The Ladies of Lonsdale Street

Eleanor Jane Murphy, who died down in Weymouth this week at age 86, was one of a number of mothers, ladies all, who made the upper end of Lonsdale Street in Dorchester a special place in the dozen or so years after World War II.

In the late 1940s, the St. Mark’s Parish neighborhood was a bustling village, a time of relative quiet as the last echoes of the war faded away before there was more fighting to be done in Korea come June 1950. As was the case across the country, the baby boom was in full production mode on our street as infant after infant helped fill the bedrooms of the two- and three-deckers that stood across and abreast down from Dot. Ave and up from Florida Street.

By the time I was in the fifth grade (1953), there were some 60 boys and girls living in the first two dozen or so houses on both sides of the street down from Ogar’s Drug Store. While a few families had an automobile, many more did not, so the old trolley line, and later the buses, along Dot Ave. did a windfall business all day long.

As for the kids, the street and the contiguous front and back yards constituted their playgrounds. It has become a cliché, but it was a fact that during those quiet years under Truman and Eisenhower, our mothers would send us out to play along the street and tell us to come home for our PB&J sandwiches. Then it was out to the street again, and back for dinner at six o’clock. We made that work, most of us did.

And we did get inside from time to time. Eleanor Murphy and her husband Jack had the first television in the neighborhood and the kids from up and down the street were heartily welcomed there to watch Howdy Doody on the 12-inch screen in the late afternoons.

All of this activity required supervision, which is where the Ladies of Lonsdale Street came in. Day after day, evening after evening, they kept watch up and down the street, encouraging fair play and stepping in when they saw an injustice, however minor, often communicating the facts of misdeeds to fellow parents.

For my family, which was nestled in those days in the two-family at No. 22, Eleanor Murphy was the last of the Ladies of Lonsdale Street, a “club” that gathered regularly at my home and at those of the Murphys and Helen Troy and Kay and Betty Tully and Nina Seaver and Ollie Ratti and Bess Edwards and Florence MacDougall and Gen Anderson and my Aunt Agnes over on Semont Road, among others. They came to each other’s living rooms to chat and swap stories and relax as, up and down the street, their children nodded off to sleep.

Eleanor Murphy was a perfect exemplar of the women who brought an authentic joie de vivre and a deep and widespread charitable impulse to my boyhood time on Lonsdale Street. She is gone now, and so are all the others, but I have my memories to keep them alive.