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Women of the Emerald Necklace—Back Bay Fens & Riverway: Part 3

Hermann Grundel

| 22 min read

National Women’s History Month – March 2022 Obstacles and Accomplishments

From Wikipedia & Boston Women’s Heritage Trail 3rd Edition

“We should have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man.” Margaret Fuller (1810 – 1850)

Prior stories
Ellen Henrieta Swallow Richards 11/03/2021 – Part 1
Harriet Lawrence Hemenway 11/09/2021 –  Part 2

Anne Whitney (1821 – 1915) began making portrait busts of family members in about 1855. At the time that Whitney began to study art, women had limited educational opportunities. Unlike male students, women could not take life drawing classes. Visits to art galleries required that sculptures of nude men needed to have the genitalia covered before the women could enter the gallery. Plaster casts of the human form could not be used in co-educational classrooms.

She made a life-size sculpture of Lady Godiva and, during the Civil War, a large sculpture entitled Africa. Both were expressions of her political viewpoints. Africa represented an entire race breaking free of slavery and Lady Godiva represented a heroine relieving the poor of exorbitant taxes.

Whitney moved to Rome in 1867. While there, she vacationed in Europe, including two trips to Munich for further study, including learning foundry techniques for working in bronze. In Rome, she was able to make works using nude male models, where it was not considered improper for a woman.

In 1875, she submitted a model sculpture of Charles Sumner for a blind competition conducted by the Boston Art Committee. She knew Sumner, a senator and abolitionist, through her brother Alexander.  She depicted him seated in a chair, in part because of ancient Greek artist’s practice of portraying prominent people seated to “represent dignity and something of state.” She won the contest, including receiving the prize money, until the judges realized that they had selected a work made by a woman; they thought it would be inappropriate for a woman to sculpt a man’s legs. The judges rejected her offering and selected Thomas Ball’s sculpture. Both the Sumners and the Whitneys were disappointed, but Whitney wrote in a letter, “Bury your grievance; it will take more than the Boston Art committee to quench me.”

From 1876 to 1896, Whitney made a number of portrait sculptures of prominent individuals. Garrison said Whitney’s sculpture, William Lloyd Garrison (1879), was the closest likeness made of him. She depicted, Alice Freeman Palmer President of Wellesley  College; economist Harriet Martineau; and suffragists Frances Willard and Whitney’s cousin Lucy Stone. She also depicted Mary Tileston Hemenway, the famed philanthropist and reformer.  She sculpture of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1892) and the Jennie McGraw Fiske Medallion (1891). 

Throughout her adulthood, she was an advocate for forest conservation, women’s rights, abolition of slavery, and equal educational opportunities for African-Americans. Whitney was an individualist, who lived independently and cut her hair short, which annoyed her Victorian neighbors.

She lived at her home on Mt. Vernon Street until October 1893 when she moved to Beacon Street at the Charlesgate Hotel.

She lived with and shared her life with Abby Adeline Manning (1836–1906), who devoted her life to Whitney. They had what was called a “Boston Marriage”, a term for a long-term relationship between upper-class, educated women, which was generally accepted within the community.

The Leif Eriksson Statue by Anne Whitney is located on Charlesgate East at the Commonwealth Mall

Read more about Anne Whitney
Read more about Boston Marriage

Ellen Cheney Johnson (1829 – 1899), attended the Academy at Francestown, NH. She later became a teacher at Weare, NH.

When she was eighteen she joined a temperance organization. Two years later, she met and married Jesse Johnson and moved to Boston. 

 Her home near the State House in Boston became a meeting place for welfare workers. She founded the New England Women’s Auxiliary Association which in turn led her to an important (Civil War) position in the U.S. Sanitary Commission (Frederick Law Olmsted was General Secretary of the USSC).

During this time Mrs. Johnson would visit numerous correctional facilities and helped poor women around Boston so they could better fend for themselves. Throughout all this, Johnson witnessed the abuse which female prisoners had to endure. At this time, female prisoners were not separated from their male counterparts. Neither were the children they brought in with them, or the ones that were born in jail.

Mrs. Johnson began a crusade for the reform of female treatment in correctional facilities. She and other women gathered at her home and began writing letters to newspapers requesting a separate facility for females. Their letters brought the subject to the legislature. They gathered over 7000 signatures which helped pass the bill for an all-female prison in 1874.

In the meantime, Mrs. Johnson became the leading advocate for the Temporary Asylum of Discharged Female Prisoners in Dedham. The Reformatory Prison for women was finally opened in 1877 in Sherborne. Mrs. Johnson, being one of the five commissioners for the prison, became the superintendent of the prison.

Ellen Cheney Johnson, while running the prison at the turn of the nineteenth century, tried to bridge the approaches of rehabilitation and punishment. As she put it in her own writings, “No lesson is more important than that which teaches respect for the law and dread of its wrath. At the same time, it is a fundamental point in our theory that every criminal can be won by gentleness and patience.”

Mrs. Johnson created programs inside the prison and outside as well to help the women achieve their goals. Johnson developed a system of indenture for house service in houses outside the prison walls. This was all done under sympathetic supervision.

Mrs. Johnson ran the prison for 15 years and was awarded a bronze medal and diploma for her achievements in the prison system by the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893): For evidence of a model management in every detail.  Mrs. Johnson’s reformatory system has been studied thoroughly and received the highest praise from prison experts.

She died suddenly in 1899 while  in London after addressing the International Congress of Women. Ellen Cheney Johnson left money to the city of Boston to build the Johnson Memorial Fountain in memory of her husband, Jesse Cram Johnson (1818 – 1880).

Designed by architect Guy Lowell, this elegant three-part monument incorporated tall pylons, balustrade benches, and horse troughs. It serves as a grand entrance to the Back Bay Fens.

Katharine Lee Bates (1859 –1929) was an American professor and author, chiefly remembered for her anthem “America the Beautiful”, but also for her many books and articles on social reform, on which she was a noted speaker.

Bates enjoyed close links with Wellesley College, where she had graduated with a B.A. (1880), and later became a professor of English literature, helping to launch American literature as an academic speciality, and writing one of the first-ever college textbooks on it.

She never married, possibly because she would have lost tenure if she had. Throughout her long career at Wellesley, she shared a house with her close friend and companion Katharine Coman.  Scholars have assumed that this was a lesbian relationship, though it may have been a case of a platonic ‘ Boston marriage’.

Near the end of the Spanish-American War, she worked as a war correspondent for The New York Times, and strove to reduce widely-circulating negative stereotypes about Spaniards. She contributed regularly to various periodicals (sometimes under the pseudonym James Lincoln).

Bates was also a social activist interested in the struggles of women, workers, people of color, tenement residents, immigrants, and poor people.

She was especially active in attempts to establish the League of Nations. Long an active Republican, Bates broke with the party to endorse Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis in 1924 because of Republican opposition to American participation in the League of Nations. She said: “Though born and bred in the Republican camp, I cannot bear their betrayal of Mr. Wilson and their rejection of the League of Nations, our one hope of peace on earth.” Thinking of herself as a “global citizen,” Bates decried the American policy of isolationism.

The first draft of  “America the Beautiful” was hastily jotted down in a notebook during the summer of 1893, which Bates spent teaching English at Colorado College.Later she remembered:

One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse

Bates had personally experienced sexist prejudice and discrimination, had witnessed the ravages of industrial revolution in both America and Britain, had seen first hand urban poverty and misery, and keenly wished for equality. It was this desire for an all-inclusive egalitarian American community that inspired the poem, which was written during the severe economic depression of 1893. The words to her famous poem first appeared in print in on Independency Day, 1895. Her final expanded version was written in 1913. When a version appeared in her collection America the Beautiful, and Other Poems (1912), a reviewer in the New York Times wrote: “we intend no derogation to Miss Katharine Lee Bates when we say that she is a good minor poet.” On November 11, 1918, a battalion of the 26th Infantry Division (Yankee Division) sang “America the Beautiful” upon hearing the announcement of the Armistice.  The hymn has been sung to several tunes, but the familiar one is by Samuel A. Ward (1847–1903).

The Katharine Lee Bates Memorial Tablet is located on Agassiz Road across from the “Duck House”

Evans Wing, Museum of Fine Arts – On the Fenway

Maria Antoinette Evans (1845 – 1917) widow of Robert Dawson Evans, was a suffragist, philanthropist, art collector and benefactor of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  

In memory of her husband, she funded the construction of the Evans Galleries ($500,000).  In the process the architect Guy Lowell felt that the museum needed a Tapestry Gallery and asked Mrs. Evan if she would fund it, she did, another $500,000 for a total of $1,000,000.  In today’s dollars, about $27,000,000.

She died at her home at 17 Gloucester Street in 1917, leaving the bulk of her art collection to the MFA. Also at the time of her death she was said to be the 12 wealthiest women in America. Mr. Evans had been president of U.S. Rubber Company (now Uniroyal) and was involved in many other business ventures.

The Evans Wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is located on the Fenway across from the Ox Bow.

Read about 17 Gloucester Street, Boston

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 – 1924) was a leading American art collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. She founded the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Gardner possessed an energetic intellectual curiosity and a love of travel. She was a friend of noted artists and writers of the day.

Gardner created much fodder for the gossip columns of the day with her reputation for stylish tastes and unconventional behavior. The Boston society pages called her by many names, including “Belle,” “Donna Isabella,” “Isabella of Boston,” and “Mrs. Jack”. Her surprising appearance at a 1912 Boston Symphony Orchestra concert wearing a white headband emblazoned with “Oh, you Red Sox” was reported at the time to have “almost caused a panic”, and still remains in Boston one of the most talked about of her eccentricities.

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City, the daughter of wealthy linen-merchant David Stewart and Adelia Stewart, grew up in Manhattan. From age five to fifteen she attended a nearby academy for girls where she studied art, music, and dance, as well as French and Italian. Attendance at Grace Church exposed her to religious art, music and ritual. At age 16, she and her family moved to Paris where she was enrolled in a school for American girls; her classmates included members of the wealthy Gardner family of Boston. In 1857 she was taken to Italy and saw collections of Renaissance art arranged in rooms designed to recall historical eras. She said at the time that if she were ever to inherit some money, she would have a similar house for people to visit and enjoy. She returned to New York in 1858.

Shortly after returning, her former classmate Julia Gardner invited her to Boston, where she met Julia’s brother John Lowell “Jack” Gardner.  He was the son of John L. and Catharine E. (Peabody) Gardner, and one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors. They married in Grace Church on April 10, 1860, and then lived in a house that Isabella’s father gave them, at 152 Beacon Street in Boston.

Jack and Isabella had one son, born on June 18, 1863; he died from pneumonia on March 15, 1865. A year later Isabella suffered a miscarriage and was told she could not bear any more children. Gardner became extremely depressed and withdrew from society. On the advice of doctors, she and Jack traveled to Europe in 1867. The couple spent almost a year traveling, visiting Scandinavia and Russia but spending most of their time in Paris. The trip had the desired effect on Isabella’s health and became a turning point in her life. It was on this trip that she began her lifelong habit of keeping scrapbooks of her travels. Upon her return, she began to establish her reputation as a fashionable, high-spirited.

In 1875 Jack’s brother, Joseph P. Gardner, died, leaving three young sons. Jack and Isabella “adopted” and raised the boys. Isabella’s biographer, Morris Carter, wrote that “in her duty to these boys, she was faithful and conscientious”.

In 1874, Isabella and Jack Gardner visited the Middle East, Central Europe and Paris.  Beginning in the late 1880s, they traveled frequently across America, Europe and Asia to discover foreign cultures and expand their knowledge of art around the world.

The earliest works in the Gardners’ collection were accumulated during their trips to Europe especially. In 1891, she started to focus on European fine art after inheriting $1.75 million from her father. The Gardners began to collect in earnest in the late 1890s, rapidly building a world-class collection primarily of paintings and sculpture, but also tapestries, photographs, silver, ceramics and manuscripts, and architectural elements such as doors, stained glass, and mantelpieces.

In the early years of the 20th century, Isabella traveled with friend and Boston architect Edmund March Wheelwright to collect for the Harvard Lampoon Building “Lampoon Castle,” a faux Flemish castle in Harvard Square. Isabella donated many pieces of art to the castle. The value of this collection is uncertain, due to the secret nature of the Lampoon.

Nearly seventy works of art in her collection were  with the help of connoisseur Bernard Berenson.  She purchased some of her collection on her own, but often asked for male colleagues, such as her business partner, to purchase on her behalf as it was uncommon for women to participate in art collecting.

Isabella Stewart Gardner’s favorite foreign destination was Venice, Italy. The Gardners regularly stayed at the Palazzo Barbaro. a major artistic center for a circle of American and English expatriates in Venice, and visited Venice’s artistic treasures,  attended the opera and dined with expatriate artists

By 1896, Isabella and Jack Gardner recognized that their house on Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay, was not sufficient to house their growing collection of art.  After Jack’s sudden death in 1898, Isabella realized their shared dream of building a museum for their treasures. She purchased land for the museum in the marshy Fenway area of Boston, and hired architect Willard T. Sears to build a museum modeled on the Renaissance palaces of Venice. Gardner was deeply involved in every aspect of the design, though, leading Sears to quip that he was merely the structural engineer making Gardner’s design possible. The building completely surrounds a glass-covered garden courtyard (see picture below), the first of its kind in America. Gardner intended the second and third floors to be galleries.

After the building was ready, Gardner spent a year carefully installing her collection according to her personal aesthetic. The eclectic gallery installations, paintings, sculpture, textiles, and furniture from different periods and cultures combine to create a rich, complex and unique narrative.

The museum privately opened on January 1, 1903, with a grand opening celebration featuring a performance by members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a menu that included champagne and doughnuts. It opened to the public months later with a variety of paintings, drawings, furniture and other objects. The museum is still arranged with a variety of textiles, furniture, and paintings floor to ceiling.

In 1919, Isabella Stewart Gardner suffered the first of a series of strokes and died five years later, on July 17, 1924, at the age of 84. She is buried in the Gardner family tomb at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

After Gardner’s death, the fourth floor served as residence for the museum’s director for over sixty years. While alive, Gardner herself would use the fourth floor for her residence.  Six months after Anne Hawley became director (1989), the museum was robbed. There is a $10,000,000 reward for leading to the recovery of the stolen works of art. The art works stolen are worth about $500,000,000.

Her will created an endowment of  $1 million and outlined stipulations for support of the museum, including that the permanent collection not be significantly altered. In keeping with her philanthropic nature, her will also left sizable bequests to other Boston organizations.

A devout Anglo-Catholic, she requested in her will that the Cowley Fathers celebrate an annual Memorial Requiem Mass for the repose of her soul in the museum chapel. This duty is now performed each year on her birthday.

Isabella Stewart Gardner was an intimate patroness of many artists, writers, and musicians. An accomplished traveler and shrewd collector, she was a leading figure in American social and cultural life. In Boston they called her the “Queen of the Back Bay.” The site of her former home, at 152 Beacon Street was demolished in 1904. She requested the house number 152, never be used again.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Fenway Court)
is located on the Fenway at Evans Way

Emmanuel College is a private coeducational Roman Catholic liberal arts college in Boston. The college was founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur as the first women’s Catholic college in New England in 1919.  Sister Janet Eisner has been the college president since 1979, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur a Catholic institute of religious sisters, founded to provide education to the poor.

In 1804 the institute was founded in Amiens, France, but the opposition of the local bishop to missions outside his diocese led to the moving of headquarters to Namur, Belgium, in 1809 (then occupied by Napoleon), from which it spread to become a worldwide organization. The Sisters now have foundations in five continents and in 20 countries.

Founders were St. Julie Billiart and Marie-Louise-Françoise Blin de Bourdon, Countess of Gézaincourt  (she was from the old nobility of France), whose name as a Sister was Mother St. Joseph. Mlle  Blin  Blin de Bourdon, who had received spiritual guidance from Julie for many years, defrayed the immediate expenses of founding the Congregation.

At Amiens, August 5, 1803, they took a house in Rue Neuve. In the chapel of this house, at Mass February 2, 1804, the two foundresses and their postulant, Catherine Duchatel of Reims, made or renewed their vow of chastity, to which they added that of devoting themselves to the Christan education of girls.

The first regular schools of the Sisters were opened in August 1806, with a rush of students. The urgent need of Christian education among all classes of society in France at the time, led the foundresses to modify their original plan of teaching only the poor and to open schools for the children of the rich also. A unique feature of St. Julie’s educational system was to use revenue from the Institute’s academies to defray expenses at the free schools.

Mother St. Joseph Blin de Bourdon, the co-foundress, was elected Superior General succeeding Saint Julie. During her generalate the institute passed through the most critical period of its existence, due to the persecution of religious institutes by William of Orange-Nassau, King of the Netherlands. Some of the measures adopted to harass and destroy all teaching institutes were to compel them to remain in status quo, to hold diplomas obtained only after rigid examinations in Dutch and French by state officials, and to furnish lengthy accounts regarding convents, schools, finances, and subjects. But Mother St. Joseph’s tact and zeal for souls saved the institute. During his tour in 1829, King William visited the establishment at Namur and was so pleased that he gave the Mother General Dutch citizenship.  The Revolution of 1830 and the assumption of the crown of Belgium by Leopold of Saxe-Gotha had put an end to petty persecutions of religious.

St. Joseph Mainy,  (1817 -1888), fifth superior-general, the processes for the canonization of Mother Julie and Mother St. Joseph were begun in 1881; twenty houses of the institute were established  in Belgium, England, and America.

In 1840 the first foundation in America was made at Cincinnati, Ohio.  Peace and justice work has increasingly become a part of the sisters’ efforts.

Emmanuel College is located on the Fenway at Brookline Avenue.

Lucy Wheelock (1857 – 1946) was an American early childhood education pioneer within the American kindergarten movement. She began her career by teaching the kindergarten program at Chauncy Hall School (1879–89). Wheelock was the founder and head of Wheelock Kindergarten Training School, which later became Wheelock College, and is now Boston University’s College of Education, BU Wheelock.  She wrote, lectured, and translated on subjects related to education.

Wheelock graduated in 1874 from the public high school in Reading , Massachusetts (Just like me, in 1960).

In preparation for entry to Wellesley College, she studied at Chauncy-Hall School, where she became an excellent classical and German scholar, and a writer. However, she was drawn towards the education of very young children according to the kindergarten system, and abandoned her plans for Wellesley. Instead, she took a thorough course of instruction at the Kindergarten Training School and receiving her diploma in 1879.  She continued her studies in Europe.

Wheelock taught in the recently established kindergarten of the Chauncy-Hall School, for about 10 years. Her work made her a successful exponent and advocate of the system of Friedrich Frobel (German Educator), which she was often called upon to expound before educational institutions and conventions. In 1888, she was the founded and the head of Wheelock Kindergarten Training School. It became Wheelock College in 1939. She served as president of the International Kindergarten Union (1895–1899); and was the chair of its Committee of Nineteen (1905–1909).

BU Wheelock Fenway Campus (Wheelock College) is located on the Riverway

Read more about Lucy Wheelock
Read more about the Committee of Nineteen

Mary Pickard Winsor (1860 – 1950) grew up in Winchester and attended Winchester private schools, starting in her own mother’s. She went on to Miss Ireland’s in Boston for college preparation.

After one year at Smith College 1879-1880, she left to take over her mother’s school in Winchester. It was while she was running the school for 20 boys and girls that her cousin asked her to start a six-month school in Boston, on Beacon Hill, for eight little girls, 8-10 years old. At the end of the second year, Mary Winsor took over the complete management of the school, and it soon became a nine-months’ school called Miss Winsor’s School.

In 1908 a group of Boston parents formed a corporation to establish a new school for girls. They bought land in the Longwood (Riverway) area, commissioned the school building and asked Miss Winsor to serve as its head. The incorporators wished to name the school for her. She resisted the idea until her alumnae and students insisted that it be the Winsor School. She was very involved with the details of building and furnishing the new school.  She agreed with Harvard President Charles Eliot’s suggestion of a school motto: “Sound Mind Sound Body”.

In the fall of 1910 the Winsor School opened with 225 students, the tuition ranged from $225 to $325. She asked the incorporators to “use as the name of her office the word ‘director’ instead of ‘principal’ ”. She made a commitment to high academic standards and hoped the school would produce “competent, responsible, generous-minded women”. Her bold, almost revolutionary thinking is reflected in her message to graduates in the 1915 edition Directory where she wrote “if women are in these days to be self-respecting they must also have it within their power to be self-supporting”.

The School flourished. In the early 1920s the student body was quite stable at 264 with a faculty of about 40. Miss Winsor was a vivid presence, at once revered and somewhat intimidating.

Miss Winsor retired in March of 1922, turning the directorship over to Miss Katharine Lord. “ I do not like to go”, she wrote the trustees. “My relation to the School has been so happy… that our parting will be hard, but the school is in good running order… and I believe that I shall not be missed except by old friends”.

In the years after her retirement in a rare degree she was still a beloved part of the life of the school, coming to all school occasions, sharing her birthday (“Founder’s Day” on Halloween) with the school. She died September 1, 1950, at her home in Newton.

The Wall Street Journal identified it (Winsor School) as one of the world’s top 50 schools for its success in preparing students to enter top American universities.  Niche ranked it as the best all-girls school in the United States, the 15th best private school in the country, and the 2nd best high school in (Boston Latin School is First) in the Boston area.

The Winsor School is located on the Riverway at Short Street