Women’s History – Still Going Strong

March 8, 2011

-By Penny Cherubino

This mural, depicting “Nine Notable Women of Boston,” is on display in the lobby of the Boston Public Library’s Johnson Building on Boylston Street.

March is Women’s History Month and this year’s theme is “Our History is Our Strength.” It’s a good time to look at some of the places in the Back Bay that are part of that history.

The Boston Women’s Heritage Trail has tours of the neighborhood. These routes focus on the women who have lived here, and on the institutions that have made a difference in the lives of women.

Women’s Educational and Industrial Union

What began in 1877 as a shop on Boylston Street, where women could sell handcrafted items and foodstuffs, became a powerful institution with an astonishing set of accomplishments.

Step-by-step, this organization provided social supports that we take for granted today. For example, within a year of its founding, the Union added legal aid to protect the rights of poor women and children

Training programs were added, giving women the skills needed for the jobs that were available. In 1905, the group established a retail training program. In 1970, a program was added to become a licensed day care provider. In 1992, the Union started training employment advisors to help other job seekers. And, they’ve trained the handicapped since 1889.

In 2006, the Union merged with Crittenton Inc. to become Crittenton Women’s Union whose mission is, to transform, “…the course of low-income women’s lives so that they can attain economic independence and create better futures for themselves and their families.”

College Club

The College Club on Commonwealth Avenue is the oldest club of its kind in America and is still hosting events for its membership and housing visitors to Boston. In 1890, a group of nineteen woman gathered to envision a place where they could, “enjoy sociability and companionship” with other college women

Today, the tradition continues. “We learn at lectures, engage in discussion at book clubs, stage art exhibits and entertain friends in our Victorian brownstone.  We network to further our career goals. We connect with neighbors and make new friends,” says the website.


The YWCA on Clarendon Street was founded in 1866 and was the first in the nation. At the time, the mission was to “guide and guard the young rural women coming to the city to work.” The Y calls itself an organization of firsts. They built Boston’s first gymnasium to provide health and fitness services for women. They were one of the first organizations to advocate for racial justice and social equality.

Today, they offer fitness programs, affordable housing, and training in important issues like financial literacy, girls health, women’s health, critical thinking about media, and standing up to racism.

Junior League Of Boston

There was a Boston tradition of an “Invitation Only” sewing circle to be formed from each season’s debutantes. In 1906, this group decided to do more and formed the Junior League to educate its members about social issues.


A lecture series was begun. Committees were formed. Volunteers began serving the community, raising funds for area charities, and inducting young women into a lifetime of social engagement. Today, from their Newbury Street offices, the Junior League operates a busy calendar of training and events, “promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.”



Four Among Many


These are just four stops in a tour of women’s history in the Back Bay. The next time you’re looking for a route to walk, visit the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail (www.bwht.org) and follow the path of the people and institutions that helped give women the strength they have today.


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