.
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.
*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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
The former site of the Allston Golf Club, Braves Field, the home of the National League’s Boston Braves was the largest baseball stadium in the country when it opened in August 1915. Prior to then, the Braves had played, since the team’s founding in 1871, at the South End Grounds
While the neighboring American League Boston Red Sox—the last team in baseball to field a Black player—were long marked by racism, the Braves, by comparison, were a progressive team. One year after the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first major league team to field a Black player (Jackie Robinson), the Braves became the fifth one to do so when they debuted Sam “Jet” Jethroe in 1950. By 1952, the Braves’ last year in the city (they moved to Milwaukee), Boston’s National League team had three Black players on its roster. (Today, the team is located in Atlanta, where it maintains its racially offensive name, one first adopted in 1912.)
Boston University (BU) purchased Braves Field for $430,000 in 1953. Today it is the site of a university stadium called Nickerson Field, where BU’s men’s and women’s lacrosse and soccer teams play. The offices of the BU police department are in the original building that housed the Braves’ administrative offices. In the entry area (close to Braves Field Way), in back of the stadium, a small monument marks the site of what was Braves Field.
Green Line, B Branch to the Babcock Street stop. 0.4 mile (four-minute) walk.
To learn more:
Howard Bryant, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, Boston: Beacon Press, 2002.
13 Frisbie Place, Cambridge, and 95 North Harvard Street, Allston
Beginning in 1941, research on incendiary weapons development took place in the Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge. The third-floor lab—”a glass-walled room-within-a-room” in the words of historian Robert Neer—was under the direction of Dr. Louis Fieser, a professor of organic chemistry. An official, top-secret project of the U.S. Department of War, Fieser’s work was listed as “Anonymous Research No. 4” in Harvard’s records.
The research was the offspring of what was a marriage of sorts between academia, the U.S. military, and weapons manufacturers brought about by the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC). Established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, the NDRC sought to enhance research on, and development of, military weaponry by building linkages between civilian researchers, the Pentagon, and industry. It was the brainchild of Vannever Bush, one of the founders of Raytheon (today Raytheon Technologies headquartered in Waltham*) and an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bush designated James Bryant Conant, the president of Harvard, as the head of “Division B,” which was responsible for bombs, fuels, gases, and chemical problems.
Soon after the NDRC’s founding, Harvard assigned Fieser two rooms in the basement of the Converse Chemistry Laboratory (at 12 Oxford Street) to conduct research on explosives. As the research of Fieser and his team progressed, it shifted from poison gas to incendiary gels, requiring a move to the nearby Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory.
On July 4, 1942, Fieser and his fellow researchers brought the fruits of their labor to the Harvard soccer field, near the university tennis courts and the Harvard Business School, across the Charles River in the Boston neighborhood of Allston. University workers had prepared the field, digging a circle 60 feet in diameter, which firefighters from the City of Cambridge proceeded to fill with water. Fieser and others then carefully placed a 70-pound bomb containing white phosphorous and 45 pounds of jellied gasoline on a metal stand in the middle of the shallow pond. After Fieser flipped a switch, “a spectacular, billowing, 2,100-degree-Fahrenheit cloud arose over the field,” writes Neer. “Napalm bombs had arrived in the world.”
The success of the test reflected how Fieser and his team had invented not only napalm, but a way to scatter the gruesome substance over a wide area, while igniting it. Liquid and gel incendiary weapons have a long, even ancient, history. What makes napalm an especially effective (and terrifying) weapon is that it is sticky and it burns at an extremely high temperature.
The U.S. military used napalm to horrific effect in Japan during World War II and in the U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam. The Pentagon also used the weapon during its invasion of Iraq in 2003. For such reasons, napalm is symbolic for many of the horrors of war and of U.S. military power in particular.
The Wolcott Gibbs Laboratory was constructed in 1911-1912. A couple of weeks before it opened, The Harvard Crimson described the building as “the most perfectly planned and equipped physical-chemical laboratory in the world.” Harvard demolished the facility in 1999 to allow for the construction of the Bauer Life Sciences Building, which now stands on the site.
As for the Harvard soccer field, it was renovated and named Ohiri Field in 1983. (It is unclear if Ohiri Field sits on the exact same site as the old soccer field, but, most likely, at the very least, it overlaps with it.) Until 2010, Ohiri Field served as the primary home field for the Harvard men’s and women’s soccer teams. Since the opening of a new stadium called Jordan Field, Ohiri Field has served as the secondary home for the two teams.
Red Line to Harvard station. Enter Frisbie Place (a walkway that is diagonally across from where Quincy Street intersects Kirkland ) at Kirkland Street. The part of Frisbie Place where Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory once stood is a now a combination of a courtyard and, at its northern end, the Bauer Life Sciences Building (0.4 miles, about an 8-minute walk.) From there, Ohiri Field is a one-mile (approximately 20-minute) walk. MBTA buses from Harvard Square also pass in front of Ohiri Field.
First established in 1826 as an informal group, what is today the Somerset Club became formalized as the Beacon Club sometime thereafter. In 1851, the club purchased a house at the corner of Beacon and Somerset Streets to serve as its home. Renamed the Somerset Club the following year, it is the oldest of Boston’s private clubs.
In the years surrounding the Civil War, political tensions permeated the Somerset as many of its members were “Copperheads”—Democrats strongly opposed to abolitionism, the war and President Abraham Lincoln. This led to one of its members on the other side of the political divide to found the Union Club nearby (on 8 Park Street) in 1863.
Reflecting the Harvard ties of many elite social clubs, the Somerset is now located in what was the mansion of David Sears (Harvard class of 1807). The club purchased the property in 1871.
The Harvard Crimson newspaper has characterized the Somerset as “traditionally . . . the haughtiest and most prestigious of clubs.” One does not to ask to join the Somerset, but rather one is asked. The club is so secretive that one needs to be a member to access its website.
Long associated with Boston Brahmins and WASPs—its members have included powerful Yankee politicians and businesspeople and deans from the area’s elite institutions of higher learning—the Somerset did not admit women until the late 1980s. While its membership still reflects “old money” and proper “pedigree,” the Somerset, like Boston’s private social clubs as a whole, is no longer at the center of the area’s pyramid of power. Given large political-economic shifts over the last several decades and the internationalization of Boston’s economy, the Somerset’s status is somewhat a relic of the past.
Red or Green Line to Park Street Station. 0.3 mile (seven-minute) walk.
During the 1920s, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, under the leadership of Cardinal William Henry O’Connell, a man known for his highly elitist ways, moved its seat of power from the South End to a semi-suburban area of Brighton. Following Boston College’s relocation to Chestnut Hill—an affluent “village” comprised of parts of Boston, Brookline, and Newton—O’Connell set up shop at the intersection of Lake Street and Commonwealth Avenue, across from the BC campus, on the land of St. John’s Seminary.*
The cardinal’s residence, a three-story, ornate and opulent Italian Renaissance-style palazzo—one financed to a large degree from a bequest from the family of Benjamin F. Keith, a vaudeville magnate—was the centerpiece of the Archdiocese’s “Little Rome.” According to David Quigley, a historian at Boston College, the residence was “a visible symbol of the imperial archdiocese in the early 20th century, and then, during the very difficult years in 2002 and 2003 [referring to the revelations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy], it was a site of daily protest and picketing.”
In 2004, the Archdiocese, in dire need of funds to pay restitution to the victims of the sexual abuse, agreed to sell to Boston College 43 acres of land and numerous buildings, including the cardinal’s residence, for $99.4 million. Three years later, it sold another 20 acres and three additional buildings, one of which was the chancery, the headquarters of the Archdiocese (today the home of Boston College’s alumni center), for $65 million.
The current cardinal lives in a modest rectory attached to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End.* Meanwhile, the offices of the Archdiocese are now located in Braintree, a South Shore town that has one of the Boston area’s greatest concentrations of residents of Irish descent. The move mimics the migration of many “old” Boston Catholics (those of Irish and Italian descent) to the suburbs. It also reflects a marked decrease in the Church’s political influence in the City of Boston in recent decades. As for the former home of all the Archdiocese of Boston’s cardinals in the 20th century, it is today Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art.
Green Line, B Branch, to Boston College station.
To learn more:
Thomas H. O’Connor, Boston Catholics: A History of the Church and Its People, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.