Facade of the Alcott House in Boston

Boston: The Birthplace of American Literature

Emerson. Thoreau. Longfellow. Hawthorne. James. Alcott. These names bring to mind classic American literature and poetry, long a staple of high school curriculum and dusty library bookshelves. If you haven’t heard of Walden, Little Women, Paul Revere’s Ride, or The Scarlet Letter, you might have missed a few English classes. These authors are considered to be some of the founders of American literature – and they made Boston, Massachusetts, a hub of culture, art, and high-minded thinking in the mid-1800s.

As one of our nation’s first cities, Boston is well-known for its place in American history. Its Freedom Trail explores significant spots such as the Old North Church, the site of the Boston Massacre, and the Bunker Hill Monument. Also on the Trail is the Old Corner Bookstore, the oldest commercial building in Boston, once a publishing house that brought us the works of the aforementioned authors and others, making the 1850s a very prolific period in America.

Alcott House in Boston_Jenna Sauber
Alcott Home in Boston

Just blocks away is the Boston Athenaeum, an independent library and cultural institution that was once the heart of scholarly learning in the U.S. The library is members-only, but hosts literary and cultural events for the general public, such as lectures and discussions on the likes of Thomas Wolfe, Frederick Douglass, and Harper Lee.

Throughout downtown Boston are several homes that once housed prominent individuals such as the Transcendentalist educator Bronson Alcott and his family (including Louisa May), editor of The Atlantic Thomas Bailey Aldrich, publisher Elizabeth Peabody, poet Robert Frost, and more (check out this cool map from Boston Lit District).

If you travel northwest from the city to Concord, you’ll find Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home at the Old Manse, and in Cambridge is the Longfellow House. All of these homes are American Writers Museum affiliates.

Of couBoston Public Library Reading Room_Jenna Sauberrse, you would be remiss to skip the main branch of the Boston Public Library at Copley Square, a stunning piece of architecture, and the first, large free municipal library in the U.S. The BPL was established in 1848 in a schoolhouse, and the Copley Square building just a few years later in 1854, which is now a National Historic Landmark. The BPL has a 23 million-item collection, including rare books and manuscripts, from the personal library of John Adams to several first edition folios by William Shakespeare.

While NYC may be the modern heart of publishing in America, it’s important to acknowledge where it all got started. Boston is historically significant for its role in the American Revolution, but it was also the playground for some of our country’s best-loved authors, and the birthplace of our own foray into the world of mainstream publishing and literature.

Jenna Sauber

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