My Top Five Best Bostonians

Last year I had a stroke of genius, as I often do. There should be a web site, I thought, where everybody can collectively rank the greatest Bostonians of all time, by voting on a battle-generator web site like the Boston Phoenix used to use.

I thought, and still think, that this is just a brilliant, fantastic idea — which does not mean that I thought anybody else in the world would enjoy it. I just thought that I would.

Fortunately for me, the person who most frequently supports my brilliant ideas, even when they might not actually appeal to anybody else, had become editor of Boston Magazine. Thanks to the fantastic Carly Carioli, who I cannot thank enough, and the efforts of many others at BoMag, that site was eventually brought forth into existence.

And now, the official Boston Magazine ranking of the 100 Best Bostonians of all time is out, in print and online. 

I’m pretty damn pleased with the whole thing.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the official list matches my own personal opinions. So, below is my own Top 5 (which will probably also be posted at BoMag).

Feel free to comment or question!

Oh, and go spend some time voting at the site — it’s still up and running, and a lot of fun. At least, it is for me


1. Louis Brandeis
Boston’s greatest have always been about the active pursuit of community justice, and the Kentucky-bred Brandeis exemplified this — against considerable odds, as a Jew.

2. Josiah Quincy III
Boston’s Great Mayor laid the groundwork for the city to become not only highly functional, but tight-knit and intermingling. That has been the basis for much of what has emerged from the city since.

3. Lewis Hayden
If you believe, as I do, that William Lloyd Garrison is a no-brainer Top 10, then what about the black abolitionists who risked far more and received far less recognition? Hayden — another Kentuckian by birth who thrived in Boston — stands out to me as the greatest of a remarkable generation of reformers.

4. Elizabeth Peabody
Advances in education have been among Boston’s greatest contributions to the world — and also one of the foremost reasons that the city has produced so much greatness. With all due respect to her mentor Horace Mann and so many others, Peabody shines brightest of Boston’s education pioneers.

5. James Otis
Of all the revolutionaries, Otis stands out both for the esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries in the movement, and how impressive his beliefs and actions look from our 21st century vantage point. (He declared the inalienable rights of blacks in 1764.) His sanity, unfortunately, did not last to the actual revolution, but it might never have happened without him.

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