Boston: A City with Many Historical Nicknames
John D. McKenzie Jr., BCASA Local Arrangements Committee
The Joint Statistical Meetings will return to Boston, Massachusetts, August, 2–7, for the first time in 22 years, providing an opportunity for members to visit the numerous historical sites in and around New England’s largest city and the United States’ fourth most popular city destination, which has at least 11 nicknames due to historical contexts.
While it was at one time the largest settlement in the British North-American colonies, it is a relatively small major city in the United States today, with a 2010 population of 617,594. However, it is within the 6th-largest metropolitan area by population. Founded in 1830, 10 years after the pilgrims settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, its initial location was a small peninsula, named Shawmut for its Native-American inhabitants. The site was chosen due to its fresh water.
Boston was originally named Trimountaine for its three prominent hills, two of which disappeared as it grew. Beacon Hill, although reduced in size in the early 1800s, remains with the Commonwealth’s capital building on land originally owned by John Hancock and a 23k gold gilded dome. Beacon Hill is also a historic neighborhood of federal-style row houses, known for its narrow, gas-lit streets and brick sidewalks. Hence, Boston has been referred to as “The City on the Hill.”
Boston’s second and current name came from Boston, Lincolnshire, England, the British ancestral home of several influential Puritan settlers. In 1822, the town of Boston, which had recently annexed the neighboring town of South Boston, became a city with a population of 45,000. Between 1836 and 1912, the footprint of the city increased by municipal annexation of nine additional towns and land reclamation from the Charles River and Boston Harbor. Still, compared to other major U.S. cities, the size of Boston is quite small. Due to Boston’s compact and high-density nature, it is often called “America’s Walking City.”
Boston is also known as the “Cradle of Liberty” due to the 1770 Boston Massacre, its non-violent protest due to the unauthorized taxing of tea by the monarchy three years later, and the withdrawal of British forces from Boston on March 17, 1776, which essentially ended the American Revolution in the Eastern Colonies (today’s New England states) and provided the model document for the United States Constitution in 1787.
Many historical sites can be located on the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail. Among them are Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church (“one if by land, two if by sea”), the Bunker Hill Monument (“don’t shoot, until you see the whites of their eyes”), the Old State House, and the U.S.S. Constitution (“Old Ironsides”)—the oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat.
The trail begins at the Boston Common, the oldest public park in the United States. It contains a number of interesting structures. One is the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial that honors the Afro-American 54th Massachusetts Volunteers (“Glory”). Another acknowledges Boston’s Oneida Football Club for its creation of American football. Also present is the MBTA Boylston Station, which was the original station of the first subway in the United States. The neighboring Boston Public Gardens was the country’s first public botanical garden. Among its statues is one honoring George Washington, who took command of the Continental Army in Boston in 1775; another commemorates the use of ether in anesthesia. Boston Common and Boston Public Garden are part of the historical Emerald Necklace designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
In the late 1700s, Boston became a bustling seaport. It was one of the world’s wealthiest international trading ports, exporting products such as rum, fish, salt, and tobacco. In the early 1800s, it and New York City were the financial centers of the United States. In 1813, wealthy Bostonians created the Boston Manufacturing Company, which led to New England’s domination of cotton textiles for close to 100 years. These “Brahmin elite” established a particular semi-aristocratic value system by the 1840s—cultivated, urbane, and dignified.
William Tudor called Boston “The Athens of America” for its abundant cultural and intellectual influence. About the same time, the city became the center of the abolitionist movement. It also produced a number of superb hospitals, among them today’s Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s. In 1858, Oliver Wendell Holmes identified Boston as “The Hub of the Solar System,” which has developed into “The Hub of the Universe” or just “The Hub.”
These Brahmin elite were partially responsible for financing the growth of railroads across the United States. Two noteworthy Boston inventions in the late 1800s were Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and King C. Gillette’s disposable blade safety razor. Strength in these and related manufacturing industries continued until the middle of the 20th century, when they declined due to competition from other parts of the country. Today’s Boston is known for its finance, technology, medicine, and education.
Education has been and continues to be a major component of Boston’s economy. Most people consider Harvard University, the nation’s oldest institution of higher education (1636), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) within the city, even though they are based in neighboring Cambridge. Harvard’s medical school, school of public health, and business school are located in the city, however, and MIT was located in Boston from 1865 to 1916. Today, there are 30 colleges and universities based in Boston. The four largest are Boston University, Northeastern University, Suffolk University, and the University of Massachusetts in Boston, which is next to John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. In the metropolitan Boston area, there are an additional 28 such institutions. There are approximately 250,000 college students enrolled at these schools each year.
The Boston Latin School was the first public high school in the United States (1635). The Boston Public Library was the first large free municipal library (1848) and the first to allow individuals to borrow books and other materials.
As previously mentioned, the first inhabitants of the city were Protestants from England. After the Potato Famine, a large number of Irish Catholics immigrated to the city, followed by many Italians. Recently, Boston has become a majority minority city.
The building in which the American Statistical Association was founded no longer exists. #15 Cornhill Street, the home of the American Historical Society in 1839, was on a street destroyed during the construction of Boston’s Government Center in the 1960s. Cornhill was known for its religious, social, and political thinkers in the 1800s. The convention center, in which the 2014 Joint Statistical Meetings will be held, is located in the Seaport district of South Boston, with its recently opened innovation center.