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Museum Shares Legend of Elizabeth Kearney Blood, Urban Renewal Heroine

In the spring of 1960, after thousands of residents had been forced out of Boston’s West End, one woman remained in her apartment, surrounded by her two daughters and seven grandchildren. Elizabeth Kearney Blood’s refusal to leave the neighborhood as buildings were being demolished around her is the stuff of legends.

On Tuesday, March 27 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm, The West End Museum will celebrate Blood as part of its annual Irish Heritage Night. Her granddaughter Donna McCormick and grandson Tim Eastman will attend. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

The tenth of 11 children, Elizabeth Kearney Blood was born in Kildalkey, County Meath, Ireland—about 60 miles northwest of Dublin—on April 24, 1899. In September 1914, World War I broke out. Despite a UK blockade that made trans-Atlantic travel difficult and risky, Blood and her brother John set sail for Boston in November 1914. Ten years later, she married John T. Blood, a Newburyport native and an electrician at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary. The newlyweds settled at 13 Anderson Street in the West End. They had two daughters and one son in the next five years. In 1935, the family moved to 379 Charles Street, from which Mrs. Blood would be evicted 25 years later.

In April of 1958, the city notified all West End residents that their property would be taken by eminent domain and the neighborhood demolished. While the plan called for relocating residents over the course of four years, nearly everyone was driven out in just 18 months. The demolition began almost immediately and soon only 379 Charles Street remained among a handful of buildings including MGH, the Harrison Gray Otis House and St. Joseph’s Church.

On May 17, 1960, Blood and her daughters Dorothy Eastman and Elizabeth McCormick began their month-long stand against the city. The dramatic protest included Blood invoking the memory of her husband’s grandfather who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill and daughter Elizabeth wrapping herself in the American flag she received when her husband, a naval pilot, was buried at Arlington Cemetery—both women literally blocking entry to their home after authorities took the front door of its hinges. Endicott Peabody, a lawyer who went on to become governor of Massachusetts, negotiated a month’s extension of their right to occupancy.

Ultimately, Blood left the West End for Cape Cod, where relatives of her daughter Dorothy’s husband lived. She died there in 1969, but she lives on as the iconic voice of defiance for all who lost their homes, their community, and sometimes their livelihoods in one of the worst cases of urban renewal in American history.

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