Friday, January 13, 2012

Boston Honors its Women

I'm doing something different today. An earlier entry featured bygone Boston high schools. This one looks at schools named after women. In each case, a local woman was chosen, and each woman was active in advocating for education in Boston. There was a lot of catching up to do, so as immigrant children filled the school system and new building were built, quite a few were named for women.

Born in 1803, Sophia Dana Ripley was from a prominent Boston family, and married George Ripley, the couple becoming involved in Transcendentalism and Brook Farm, where she ran the primary school. Sophia started life as a schoolteacher, attended Margaret Fuller's 'conversations,' but lost enthusiasm for the Fourier-styled social arrangements, and converted to Catholicism in 1846.

Pauline Agassiz was the daughter of Louis Agassiz, Swiss scientist and leading light at Harvard University. She married Qunicy Adams Shaw, who came from great wealth and managed to add to it with the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company. Pauline Agassiz Shaw spent her life in philanthropic endeavors, including bankrolling the first kindergartens in Boston, which she was able to get the city of Boston to take over. I've already written/transcribed a blog post on her at my Jamaica Plain blog - for more, please read here.

All I can find for Martha A. Baker is an army nurse who served during the Civil War.

This remarkable building in Roxbury was built as a home called Abbotsford in 1872 for Aaron Davis Williams Jr.. Although I can't find the reference online now, I know that the property was taken over by the city and used as a school for wayward boys. M(ary) Gertrude Govind worked in the Boston school system, and I believe that she ran the school, although I need to get a reference for this. Elma Lewis took over the property and it is now the Museum of Afro-American Art.

Julia Ward Howe should need no introduction - her Battle Hymn of the Republic is just one of her claims to fame.

Sarah J. Baker was the principal of the Dillaway school for girls in Roxbury.

I find references in the Boston Globe archives to a Mrs Emily A. Fifield being active in the Boston schools between at least 1888 and 1896. She served on a committee for the school board in 1888.

Ellen H. Swallow Richards was the first woman admitted to MIT, the first woman graduate and instructor, and a leading and pioneering environmental chemist of her day. She and her husband lived on Eliot street in Jamaica Plain, and her story is well covered at the JP Historical Society web site.

Another of Boston's Transcendentalists, Elizabeth Peabody opened a bookstore at her home, where Margaret Fuller's 'conversations' were held. She also led the movement, assisted by Pauline Agassiz Shaw, so establish kindergartens in this country.

Miss Abbey W. May was one of four women elected to the Boston School Board in 1874. The matter had to to through the courts before they could be accepted in office, and in time their election was certified.

Harriet Hollis Baldwin was born in the town of Brighton in 1839. She was active in church and women's groups, and became an advocate for education when the town was annexed to Boston. She also advocated for the Horace Mann school for the deaf.


  1. The Richards closed in the late 70's, early 80's and was converted to condominiums. It was a walk to school that was closed with dropping enrollment in the neighborhood owing to busing. I went to Kindergarten in 1974-1975 in the first floor classroom on the extreme righthand site in the photo.

  2. I went to the Ripley and knew it as the Sophia W. Ripley, so I was surprised to see she was born Sophia Dana Ripley. In the aftermath of how integration was managed, the city sold the school to a developer who demolished the building and built condos. The condos didn't attract families with children, as there was no longer a neighborhood school, changing the character of the neighborhood further. They don't build school buildings like that anymore. It was quite a beautiful building inside and out.

  3. Thanks for this History lesson.

  4. I went to the Sarah J. Baker kindergarten thru' 6th grade in the late 40's to mid-fifties. At times we went en masse via foot over to the Julia Ward Howe for puppet shows, concerts, etc. which was always a treat. It's too bad kids today don't have the opportunity to be kids as we did back in the day.