Women in Letters

Boston has long been a hub for women writers, thinkers, and activists. The city saw poet Phillis Wheatley writing in the Revolutionary period, and later was home to abolitionists and suffragettes alike, including Louisa May Alcott, Julia Ward Howe, Susan Paul, Maria Stewart, and Lucy Stone. Boston’s women writers were by turns book designers, critics, editors, publishers, reporters, and transcendentalists. They confronted and broke barriers in higher education, studying at Smith (Sylvia Plath), Mount Holyoke (Lucy Stone, the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a bachelor’s degree), and in Harvard’s library (Margaret Fuller, the first woman in history to do so). Paving the way for future generations of writers and thinkers, they raised their voices in support of positive social change, justice, and one another. Witness and participate in their stories by visiting the sites below.

1
Margaret Fuller Residence
486 Washington Street

Fuller (1810-1850) was a 19th century critic and pioneering female reporter for the New York Tribune. Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, she helped establish the American transcendentalism movement.

2
Old South Meeting House
310 Washington Street

Members of Old South’s congregation included Samuel Adams and the young Benjamin Franklin and his family. Phillis Wheatley joined the church in 1771. Although she was an African-born slave, she became one of the best-known poets in pre-nineteenth century America.

3
The Granary Burying Ground
Tremont Street between School and Park Streets

Burial site of the parents of Benjamin Franklin, victims of the Boston Massacre, poet Phillis Wheatley’s master, and the woman once believed to be the original Mother Goose.

4
Women’s Journal
3-5 Park Street

This journal was published by women’s rights advocate and abolitionist Lucy Stone.

5
Maria Stewart and David Walker
81 Joy Street

Stewart was a black abolitionist whose speeches were the first publicly delivered talks by an American woman on politics and women’s rights. Walker, in 1829, published “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” which decried slavery and racial hatred.

6
Lois Lowry Residence
39 Hancock Street

Lowry (1937-) is the award-winning author of The Giver (1993), the first YA dystopian novel, and Number the Stars (1990) about the escape of a Jewish family in WWII Europe.

9
Sarah Wyman Whitman Residence
77 Mount Vernon Street

Designed covers for famous authors at Houghton Mifflin. Also the site of an annual competition dinner between Little Brown, Houghton Mifflin and the Atlantic Monthly Press for who sold the most books in the previous year in five categories.

10
Susan Paul Residence
36 West Cedar Street

Paul (1809–1841) was an African-American abolitionist, a primary school teacher and member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. In 1835 year she wrote the first biography of an African American published in the United States: Memoir of James Jackson.

14
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Residence
9 Willow Street

American writer Sylvia Plath (1932–1963) moved here with her husband, English poet Ted Hughes (1930–1998), after leaving Northampton, MA. in 1958. By the time she took her own life at age of 30, she already had a following for her poetry and her only published novel, The Bell Jar.

16
Julia Ward Howe
241 Beacon Street

A poet and writer, Howe (1819–1910) wrote the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She also was an active abolitionist and, following the Civil War, became a leader in the Woman’s Suffrage movement.

17
Boston Woman’s Memorial
Commonwealth Avenue Mall between Fairfield and Gloucester Streets

Sculpture of Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley. Adams’s important letters were published after her death; Stone was first woman in Massachusetts to earn a bachelor’s degree and also edited important publications; Wheatley was first African American poet to publish in the Colonies.