Youth Group Walking Tour of Downtown Boston

As you begin this tour, you are in a city that was the center of the Unitarian and Universalist movements during much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Many prominent ministers, educators, social activists, writers, and artists were Unitarians or Universalists. While in Boston, arrange a tour of 25 Beacon Street. This walking tour begins there, but can be done anytime.

Most of the stops on your tour look just as they did years ago, so imagine yourselves taking a walk through history.

1. 25 Beacon Street – Unitarian Universalist Association

This building is the continental headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which was formed from the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America in 1961. The building stands on land once owned by John Hancock (signer of the Declaration of Independence) and later by Samuel Eliot, Boston mayor and co-founder of the American Unitarian Association in 1825. Many members of the Eliot family devoted their lives to helping shape the Unitarian movement.

(Walk west on Beacon one block and turn right up Joy Street. Pass the alley and turn right onto Mt. Vernon Place)

2. 6 Mt. Vernon Place – Eliot House

This building is now used as a guesthouse by the UUA and is named after Fredrick May Eliot. Eliot was president of the American Unitarian Association from 1937 to his death in 1958 (just a few years before the UUA merger in 1961), and was a distant cousin of the descendants of Samuel Eliot. His leadership spanned World War II and the Cold War eras. More important, under his leadership, the Unitarian Church became more accepting of non-Christian influences. While clearly a Christian church in the 19th century, the inclusion of Humanists, liberal Jews, Hindus, Moslems, and others in the 20th century moved Unitarianism toward a broader liberal religion.

Humanism stresses the dignity, worth, and nobility of human achievement and possibility. Humanists rely less on religious authority and codes and more on reason and logic to achieve self-realization. In a 1927 sermon, Eliot said:

“Does Humanism feed the souls of men? Does is foster that inner life that keeps them calm in the face of danger, resolute in the face of temptation, courageous in the face of defeat?…It is precisely because I believe Humanism can serve these human needs better than any sort of faith that I hold it myself and preach it from this pulpit.”

3. 7 Mt. Vernon Place – Pickett House

This UUA guesthouse next door is named after O. Eugene Pickett, who was president of the UUA from 1979 to 1985.

(Return to Joy Street and turn right. Go one block up the hill.)

4. 41 Mt. Vernon Street – Beacon Press

Founded in 1854 as the publishing imprint of the American Unitarian Association, Beacon Press is still very active today and has a reputation for publishing groundbreaking books. In 1971, Beacon published the first complete collection of the Pentagon Papers, which documented American involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1971. This courageous act made Beacon subject of an FBI investigation.

The mission of Beacon Press includes a commitment to the principles of Unitarian Universalism. Among its strategic goals are “to publish books that passionately and effectively advocate these principles while engaging readers with high literary quality.”

(Turn left on Mt. Vernon Street, walk one block and turn left on Walnut Street. Walk one block and turn right onto Chestnut Street. Walk to 13 Chestnut Street on the right hand side.)

5. 13 Chestnut Street – Home of Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe was a writer and reformer who, like many Unitarians and Universalists, was drawn into the anti-slavery movement. On a trip to Washington in 1861 working with the Sanitary Commission (a precursor to the American Red Cross), she watched as Union soldiers defended against a Confederate attack. Unexpectedly, the Union line broke and the citizens found themselves heading back to the city in their carriages surrounded by retreating soldiers. Her party began to sing patriotic songs, including the popular John Brown’s Body, to boost their morale. That night, Howe wrote new lyrics for the tune and in 1862, The Battle Hymn of the Republic was published. You may recall the lyrics, which reflect Howe’s Unitarian Christian orientation.

In the 1970’s, Howe saw the Franco-Prussian War as “a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed.” She began a one-woman peace crusade, appealing to “womanhood” to rise against the war. She initiated a Mother’s Peace Day observance on the second Sunday of June. Her idea spread, but was eventually replaced by the Mother’s Day holiday now celebrated in May.

(Continue west on Chestnut Street several blocks to Charles Street. Cross Charles, turn left, and walk two blocks to the intersection of Charles and Beacon. Cross Beacon and enter the Public Garden. Crossing the Public Garden, you will pass the statue commemorating the popular children’s book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, a Boston author. Pass through the Public Garden onto Marlborough Street. Walk several blocks up Marlborough to Berkeley Street.)

6. Corner of Marlborough and Berkeley Streets – First and Second Church

The First Church of Boston was founded in 1630 when the Puritans moved to Boston. The First and Second Churches merged in 1972 after a fire destroyed the previous church building. On the Marlborough side is a statue of John Winthrop who holds in his hands a Bible and the Massachusetts Bay Company charter. The Charter of the Company was the only colonial charter brought to the New World and not, as in the case of the Royal Colony of Virginia, held in London. This fact accorded the Bay Colonists considerable latitude in making laws and governing their lands. The Puritans were “nonconformists” (not separatists as at Plymouth and Salem), who worked within the Church of England to purify it of its “erroneous” rituals and pomp. Failing this goal, the Puritans practiced their “pure religion” in individually “gathered” churches. By the end of the 18th century, First Church Pastor Charles Chauncy led the way to a more rational theology, countering the Calvinist doctrine that only a select few people are predestined to enter Heaven. In the 19th century, Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham preached “Liberal Christianity,” which formed a basis for Unitarianism.

(Walk south on Berkeley Street past Commonwealth and Newbury to Boylston Street. Turn left and walk to the corner of Arlington and Boylston Streets. Cross Arlington to the statue of Channing.)

7. Corner of Arlington and Boylston Streets – Statue of William Ellery Channing and Arlington Street Church

The Arlington Street Church was built in 1859 and has one of the largest collections of Tiffany stained glass windows anywhere. It also houses the Channing pulpit, named for William Ellery Channing, the “apostle of Unitarianism.” Channing was the leading spokesperson for Unitarianism in the first half of the 19th century. In 1819, Channing delivered a landmark sermon, which came to be known as the Baltimore Sermon. In it, he described the Bible as “a book written by men, in the language of men” whose “meaning is to be sought in the same manner as that of other books.” In defending the use of reason, he said:

“If reason be so dreadfully darkened by the fall (Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden), that its most decisive judgments on religion are unworthy of trust, then Christianity…must be abandoned; for the existence and veracity of God…are conclusions of reason, and must stand or fall with it.”

Channing believed that God created human nature with its capacity for moral choice and increasing understanding and spiritual progress. In 1838, in his Harvard Divinity School Address, he said:

“I call that mind free which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which calls no man master, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heaven, which, while consulting others, inquires still more of the oracle within itself.”

(Walk diagonally through the Public Garden, exiting midway between Boylston and Beacon Streets.)

8. Public Garden Gate – Statue of Edward Everett Hale

Edward Everett Hale was a Unitarian minister and author. His novel “The Man Without a Country,” was published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. The story was an allegory of the War intended to satirize those who wanted to renounce the United States. The main character is a young lieutenant at named Philip Nolan, who strikes up a friendship with Aaron Burr. When Burr is tried for treason (a scenario borrowed from an actual historical event), Nolan is tried as an accomplice. Bitter, he renounces his nation, angrily shouting, “D–n the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” (When the novel was first published the word “damn” was considered too obscene for publication.) The judge grants Nolan his wish and he spends the rest of his life on warships, with no right of ever again setting foot onto American soil, and with no mention ever again made to him about the United States.

(Cross Charles Street into the Boston Common. If you group needs a lunch break, walk toward the Park Street T station. The Downtown Crossing area one block south on Washington Street has many restaurants. You can eat there, or buy food and return to the park, weather permitting. Walk toward the large obelisk in the middle of the Common.)

9. Boston Common – Obelisk

The Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States. The Common was used for cattle grazing until 1830 and public hangings until 1817. The obelisk depicts Unitarian minister Henry Whitney Bellows, founder of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, and Universalist Clara Barton, founder of its successor, the American Red Cross. The Sanitary Commission was formed to address the crisis created by the Civil War of trains filled with corpses and was the world’s first large scale health and social welfare project. Barton worked on some of the war’s grimmest battlefields bringing supplies to wounded soldiers on both sides.

Bellows also led the creation of the National Conference of Unitarian Churches, the first organization to have congregations and not individuals as members. The UUA today reflects that philosophy, being the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

(Walk to the far northeast corner of the Boston Common, exiting up the stairs facing the Massachusetts State House. Before crossing Beacon Street, turn left to the statue on the sidewalk.)

10. 54th Regiment Statue

This statue portrays the Civil War’s first black regiment, led by its commander, 26-year-old Unitarian Robert Gould Shaw. The 54th was immortalized in the 1989 movie Glory, starring Matthew Broderick as Shaw, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman. The Regiment saw its first action in May, 1963. On July 18, the Regiment led an unsuccessful assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina in which Shaw and 116 of his 600 men were killed. The bodies of enemy officers were usually interred with some ceremony, but Confederate soldiers tried to disgrace the young officer by stripping Shaw’s body and throwing it into a common grave with his fallen soldiers. Shaw’s parents said they could hope for “no holier place” for their son than to be “surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers.”

(Cross Beacon Street to the front of the Massachusetts State House.)

11. Massachusetts State House

The State House building was designed by Unitarian Charles Bulfinch. Bulfinch is also famous for designing the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The two statues in front of the State House are Unitarian lawyer Daniel Webster and Unitarian statesman and educator Horace Mann. Webster was a champion of American nationalism, a U.S. Secretary of State and a Presidential nominee of the Whig Party. His opposition of the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War – and the subsequent spread of slavery — led him to support the Compromise of 1850, which denounced Southern threats of secession, but urged a stronger support in the North for laws enforcing the recovery of fugitive slaves. His position alienated anti-slavery allies, but helped preserve the Union.

Horace Mann greatly advanced the cause of universal, free, non-sectarian (non-religious) public schools. As president of Antioch College in Ohio, he led a Unitarian bailout of the College’s finances. In his 1859 speech to the graduating class, he extolled them to “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

In the first floor corridor of the State House is the “Hear Us” women’s memorial. Three of the plaques are Unitarian women. Dorothea Dix was a teacher and author of children’s books. In 1841, she took over a Sunday class for women incarcerated in the East Cambridge jail. The conditions of the jail and especially its treatment of the mentally ill shocked her. She conducted one of the earliest social research projects in the United States, collecting data on jails and almshouses all over Massachusetts. Her efforts led to a major expansion of the State Mental Hospital in Worcester. She traveled throughout the world agitating for reform for the insane poor.

Unitarian Lucy Stone was a leader of the women’s suffrage movement. Her graduation from Oberlin College made her the first woman of Massachusetts to earn a college degree. She founded and edited for 23 years the Woman’s Journal, the major publication of the women’s rights movement. Her refusal to be known by her husband’s name, as an assertion of her own rights, was extremely controversial. She once said:

“We want rights. The flour-merchant, the house-builder, and the postman charge us no less on account of our sex; but when we endeavor to earn money to pay all these, then, indeed, we find the difference.”

Florence Hope Luscomb was a full-time social and political activist involved in a wide range of issues, including suffrage, peace, prison reform, civil rights, and civil liberties. In 1952, she ran for Governor of Massachusetts on the Progressive Party ticket, a third party that opposed the Cold War anti-Communist policies of the Truman administration. She fought Senator Joe McCarthy’s un-American attempts to suppress dissent and was an early opponent of American involvement in Vietnam.

(Leave the State House and cross Beacon Street to the east side of Park Street. Walk south on Park Street, passing 5 Park Street, which was the location of the offices of the Women’s Journal. Continue to the corner of Park and Tremont Streets.)

12. Park Street Church – Site of William Lloyd Garrison’s speech

The Park Street Church was the site of the first anti-slavery speech by William Lloyd Garrison in 1829. Garrison called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves, a view that was unpopular even among Northerners opposed to slavery. Garrison believed that all blacks would, in time, assimilate into American society and that they, too, were Americans entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Someone attending one of Garrison’s speeches objected that slavery was protected by the Constitution. Garrison replied that if this was true, then the Constitution should be burnt. On the issue of slavery, he called the Constitution a “covenant with death and an agreement with Hell.” Garrison received numerous and frequent death threats. He was imprisoned for libel when he called a slave trader a robber and murderer and the State of Georgia offered a reward of $5,000 for his arrest. In the first issue of his anti-slavery newspaper, the Liberator, he said:

“I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation…I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

(Turn left on Tremont Street and walk three blocks to School Street. Cross to the southeast corner to King’s Chapel.)

13. Corner of School and Tremont Streets – King’s Chapel

The first church in America to declare itself Unitarian was founded in 1686 as an Anglican Church in Puritan Boston. The present building was erected in 1756 and contains the oldest pulpit in continuous use in the United States. Under its minister, James Freeman, the church became Unitarian in theology in 1787. King’s Chapel was the first church in the colonies to use an organ as part of its worship service (1714).

Some of the most prominent citizens of the Massachusetts Bay Colony are buried in King’s Chapel Burying Ground, including: the Colony’s first governor, John Winthrop; William Dawes, Jr., who rode with Paul Revere to Lexington and Concord; Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower in Plymouth Colony; and Elizabeth Pain, on whom Nathaniel Hawthorne based the character Hester Prynne inThe Scarlet Letter.

(Continue north on Tremont Street and turn right on Court Street. Walk to 26 Court Street.)

14. 26 Court Street – Courthouse Square

In 1854, Anthony Burns escaped from his master in Virginia, and made his way to Boston. He was able to read and write, and found a job in a clothing store. Two months later, Burns was arrested on his way home from work. The abolitionist community was aroused by his capture. A few blocks away at Faneuil Hall, the Vigilance Committee was holding a public meeting urging resistance. Unitarian minister Theodore Parker motivated the crowd to storm the courthouse, then located at this site, where Burns was being held. Only a few feet into the entrance of the courthouse, they were met by federal marshals with raised pistols. By the time order was restored, thirteen people had been arrested, and one protester was dead. By Saturday, Boston was overflowing with troops and anti-slavery supporters. The federal court refused to rule on the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law, and the judge turned Burns over to the custody of his master.

(Continue east on Court Street to Congress Street. Turn left on Congress and cross at the light in front of Fanueil Hall.)

15. Fanueil Hall Courtyard – Statue of Samuel Adams

The statue of this Revolutionary War hero was sculpted by Unitarian Anne Whitney, who created more than 100 busts and statues from her Boston home and studio from 1876 until her death in 1915. Quincy Market next door was built during Unitarian Josiah Quincy’s term as mayor of Boston and is named for him.

(This is the end of the walking tour and a good place to let the group shop and watch the street performers.)