Boston Parks celebrate Women’s History Month
We're marking Women’s History Month by lifting up the stories behind the names of some of your favorite neighborhood parks. Honor their legacy by visiting these public spaces with renewed understanding of their struggles and achievements.
Throughout the month of March, Women’s History Month, the Parks Department will highlight the contributions that various women have made to the Parks system in the City of Boston. From parks and playgrounds named after fearless women, to concert series that have brought communities together in our parks, to various landmarks throughout the City. Women have played a vital role in shaping our parks system and we look forward to highlighting their work.
Did we miss someone? Feel free to email us with your favorite female-identifying parks friend, or send a story that you think we should highlight! You can email Parks@Boston.gov with the subject line “Women’s History Month” and we will be happy to highlight more women that we may have missed.
- One of Boston’s most revered cultural icons, Elma Lewis was crucial to building community within and around Franklin Park. In the 1950s, Lewis founded the Elma Lewis School for Fine and Performing Arts, where thousands of Black children and adults learned cultural history, explored their creativity, and cultivated their artistic skills.
- In the 1960s, Lewis and her students cleared an overgrown area in Franklin Park. Together, they erected what is known today as the “Elma Lewis Playhouse” stage, an open-air performance venue for local artists to perform, and for the community to come together on summer nights. Today, the Franklin Park Coalition carries on the legacy of Elma Lewis and her students by organizing the Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park concert series, where local R&B, reggae, and gospel artists perform. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Elma Lewis Concert series was suspended. We hope to continue it in the future should public health circumstances change.
- For more info on Elma Lewis and this concert series, visit the Franklin Park Coalition website.
- Frieda Garcia is a longtime activist and community organizer in the South End and Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston. She served as executive Director of the United South End Settlement for 20 years and was one of the founding members of La Alianza Hispana, one of the City’s first agencies to focus on services for Latino families. Over the years, Garcia’s leadership and community action skills have been in great demand, as she has immersed herself in efforts to improve various aspects of community life in the City of Boston.
- In 2013, Freda Garcia Park was dedicated in her name to celebrate her leadership and contributions to the community. The 12,000 square foot park on the corner of Clarendon and Stanhope Street is a reminder of her dedication, and her legacy will carry on through the children who play, and families who gather in the park every day.
- For more information on Frieda Garcia, and how this park came to be, visit the Friends of Frieda Garcia website.
- Draper Playground in West Roxbury is named for one of the unsung heroes of the Revolutionary War, Mary Draper. During the Revolutionary War, Mary Draper and her daughter provided a tireless stream of food, supplies, and shelter to the soldiers passing by their West Roxbury/Dedham area farm. Draper's acquaintances claimed that she took every opportunity to provide for the troops who were headed into Boston to fight the British army. Draper reportedly went so far as to sew her linens into men's garments and melt down her pots and pans for ammunition.
- The tasks she performed were simple in many ways, but Mary’s efforts joined with those of others, added up to something magnificent.
- The Mary Draper Playground, located at 5265 Washington Street in West Roxbury, has been in operation since 1932 and was renovated in 2013.
- Founded in 1932, Gertrude Howes Playground is in the heart of the Moreland Street Historic District in Roxbury. The park was named after Gertrude Howes, teacher, mentor and leader in the school gardens movement, who lived at 104 Winthrop Street. (Tribute Paid Late Gertrude Howes at Dedication of New Playground. Boston Globe, May 27, 1932). During World War II, Ms. Howes established a Victory Garden at the Hemenway School, which provided fresh vegetables for school lunches.
- Howes Playground provides 1.8 acres of passive and active areas with a children's playground, sprinkler plaza, gazebo, benches, and picnic tables. Formerly contained within the Weld Estate in the mid-1800's, the park is the only large open land in the area that is still intact. The center of the park highlights a display of original Roxbury puddingstone outcroppings that were once surrounded by apple orchards, farmlands, and pastures. Today, the park is home to Boston Parks and Recreation Department programs such as summer arts and craft workshops and puppet shows to name a few. For more information on this great park, visit the Gertrude Howes Playground website.
Mary Ellen Welch
- The oldest of four children, Mary Ellen Welch was born in 1941, grew up in the Jeffries Point section of East Boston and spent her life fighting for her community. She saw potential in a set of desolate train tracks, which today is one of East Boston’s most used parks, stretching from Piers Park to Constitution Beach. The Mary Ellen Welch Greenway was dedicated to the late activist during a poignant ceremony featuring Irish music, step dancers, friends, family and elected officials. During the ceremony, Mayor Walsh remarked that Mary Ellen Welch, “represented our best values.”
- For more info on Mary Ellen Welch and this great East Boston park, visit the Friends of Mary Ellen Welch Greenway website.
Susie King Taylor
- In 1857 the City of Boston purchased Mount Hope Cemetery in Mattapan, which is maintained by the cemetery division of the Parks Department. Over the years, monuments have been erected to honor special groups such as war veterans, Boston Police, and others. One significant gravestone within Mt. Hope is that of Susie King Taylor, Black nurse and teacher in the Civil War.
- Born into slavery in the Deep South, Susie King Taylor served the Union Army in various capacities: officially as a "laundress" but in reality a nurse, caretaker, educator, and friend to the First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (later the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment). In 1902, she published these experiences in Reminiscences of My Life in Camp, a Civil War memoir told from the singular perspective of an African American woman. While Taylor's contributions to the war are nothing short of incredible, her story is often overlooked within Civil War history.
- To learn more about Susie King Taylor and the many contributions she made to the Civil War, her patients and students, visit the Library of Congress website.
- Known as the “mother of green space” in Boston, Eugenie “Genie” Beal spent more than four decades advocating for the preservation of open space in the City of Boston. Working both inside and outside of government, Ms. Beal was the first director of the city’s Environment Department, served for many years on the board of the Friends of the Public Garden, was a member of the Mayor’s Central Artery Completion Task Force, co-founded the nonprofit Boston Natural Areas Network, and helped launch the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
- For more information on one of the City’s most successful open space advocates, check out this Boston Globe article.
- If Nancy Schön’s name is unfamiliar, her artwork definitely is not. Born 1928, Nancy Schön is a sculptor best known for her bronze duck and ducklings in the Boston Public Garden, a recreation of the duck family in Robert McCloskey's children's classic "Make Way for Ducklings".
- The bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings were installed within the Boston Public Garden on October 4, 1987 after a lengthy public process and fundraising effort.
- Nancy Schön’s sculpture continues to spark joy in park-goers, as you can often see children hugging, sitting on, and even pretending to feed the ducks. Make sure to stop by this iconic Boston landmark the next time you are in the Boston Public Garden.
- For more information on Nancy and how this duckling display came to be, visit her website.
The Boston Women’s Memorial
- Installed in 2003, the Boston Women’s Memorial represents three great literary women in our Nation’s history: presidential advisor and correspondent Abigail Adams, suffragist and editor Lucy Stone, and the first African American published poet Phillis Wheatley. The Memorial is the result of a 12-year public process led by the Boston Women’s Commission. (Credit: Boston Women’s Heritage Trail)
- For more information on these three trailblazing women, and the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, check out this video.
Dorothy “Dottie” Curran
- Known by friends as “Dottie,” Dorothy Curran’s career spanned more than 40 years. Beginning at City Hall as a bookkeeper, Dottie then went on to become the associate Elderly Commissioner and then in 1973, the first woman Assistant Commissioner of Parks.
- During her time at Parks, she pioneered a series of women’s recreational activities, helped form the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League (BNBL), was closely involved in the development of Camp Joy for special needs children, and helped initiate the “Wednesday Night Concerts” on City Hall Plaza, which have since been changed to the “Dorothy Curran Concert Series” after a dedication ceremony from former Mayor Walsh.
- When propositions cuts depleted funds for Christmas Lights on the Common, she devised a plan to raise money by selling “Light a Life” buttons — raising $35,000 her first year.
- When Dottie wasn’t out programming our parks and building community throughout our City, she was a board member of the Special Olympics for over 20 years and performed work for the Boston City Hospital Charity Fund.
- In 1990, then Mayor Flynn dedicated the opening of the “Dorothy Curran Playground” in South Boston’s Moakley park, which was the first handicapped-accessible tot lot in the nation.
- She was a great leader and truly loved the City of Boston — a tireless advocate for women, those of special needs, the elderly, and all the people of Boston.
- Dorothy “Dottie” Curran passed away on December 12, 1992, but her legacy of compassion and kindness live on in her family, the children who play in our parks, and the many programs she started that are still enjoyed by Boston residents today.
- Last updated:
- Published by: Parks and Recreation