The 50 Most Powerful Women in Boston

By Alexandra Hall | Boston Magazine |

Mary Bonauto

Director, Gay & Lesbian Adocates & Defenders

Power demo:  Masterminding the landmark Goodridge v. Department of Public Health lawsuit that led to legal same-sex marriage.


Eve Bridburg

Founder, Grub Street

Power demo:  Guiding more than 10,000 writers over the literary center’s 14 years, including everyone from untried hopefuls to award-winning novelists such as Iris Gomez and Randy Susan Meyers.


Andrea Cabral

Sheriff, Suffolk County

Power demo:  It’s old news now that Cabral is the first African-American woman sheriff in state history. She was appointed all the way back in 2002 and has since been elected twice. Over the years Cabral has consolidated her power…and has not been shy about using it outside of her day job running a sheriff’s office with 1,100 or so employees. Last year was especially big for Cabral, who emerged as a strong voice for the reelection of Governor Deval Patrick; was featured as a guest speaker at the conference of the National Organization for Women; and even stood up (at least for a little while) to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “staggering lack of communication and respect” by threatening to kick the notorious agency’s detainees out of her jail.  — John Wolfson

Tracy Campion

Founder, Campion and Company

Power demo:  Racking up more than $550 million in high-end real estate sales to Boston’s rich and powerful since 2007.


Sonia Chang-Díaz

State Senator, Second Suffolk District 

Power demo:  Restoring public faith in her Senate seat after her predecessor was convicted of taking thousands in bribes. Chang-Díaz personally addressed more than 8,000 issues from her constituents, sponsored more than a dozen different bills, and won her top legislative priority — the landmark CORI reform that aims to put the brakes  on job discrimination against former criminals — all during her first two years in office.


Robin Chase

Co-Founder Zipcar And GoLoco

Power demo:  Revolutionizing how we navigate urban environments, with both Zipcar and her new online ride-sharing company, GoLoco.


Martha Coakley

Massachusetts Attorney General

Power demo:  Keeping auto insurance low; getting one of the first big settlements from Goldman Sachs; regulating utility costs under Cape Wind. (Okay, so she’s a really bad campaigner.)


Cheryl Cronin

Partner, Cronin & Leonard

Power demo:  Being the go-to legal mind on all matters political and strategic for the highest and mightiest, from Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign to Martha Coakley.


Catherine D’Amato

President/CEO, Greater Boston Food Bank

Power demo:  Lording over the opening of a new 117,000-square-foot facility that feeds close to 545,000 people a year and doles out more than 34 million pounds of food annually.


Anne Finucane

Global Strategy and Marketing Officer/Northeast President, Bank of America

Power demo:  If it seems like Bank of America is taking over the world, it’s Anne Finucane’s job to make it feel like a friendly takeover, with easy access to ATMs and online checking for all. She may have gotten her start at Hill Holliday, but these days she does lots more than just plan advertising strategy — she also oversees B of A’s government affairs and public policy work. She rode herd on the bank’s efforts to pay back its TARP money and is a key contact for Congress and the Obama administration. And just to make sure we locals didn’t forget about her, she was front and center last summer when Ken Burns released his baseball documentary The Tenth Inning, positioning B of A as its primary sponsor. Her husband, Mike Barnicle, had a starring role in the doc, by the way. Did we mention Finucane is powerful?  — Jason Schwartz

Devra First

Restaurant Critic, Boston Globe

Power demo:  Steering legions of diners toward (or away) from the city’s eateries, oftentimes determining a business’s success or failure. Her identity remains so secret we couldn’t even illustrate her for you.



Carol Fulp

Senior VP of Brand Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility, John Hancock Financial

Power demo:  Presiding over an $11 million corporate-giving program. (And getting nominated to represent the U.S. at the UN.)


Orit Gadiesh

Chairman, Bain & Company

Power demo:  Rocking the World Economic Forum as a regular speaker.



Drew Gilpin Faust

President, Harvard University

Power demo:  Somehow making Harvard even more global, building partnerships in Asia and recently creating a teacher-education initiative in Soweto, Africa.



Anne Hawley

Director, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Power demo:  Hawley began at the Gardner more than 20 years ago with a bang — just before thieves walked off with $500 million in fine art. She’ll kick off 2012 with a different sort of excitement: the unveiling of the museum’s Renzo Piano–designed wing, a $114 million modern wonder featuring a 300-seat performance hall, a 2,000-square-foot special exhibition gallery, even an adjoining greenhouse area. The project tested Hawley’s considerable skills, given that the founder of the museum had written it into her will that the collections must never be modified. Hawley not only needed to convince the Supreme Judicial Court that the expansion wouldn’t change the original building or its contents — she also had to overcome the objections of disapproving neighborhood preservationists.  — Brittany Jasnoff


Regina Herzlinger

Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Power demo:  Acting as the intellectual parent of our state’s universal healthcare plan.


Susan Hockfield

President, MIT

Power demo:  Captaining a $300 million energy-research and -education push to develop new wind turbines, solar cells, and strategies for better utilizing our existing power sources.


Barbara Hostetter


Power demo:  Cofounding the Barr Foundation, the state’s largest private charity, which has given more than $418 million to environmental, educational, and arts and culture causes.


Swanee Hunt

Philanthropist; Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government

Power demo:  Creating the Hunt Alternatives Fund — it’s delivered $130 million to promote female political leadership and arts for disadvantaged kids.


Abigail Johnson

Vice Chairman/Director FMR President Fidelity Personal, Workplace and Institutional Services

Power demo:  Being poised to succeed Ned Johnson, her 80-year-old father, as the CEO of one of the nation’s biggest financial services companies. She is routinely listed among the richest women in America.

Carol Johnson

Superintendent Boston Public Schools

Power demo:  It’s too bad that every time Carol Johnson’s name turns up in the paper these days, somebody seems to be criticizing her. She’s been forced to institute budget-trimming initiatives such as closing or merging more than a dozen schools, and she’s set about firing or reassigning underperforming teachers — hardly a recipe for positive PR. Still, Johnson has been taking care of business since arriving from Memphis in 2007: The city’s test scores are up, the dropout rate is at its lowest point in two decades, and BPS was named one of the 20 most-improved school systems in the world in a 2010 McKinsey & Co. report.  — Tanya Pai



Julie Kahn

Vice President/New England Market Manager, Entercom

Power demo:  Calling the shots at some of New England’s top-rated radio stations, such as WEEI, WRKO, and WAAF.


Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Chair/Director, Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative

Power demo:  Spreading innovative leadership strategies; winning the Association of Leadership Professionals’ International Leadership Award.

Karen Kaplan

President, Hill Holiday

Power demo:  Growing the ad agency’s annual billings to more than
$1 billion, with clients ranging from Dunkin’ Donuts to Bank of America and Verizon Wireless.


Victoria Reggie Kennedy

Former Partner, Keck, Mahin & Cate 

She’s known to most as the late Ted Kennedy’s wife. But Vicki Kennedy has quickly become a major force in local and national political circles. After the senator’s passing, it’s said that her support helped install longtime aide Paul Kirk to keep the seat warm until — much to her chagrin — it was captured by Scott Brown. And over the last year, she’s become a sought-after endorsement, stumping for several Democratic candidates in November and working the social circuit with gusto. She’s popped up at benefits and openings galore, and has delivered multiple high school and college commencement addresses — all in addition to one of her biggest charitable endeavors, fundraising for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. Though the former lawyer found herself on many Dems’ shortlists of potential challengers to Brown in 2012, she’s wound up brushing off speculation regarding a future candidacy — for now, anyway.  — Donna Garlough


Myra Kraft

Philanthropist; President New England Patriots Charitable Foundation

Power demo:  Injecting more than $100 million into dozens of causes — from tiny grassroots campaigns to major universities — through organizations like the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation and the Robert K. and Myra H. Kraft Foundation, both of which she coestablished.


Saundra Lane

Art Collector; Honorary Trustee, MFA

Power demo:  Making the careers of starving artists simply by adding their works to her esteemed collection.

Gloria Larson

President, Bentley University; Former Chair, Massachusetts Convention Center Authority

Power demo:  Driving the massive $800 million Boston Convention and Exhibition Center project.



Barbara Lee

Philanthropist; Fouder Barbara Lee Family Foundation

Power demo:  Conceiving and funding  contemporary-art and women-in-politics programs — and helping to elect just about every sitting woman Democratic senator and governor nationwide.


Janice Loux

President, Unite Here! Local 26

Power demo: They call her a bully, but a compassionate one. And on both counts, with good reason: As the protector of 5,000-plus Boston hospitality workers, Loux has picked fights with — and won concessions from — big players like Hyatt (getting new positions offered to the 98 housekeepers replaced by lower-paid subcontractors) and the Liberty Hotel (the city postponed its approval of the hotel because it hadn’t signed with the union). Under Loux, Local 26 has doubled its membership and become one of New England’s largest private-sector unions, and the percentage of Boston’s unionized hotels has shot up from 40 to 60. Loux comes by her trade naturally — her mother was the hotel waitress who took on the all-male bartenders union and got it to admit women.  — Alexandra Hall




Barbara Lynch

Chef & Restaurateur

Power demo:  Changing the very fabric of every neighborhood where she opens a new restaurant.



Carolyn Lynch

Philanthropist, President/Chairman, The Lynch Foundation

Power demo:  Heading up (after cofounding) the Lynch Foundation, which has given upward of $50 million to more than 200 organizations.


Mary Anne Marsh

Principal,The Dewey Square Group; Political Analyst, Fox News

Power demo:  Strategizing for both Fortune 500 companies and political players like John Kerry and Treasurer Shannon O’Brien.


Linda Mason

Chairman/Cofounder Bright Horizons; Cofounder Horizons for Homeless Children

Power demo:  Providing childcare services to more than 80,000 families in 703 facilities across the state.


Jill Medvedow

Director, The Institute of Contemporary Art

Power demo:  Building the ICA’s $51 million home on Fan Pier, replacing (and tripling the size of) its former quarters in a Back Bay Victorian.


Carol Meyrowitz

President/CEO, TJX Companies

Power demo:  Steering the off-price retail giant safely through credit-card disasters and economic plunges alike.


Cathy Minehan

Managing Director, Arlington Advisory Partners; Chair, MGH Board of Trustees

Power demo:  Driving MGH’s Campaign for the Third Century of MGH Medicine — the largest campaign in the hospital’s history…and, you know, her 13 years as head of Boston’s Federal Reserve Bank.


Therese Murray

Chairman, Global Corporate Practice; President, Massachusetts Senate

Power demo:  Authoring the 2008 bill that stopped doctors from getting paid by Big Pharma to push drugs onto patients.


Beth Myers

Principal, The Shawmut Group

Power demo:  Acting as Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial chief of staff, and as his campaign manager and closest aide during the 2008 presidential race.


Diane Paulus

Artistic Director, America Repertory Theater

Power demo:  Reviving theater in Boston with cutting-edge, immersive productions like The Donkey Show and Sleep No More.

Regina Pisa

Chairman/Managing Partner, Goodwin Procter

Power demo:  Nabbing 35 hotshot partners and 26 associates when rival law firm Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault closed — one of the biggest hiring coups in Boston legal history.



Lora Pellegrini

President/CEO, Massachusetts Association of Health Plans

Power demo:  Representing more than 2.3 million Bay State residents covered by 13 different health plans (and serving as Deval Patrick’s chief adviser for legislative affairs).


Linda Pizzuti Henry

Director, John W. Henry Family Foundation; Producer, After the Game

Power demo:  Putting together the snappy video that finally got the ball rolling on the Boston Public Market.


Carol Rose

Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

Power demo:  Leading the charge against racial and sexual intolerance, unjust imprisonment, invasions of privacy, and even Internet censorship.


Laura Sen

President/CEO, BJ’S Wholesale Club

Power demo: Increasing the $10 billion company’s stock value from $30 to $45 during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. How? By pushing the colossus to corner not just the bulk market but also the market for weekly groceries.


Micho Spring

President, New England Weber Shandwick

Power demo:  Teaching heavy-hitter corporate clients like CVS and Genzyme how to make themselves look good in the community.


Meg Vaillancourt

Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Boston Red Sox; Executive Director, Red Sox Foundation

Power demo: Distributing $45 million since 2003 to disadvantaged youth and families through the Olde Towne Team’s philanthropic arm.



Joan Vennochi

Columnist, Boston Globe

Power demo:  There are just a handful of local scribes we truly rely on to offer actual perspective about the state of our city (the rest seem to exist purely to be made fun of). Among the serious few, none uses her Globe-given soapbox to more provocative effect than op-ed writer Joan Vennochi, who’ll take on — and take down — anything from the casino bill to high school bullies to the politics of snow removal. More important, her judgments frequently translate to results. Last November, for example, she blasted the idea that Marty Meehan, a former congressman who now runs UMass Lowell, was being taken seriously as a candidate for UMass president. Just days later, Meehan removed himself from contention for the spot. Coincidence? Quite doubtful. — Donna Garlough


Joan Wallace-Benjamin

President/CEO, The Home for Little Wanderers

Power demo:  Saving the lives of thousands through the Home for Little Wanderers, which in 2010 alone provided more than 60,000 hours of help to children and families in need.


Susan Windham-Bannister

President/CEO Massachusetts Life Sciences Center

Power demo: Orchestrating a $1 billion investment in our medical, biotech, and academic research institutions, bolstering everything from pharmaceuticals to medical devices.

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