Boston Marks Women's Path through History Walking Tours Highlight a Notable but Once-Neglected Group

Article excerpt

THE only two statues of women in downtown Boston stand on the State House lawn. Both women were white, from the Colonial period, and their stories are tragic: Anne Hutchinson was banished from the city in 1638 for heresy. She often invited friends to discuss Sunday sermons, an activity seen as a threat to the community.

Mary Dyer, Anne's friend, preached the Quaker faith - outlawed in the city at that time. In 1660, she was hanged on Boston Common.

The other hundreds of historical monuments, sites, and walks that crisscross Boston focus mostly on the accomplishments of famous men.

But now more tourists and residents are learning about the scores of white, black, and other minority women who made important contributions to society but have been forgotten or neglected by the historical record.

They are discovering these women through the Boston Women's Heritage Trail, several walks in different sections of the city that introduce the women in their wide variety of settings, occupations, and backgrounds.

"People get really excited about these trails," says Mary Smoyer, executive secretary of the Boston Women's Heritage Trail. "We tell them they have to go back to their city and do one."

The Boston Women's Heritage Trail grew out of a project in the Boston Public Schools in 1989. The United States Department of Education had given the schools a grant to develop a curriculum that would focus on a number of notable women in the city's history. The teachers and students in the project also designed a walking tour of historical women's sites. But the group found many more women than they could include on one trail or in one curriculum, Ms. Smoyer says. So she and several others at the BostonWomen's Heritage Trail published a booklet of four walks.

Only a handful of published guides to women's history trails exist, says Barbara Westmoreland, author of an upcoming book on women's trails in New England and upstate New York. These include one on the Oregon Trail called "Women's Voices From the Oregon Trail: The Times That Tried Women's Souls," by Susan Butruille (Tamarack Press, 1992). Ms. Butruille also published a women's history trail in Portland, Ore. In Washington, a group called the Feminist Institute offers guided tours of radical and modern feminist sites.

But a movement to preserve and mark women's historical sites is under way throughout the country, Ms. Westmoreland says.

"There's really a deep interest," she says: "People are starved" for access to women's history.

The growing interest in women's history is phenomenal, says Mary Ruthsdotter, projects director of the National Women's History Project in Windsor, Calif., which initiated the concept of women's history week. …