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Not forgotten: Keeping the legacy of the West End alive


In September 2019, a group of undergraduate students at Simmons University began work on a project that was initially meant to center on the life and legacy of pioneering social worker and Simmons graduate Eva Whiting White. Archival research is never entirely straightforward, though, and we learned more from our neighbors in the historic West End than we ever imagined.

The door of the Elizabeth Peabody House at 87 Poplar St., circa 1901, Courtesy of the Simmons University Archives.

Eva Whiting White, one of the first professional social workers in the United States, spent much of her career in Boston’s vibrant, multi-ethnic West End neighborhood. She served as the director of the Elizabeth Peabody House for 35 years, and the records of her life and work kept in archives around Boston show just how closely her story intertwined with that of the West End.

Eva Whiting White, 1920, Courtesy of Simmons University Archives
Eva Whiting White in 1920, Courtesy of Simmons University Archives

Since February, a number of students from the team have been publishing blog posts with the Boston City Archives, covering topics that range from Eva Whiting White to urban renewal, the Elizabeth Peabody House to community protests, public schooling and healthcare to bowling on Sundays. These posts provide a glimpse into the communities and experiences that existed in the West End prior to the 1960s and prove that the story of the neighborhood is more than just its destruction.

View from the Elizabeth Peabody House, Courtesy of the Simmons University Archives.

The demolition of the West End began in 1958, and although preserved buildings from the neighborhood are few and far between, its legacy lives on through the work of institutions like the Boston City Archives and the West End Museum  and through the Simmons University 2019-2020 History 380 Fieldwork class, as well.

We’re looking forward to sharing our planned physical exhibits with the public as soon as it’s safe to do so, but in the meantime, our permanent digital exhibit is live! If you’d like to learn more about Eva Whiting White, the Elizabeth Peabody House, and their West End neighbors, check out our website: Learned from Our Neighbors: Stories from The Elizabeth Peabody House.

Did you miss any of the previous posts in the series? Check them out here:

This post was written by Maddie Gosselin, a student in the History 380 (Fieldwork) Class at Simmons University. For more information about this class's work studying the history of the West End and urban renewal, see our introductory post to this blog series.

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