A History of Boston: Terrier Style


Jay Patruno (Food Justice Coordinator) and Amber Walsh (Homelessness and Housing Coordinator)

Summing up Boston’s history is a concise, little blog post is like squeezing an elephant into a tutu. It just isn’t possible. But what is relevant to you as an incoming Boston University Terrier? 

FYSOP looks at social justice through a Boston-lens, meaning that everything we learn and talk about we explore right outside our own dorms. Understanding Boston, for all its strengths and challenges, is the first step to connecting with your new home and establishing common ground with the people around you.

We intend to give you the 11 most interesting things about Boston’s History that make it such a unique place to live and learn.


Boston, our fair city, was founded in 1630 by a group of Puritans escaping religious persecution back in England. Before the Puritans left their home country, their governor, John Winthrop, delivered his famous sermon called “A City on a Hill”. Boston, named by Massachusetts’ first deputy-governor, Thomas Dudley, after his hometown of Boston, Lincolnshire, England, was to be a model city for many to look up to (and we think this still holds true!!!).


Often referred to as “The Cradle of Liberty,” Boston is known as the instigator of the American Revolution! Soon after colonists landed in Boston in 1630, they grew frustrated with the heavy taxes levied upon them by the British Parliament. They organized a boycott to oppose the Townshend Acts of 1797, and this eventually resulted in the Boston Massacre. Bostonians also resisted the Tea Act, passed by British Parliament in 1773, by dumping 342 chests of tea into the harbor in a little thing we call the Boston Tea Party. 


Much of modern Boston would not exist if it weren’t for the reconstruction of the Charles River Basin. In an effort to increase the living capacity of Boston and green and recreational outlets, part of the river was filled in. A new dam was constructed in Charlestown in 1910 so the area extending from this dam to the Watertown dam would come to include over 20 parks and and natural areas. This also created the area now known as Back Bay. 


Boston has 23 designated neighborhoods. Geographically, nicknames like the West End, North End, and South End are based on their location on the Shawmut Peninsula (original extent of Boston). Through annexation and filling of the Charles River, Boston has continued to grow geographically over the last century or two. Many neighborhoods like Brighton, Allston, Charlestown, Dorchester, etc. have all once been independent municipalities before being part of Boston. Most of these neighborhoods are within walking distance or a short MBTA ride away from  our Charles River campus here at Boston University.

Source: Wikipedia

Boston Common is the oldest city park in the country, dating back to 1634. It is now part of the Emerald Necklace of parks and parkways throughout Boston. Throughout history, Boston Common has been the scene for citizen riots (food riots, Vietnam War), British army camp (Revolutionary War), speeches & concerts (Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John Paul II, Judy Garland), and even public hangings (famous Quaker Mary Dyer was hung here in 1660). Once a salt marsh, these 24 acres now contain over 26 assortment of trees alone along with flowers and various other plant life all supplied by 14 different greenhouses the city operates at Franklin Park.


Boston University did not start in Boston, nor did it start in the state of Massachusetts. It was established in 1839 as the Newbury Biblical Institute in Newbury, VT, and then moved to Concord, NH. After purchasing acreage in Brookline, MA in 1967 the institute moved to the Boston area and was known as the Boston Theological Institute. In 1869, legislation was officially gained for a school to be called Boston University and the Boston Theological Institute was absorbed into the university as the School of Theology (1871). The Charles River Campus was not the home of BU until the 1930s. 


Let’s talk education. Did you know that Boston Public Schools, founded in 1647, is the oldest public school system in America? Boston Public Schools have a rich history and have faced many challenges over the years. After the state of Massachusetts enacted a Racial Imbalance Law in 1965 that required schools to actively implement plans to effect the racial balancing in schools, Boston was eventually forced to bus students from their neighborhoods to various schools around the city in an effort to integrate schools. This caused a great deal of conflict, protest, and violence. Following the forced bussing, there was a significant exodus of white residents to private schools or the suburbs outside of Boston.

These days, Boston Public Schools claims to be one of the most pluralistic school districts in the United States. Nearly half of its students speak a language other than English at home, students come from 139 different countries, one in five students have a disability, and half of the students attending BPS are considered economically disadvantaged. Its graduation rate has been climbing and it is on par with the national average in terms of student performance.


The first Boston Marathon was held on April 19, 1897 running 24.5 miles from Ashland, MA to the Irvington Oval in Boston. John McDermott was the first winner, completing the race in 2:55:10. Not until 1924 did the length increase to 26 miles by moving the starting line west to Hopkinton, MA. In 1975 it became the first major race to include a wheelchair division. Tragically, on Patriots Day April 15, 2013 the 117th annual Boston Marathon was bombed near its finish line along Boylston Street. The two consecutive bombings killed 3 civilians and injured 264 people. This event sparked the Boston Strong movement.

Source: runinfinity.com/race/boston-marathon

The Massachusetts Bay transportation Authority (MBTA) opened its light rail system back in 1879. The Tremont Street Railway was the first rapid transit tunnel in the United States. The first elevated railway and the first rapid transit line in Boston opened three years before the first underground line in New York City. In 2008 the MBTA was ranked as the fourth busiest subway system in the United States. 


Big Papi. The Green Monstah. Fenway Park, uh…Pahk. The famous Red Sox baseball team was founded in 1901 and Fenway Park was built in 1912. The team has won eight World Series championships, its most recent victory happening in 2013. The Boston Red Sox’s rivalry with the New York Yankees is one of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in Major League Baseball history, having gone on for over one hundred years…so if you’re gonna walk around Kenmore sporting a Yankees hat, you best be prepared for some dirty looks coming your way.


The Museum of Fine Arts. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Institute of Contemporary Art. Symphony Hall. Orpheum Theatre. Boston Public Library. Hatch Shell. Whether you’re looking for a rock concert, an orchestral masterpiece, a provocative art exhibit, or a good book to read, Boston has you covered for all things art and culture. The Boston Art Commission, established in 1890, strives to create meaningful opportunities for engagement with art in all of Boston’s neighborhoods.

Boston is a vibrant and energetic city with many artistic and cultural celebrations throughout the year. One of our favorites is Boston Pride, celebrated during the month of June every year to promote visibility, respect, unity, and engagement for all. The annual Boston Pride parade features phenomenal music, dancing, drag, etc. to celebrate a wide range of identities and backgrounds, especially the LGBTQ+ community.

Source: Fine Art America

Well, that’s all folks, but we hope this is only the beginning of your historical endeavors in our wonderful metropolis. We hope you’ve enjoyed our eleven little points in time, but we hope you question, expand, and explore far beyond what we’ve just laid out for you. As our old friend Levar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, “you don’t have to take [our] word for it”–so get out there and let the history come to life…or make your own!



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