Casa Myrna was founded in the mid 1970s by neighborhood activists and street workers in Boston’s South End. Day after day, they found themselves listening with outrage and frustration as neighborhood women confided of beatings and abuse at the hands of their husbands or partners. Children talked about the abuse of their mothers. As the campaign to help them began to take form, activists from the Villa Victoria housing development, United South End Settlements, Casa del Sol, St. Stephen’s Parish, the Church of the Covenant in the Back Bay and the South End Community Health Center joined to organize and seek support throughout the South End.
The agency’s founding coalition was a lively, passionate and diverse group, reflecting the vibrant patchwork of people living in the community. Latina women were a significant presence, one of whom was Myrna Vazquez, a renowned actress in her native Puerto Rico. Her vivacity and unwavering belief in the restorative power of the arts and culture was an ongoing source of inspiration to a community beset by many of the problems plaguing inner cities at that time, from crack cocaine and speculative redevelopment to violence in all its forms. When Myrna died suddenly in 1976, the group decided to name their first shelter – and the organization – in her honor. The first shelter, an eight bedroom brownstone in Boston’s South End, was staffed entirely by volunteers. It has remained in continuous operation since opening and is now Casa Myrna’s emergency shelter program.
Over the years, Casa Myrna added to its shelter capacity by acquiring other buildings in the city’s South End and Dorchester neighborhoods and converting them for use as shelters. Today, the agency is New England’s leading provider of shelter and comprehensive services to victims and survivors of domestic violence.