Although everyone agrees that the Boston Terrier came into existence in the late 1800s in Boston, Massachusetts, there are varying stories about how the breed came to be.
One story has it that coachmen of wealthy families developed the breed by crossing Bulldogs and the now extinct English White Terrier to create a new dog-fighting breed. Another account is that a Bostonian named Robert C. Hooper imported an Bulldog/English Terrier cross named Judge from England in 1865 because he reminded Hooper of a dog he’d had in his childhood. Yet another story is that Hooper purchased Judge from another Bostonian, William O’Brian, around 1870.
While we may never know which story is true, the fact is that there was, indeed, a dog named Judge, and that from him, came the breed we know today as the Boston Terrier.
According to The Complete Dog Book, Judge was “a well-built, high-stationed dog” weighing about 32 pounds. He was a dark brindle color with a white blaze on his face and a square, blocky head.
Amazingly, Judge was bred only once. From a union with a 20-pound white dog named Burnett’s Gyp (or Kate) who belonged to Edward Burnett, of Southboro, Massachusetts, came one puppy, a male named Well’s Eph.
By all accounts, Judge and Kate’s offspring wasn’t an attractive dog, but he had other characteristics that Hooper and his friends admired, so he was widely bred.
One of his matings was to a female named Tobin’s Kate, who weighed only 20 pounds and had a fairly short head. She was a golden brindle color and had a straight three-quarter tail. It’s thought that their offspring was bred with one or more French Bulldogs to form the foundation for the Boston Terrier we know today.
But they weren’t called Boston Terriers in the beginning. The multitude of Eph’s offspring were called by various names, including bullet heads, round-headed bull-and-terriers, American terriers, and Boston bulldogs.
In 1889, about 30 owners of Boston Bull Terriers formed the American Bull Terrier Club, and they called them Round Heads or Bull Terriers. Bull Terrier and Bulldog fanciers objected to the name. Since the Bulldog contingency had a lot of power with the American Kennel Club (AKC) at that time, the Boston Bull Terrier fanciers decided that discretion was the better part of valor and changed the name of their club to the Boston Terrier Club, in tribute to the birthplace of the breed. People started referring to the breed as Boston Bulls.
The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1893. The Boston Terrier was one of the first Non-Sporting dogs bred in the U.S. and was the first of the 10 made-in-America breeds currently recognized by the AKC.
In the early days, the breed’s color and markings weren’t considered to be very important. Additionally, although the dogs being bred met the standard outlined by the club, there was a lot of inconsistency within the breed. After years of careful inbreeding to set the type, the Boston Terrier as we know it today was developed. In the 1900s, the breed’s distinctive markings and color were painstakingly written into the standard, making them an essential feature of the breed.
Boston Terriers quickly became popular in the U.S. In 1915, Boston Terriers were the most popular breed in the U.S., remaining in the top ten most popular breeds until the 1960s and topping the list again in 1920 and 1930. In 1918, there were an amazing 60 Bostons entered in a single all-breed show.
Hollywood actors and actresses adored their Boston Terriers. Silent film star Pola Negri, Rudolph Valentino’s lover, reportedly took her Boston Terrier, Patsy, with her everywhere, including restaurants and nightclubs. When one of the restaurants refused to let her enter with her beloved dog, she stormed out, shouting “No Patsy, no Pola. Goodbye forever!” Another famous person who had a Boston Terrier named Patsy was gossip columnist Louella Parsons.
In 1976, the Boston Terrier was chosen as the bicentennial dog of the U.S. Three years later, he was named the official state dog of Massachusetts. Rhett the Boston Terrier is the mascot of Boston University. Wofford College in South Carolina and Redlands High School in California claim the Boston Terrier as their mascots as well.