Feminist Passport: Your travel guide to Boston
You want to see the world, but sometimes the world is an unfriendly place. That’s why HelloGiggles is bringing you Feminist Passport, a guide to all of the most inclusive hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, and sights to visit on your next big adventure. Because travel should be for everyone.
Ah, Beantown. The deepest-blue city in a deep-blue state. I’ve always heard that Boston, and Massachusetts in general, was a liberal haven—the unions! the health care!—but I have personally found the region to be a little on the conservative side. There’s not a whole lot going on in the way of racial and ethnic diversity (the state is actually becoming more diverse, but Boston itself remains majority white thanks to gentrification) and some residents of the city recently called for a “Straight Pride” parade, a homophobic response to Pride festivities that happen every June. So when I set out to write a Feminist Passport travel guide to Boston, I held my breath. It’s not that Boston isn’t a magical place—it is, truly. There’s so much history, so much great food, so many good-hearted people. I just…had my reservations.
But reader, my fears were mostly for naught. I spent a few days in Boston this month and had the feminist time of my life. There are plenty of women-first reasons to visit the city (not least of which is a concerted effort to close the wage gap) so I’m happy to share my to-do list for a feminist weekend in Boston.
1Visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
I would just like to start by saying, wow. What an incredible place. Designed and conceptualized by art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner, who inherited $1.75 million from her father in 1891 and set out to invest in an eclectic collection, her namesake museum is unlike any other gallery I’ve ever visited. Laid out like a baroque home, the gallery consists of a series of uniquely designed rooms displaying an array of works—no paintings lined up on blank white walls here. Each room in the Gardner museum showcases a variety of pieces, from paintings and drawings to sculpture, pottery, tapestry, and even hand-written prose.
Meant to call up the architectural styles of Venice, Florence, and Rome, Italy, Isabella and her husband Jack worked with architect Willard Sears to imagine a sanctuary where different eras and styles of art could coexist. The centerpiece of the residence is a sun-dappled courtyard run through with Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance elements, plus stone columns. It is breathtaking, and you’ll want to take a moment (put down your phone) to gaze around and take it all in.
Gardner was deeply involved and invested in the creation of the building, and personally drove the construction of the project. She also lived on the private fourth floor of the museum (her husband died before construction was completed in 1901) and arranged the works in the gallery.
2Take a feminist history tour of downtown Boston
There is so. much. feminist. history. in downtown Boston, so if this kind of thing is your jam, plan your day wisely. I strolled along the Downtown edition of the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail (there are similar self-guided tours all over the city) and visited icons of women’s history at the Massachusetts State House, the offices of the feminist Woman’s Journal, Tremont Temple, where women held meetings to organize for the abolition of slavery, and more. Tremont Temple is now a church—the first integrated church in the U.S., in fact—and the Woman’s Journal offices are owned by the Paulist Fathers. It’s worth noting that many stops on these tours aren’t what they used to be—the point of the trails is to give you a sense of where some landmark moments in women’s history took place rather than to show you the sights.
The State House was interesting to me because there’s actually quite a bit of women’s history to see there, but you really have to hunt for it. I looked, for example, for a statue of Anne Hutchinson, who fought for women’s religious equality, for about 10 minutes, only to discover it’s on a bit of land that’s blocked from public view. A generous security guard let me sneak over to snap a quick photo for my records.
The State House also feels extremely white man-centric. It is white man-centric, because those are the stories that typically get told about who “founded” and “built” the United States. I loved that the Women’s History Trail helped me find and revel in the contributions of women to Massachusetts’ history, and I especially loved the moving “Hear Us” installation highlighting six women who played an outsize role in Massachusetts public life: Dorothea Dix (1802-87); Lucy Stone (1818-93); Sarah Parker Remond (1814-94); Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842-1924); Mary Kenney O’Sullivan (1864-1943); and Florence Luscomb (1887-1985).
I was eager to take in all that downtown Boston has to offer on the women’s history front, and my hotel—the Hyatt Centric Fanueil Hall—was a great starting point. I walked out the door every morning and was a 10-minute stroll to most of my destinations. I even got to take in a one-night-only Sofar Sounds concert in the lobby (Hyatt Centric is doing these one-off shows at a bunch of hotels around the world this year) on the first night of my stay. I highly recommend!
3Shop the Boston Women’s Market
I’m extremely sad to report that I missed the June Boston Women’s Market by a couple of weeks when I visited, but if you can, you should definitely plan to stop by when you’re in town. The market celebrates and supports the work of womxn artists and entrepreneurs from all over New England, hosting regular marketplace events and spotlighting creators on its website. Buying beautiful things and supporting feminist creators? We can’t think of a better way to spend our cash.
4Revel in a Dorchester Art Project event
The Dorchester Art Project is a creative space in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. It’s home to 14 artists’ studios, a performance space, and a gallery, and you can find regular events taking place there that are sure to delight your feminist senses. In recent weeks alone there have been art shows highlighting innovative local artists, queer music and poetry shows, and even a queer clothing pop-up.
5Eat and drink your feminism
On my last night in Boston, I visited the Fenway district to check out chef Tiffani Faison’s Tiger Mama and her new “adult snack bar,” Fool’s Errand. If you were an avid Top Chef viewer a decade ago, you might remember chef Tiffani as the villain on the show’s first season, branded a “bitch” by a fellow contestant and hate-loved by viewers. She finished second, and she’s now a dominant fixture in the Boston restaurant scene. An out-queer chef with a commanding presence and high-as-heck standards? You know I had to check things out, and neither outpost disappointed.
At Fool’s Errand, I sipped a sweet tequila cocktail and chowed down on potato mille feuille with raclette and truffle, and said hi to a portrait of Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart in the bathroom. At Tiger Mama, I feasted on bits and bites from all over the menu—do not miss out on the salt and pepper monkfish tail or the spicy okra. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.
When you’re done with dinner, stroll around the corner to nathálie wine bar, a cozy bar serving only wines from female winemakers. It’s dark, warm, and the bartenders will walk you through the menu until you find exactly what you’re looking for. I wanted an orange wine, and it took me a couple of tries to find something I liked. After that, I was sipping pretty.
So yes, as it turns out, there’s plenty to love about Boston. I ate well, I drank well, I learned a ton, and I was an annoying tourist who tried to fake a Boston accent. (It didn’t help that my hotel had words like “b’daydas” stuck to the mirrors on every floor—if you say it with a stereotypical Bahston accent it should sound like “potatoes.”)
I’ll almost certainly be back, and hopefully next time I’ll have even more juicy feminist advice to add to this list.