Boston – About The City

Boston in a Nutshell

Boston is the capital of Massachusetts state, and the largest city of the New England region, serving as the economic and cultural center of the US northeast.
Home to dozens of universities and colleges, among them the prestigious Harvard and MIT, Boston is regarded as the intellectual capital of the country.
The city played a significant role in the history of the settlers who founded the US and is today a multicultural hub of diverse languages and nationalities.
In regard to women’s contribution, Boston has an exceptional history and present. Many national “first” towards gender equality happened here, including first business owned by a woman. Today, Boston has a special Women’s Heritage Trail.

The Foundation of the City

Since as early as 2400 BC, the area currently known as Greater Boston was inhabited by the people of Massachusetts – an ethnic group of Native Americans. The Massachusetts called the hilly peninsula Shawmut.
From the early 17th century, as English explorers started showing interest in the area, it was renamed by them as “New England”. By the mid 17th century, 90% of the region’s native people died, mainly from diseases brought by the settlers.
The European settlers population steadily increased from the first official resident William Blackstone in 1620s to 13,000 settlers in the 1720s.
Some of the city’s oldest surviving buildings, such as the Boston Lighthouse, were built at that time and they add the historical feel of modern day streets. The old-town architecture is also what makes Acorn Street – a small, one block street in the Beacon Hill area – “the most photographed street in America”, as it still has cobblestones as its paving.

The Origin of the Name

The name Boston, just like many cities in the region, originates from a city by the same name in England: Boston, Lincolnshire. Its meaning is related to the English saint of travelers and farmers Botolph.
Before adopting the name Boston in 1630, the settlers called the area Trimount, because of the three peaks of the hill surrounding the area.
Today’s visitors wouldn’t see those peaks, since they were cut down in a huge operation in the 19th century. It changed the landscape drastically in order to double the city’s landmass for residential purposes.
The city has not only several historical names but also a few nicknames: “The Athens of America,” “The Cradle of Liberty,” “The Hub of the Universe.”
The most famous nickname is “Beantown,” which is the subject of many urban legends, trying to explain the link between Boston and beans. As Peggy Lee’s song “Boston Beans” humorously describes, the link is hard to find. The locals do not like it, so it shouldn’t be used around them – unless to provoke a reaction.

Geography and Demography

Boston is surrounded by various natural offerings: from the Atlantic Ocean to the Charles and Mystic Rivers, and also areas of mountains and forests.
The diversity is reflected not only in landscapes, but also in the area’s population.Since the first major group of settlers sailed to the area, Boston keeps on evolving as a destination for various migrants, labor seekers, refugees, and students who overstay. Boston has significant communities of Irish, Canadians, Jews, Italians, Portuguese, Armenians, Arabs, Haitians, Vietnamese, Cape Verdeans, Central Americans, Indians, Dominicans, Brazilians, and Colombians. That list is not complete, as Boston residents reportedly speak about 140 different languages.
This assortment and affluence are also reflected within the city, as the multicultural fabric of Boston creates different characters of its suburbs and neighborhoods: Dorchester and Mattapan have communities from Jamaica and Barbadoes, North End has the reputation of Little Italy, Chinatown is the Asian-American center of the region, Roslindale Village has Middle Eastern and Caribbean residents. South End was historically the most diverse neighborhood of Boston – mixing German, Irish, and Latin-American immigrants, until “redevelopment” and gentrification made the area too expensive for many. Chelsea is the home of the largest foreign-born population in Massachusetts, with many Central Americans.
East Boston has the highest proportion of foreign-born residents. A recent project of public art celebrates the international flavor of this area under the title “To Immigrants With Love”. A mural that honors immigrant grandmothers was created in East Boston, based on photographs of real grandmothers of the area, and another mural depicts Veronica Robles, who moved to town from Mexico in 2000 and became a community leader, opening a Cultural Center that carries her name.

History and Key Events

Many of the significant events of the American Revolution took place in Boston – and until today it attracts history enthusiasts to its landmarks, libraries, and Freedom Trail.
One of those historical happenings was the Boston Tea Party – a protest of 1773 when settlers resisted the British government by spilling vast amounts of imported tea into the Boston harbor.
A key figure in this iconic protest was Sarah Bradlee Fulton, a leader of colonial female economical resistance to the British. She has been called “Mother of the Tea Party” for her idea, to disguise the protesters to protect their identity.
The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, dedicated to retelling the story of the protest, was voted as the country’s “Top Patriotic Attraction”.

Historical Firsts

As one of the first big cities of the country, Boston is credited as the place that gave birth to many inventions, and many historical firsts:

    • Boston Common is the nation’s first public park (as of 1634). It is also the first public botanic garden (as of 1837).


    • In the park is the all-American Swan Boats that was one of the country’s first business owned by a woman and is still operated by the founders’ great-granddaughter Lyn Paget.


    • Boston is also the home of the first US subway system, which was only 1.5 miles long, but a revolutionary idea at the time.


    • Not surprisingly for an “Intellectual Capital”, Boston was the home of North America’s first school. The Boston Latin School is still in operation since it was established in 1635.
      It welcomed female students only in 1972, more than 300 years after its opening. In 1998 its first female headmaster was appointed, Cornelia A. Kelley, and since then only women filled that role.


    • A year after the public school, in 1636, Harvard College was established in Cambridge as the country’s first institution of higher learning.


    • It is in Harvard where the first printing press of the US was established, by Elizabeth Glover – who inherited the idea from her late husband, and later married the college president.


    • The tradition of the printed word continued when in 1828 “American Ladies Magazine” became the first magazine for female readers, to be edited by a woman. The editor Sarah Josepha Hale is also credited for successfully campaigning to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday.


    • In 1885 six Boston-based women working in the newspaper industry founded “The New England Woman’s Press Association” (NEWPA). Women since have taken part in the developed printing and journalism industries of Boston.


    • In 19th-century Boston was established the country’s first school for the blind (which Hellen Keller visited in 1832).


    • The first public school for free black, named Abiel Smith School, is a national historic landmark today.


    • Boston’s Public Library is competing for the title of the nation’s first free library.


    • Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge is considered to be the nation’s oldest poetry bookstore, owned and managed for 35 years (until 2006) by a patron of the poetry community, Louisa Solano.


    • Other national “firsts” include the first homeless shelter for women only, and the first known brothel (dates back to 1672, operated by Alice Thomas).