Though it was a chilly, gloomy day, it did not stop a large crowd from gathering at the Boston Women’s Memorial on Oct. 28 for its 15th anniversary.
Several women made remarks, speaking about how this memorial has impacted the city over its 15 years, and reminisced about when it was first unveiled in 2003. The memorial pays homage to Phyllis Wheatley, Abigail Adams, and Lucy Stone in the form of three bronze sculptures on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
Marie Turley, former director of the Boston Women’s Commission, said that the project took from before 1992 until 2003, and required 150 different people engaged in different levels.
She thanked Mayor Thomas Menino and Barbara Lee, president and founder of the Barbara Lee Foundation, for their generous donations to create the memorial, as well as the “Founding Mothers,” a group of 150 people who “came together to change the conversation about women and women in art and the engagement of diverse women in the conversation of art in our city,” she said.
Creating the Boston Women’s Memorial was no small feat. Turley spoke of the original unveiling of the memorial, saying that there were four musicians, 20 women to unveil the statues, and 300 people in the audience. “The memorial took five committees, three appointing authorities, 12 city departments, 11 cultural institutions including the National Park Service and Mass. Historic, and hundreds of people to believe in it and support the work,” Turley said.
Tania Del Rio, executive director for the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, said that this is an exciting moment for her and she is proud to offer support from the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement for “anything that has to do with promoting women and making our contributions to public life visible.”
There were only two statues of women in Boston for most of the 20th century, said Barbara Lee said when she got up to speak. It wasn’t until 1999 that a statue of former slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, was erected in the South End.
Lee said she saw Mayor Menino and his wife at the unveiling, where the Mayor asked her if she would be a part of creating the Boston Women’s Memorial. “I was totally honored and leapt at the chance,” she said.
“Fifteen years later, I still feel a jolt of pride every time I pass by this spot that we’re standing on today and I know I’m not the only one,” she continued.
Over the past 15 years, people have gathered at the memorial to touch the statues and pose for photos, Lee said. “While so many of our monuments simply blend into the background, the Boston Women’s Memorial quite literally stops people in their tracks,” she said. Dozens of women stopped by the memorial on Election Day in 2016 to drop off flowers, notes, and their ‘I Voted’ stickers.
“I am deeply moved that this is a public space that inspires action as much as reflection, and that’s how it should be. Women have always shaped our nation’s history, and I am grateful that here in Boston, women are at last getting the respect and the representation they deserve, not only in art, but also in politics,” Lee said.
Meredith Bergmann, the sculptor for the memorial, said that it has “succeeded in ways I never imagined to inspire and sustain our spirits.” She added that she thinks the design of the memorial works, and that people are inspired by the quotations that are etched into the stones by each of the women. She said that the accessibility of the statues has made these historical women “more real and alive than people from other centuries have any right to be, and the arrangement of the ladies around a central space makes the visitors self-aware and aware of others,” she said.
After hearing from three women dressed as friends of Adams, Wheatley, and Stone reminisce about their dear friends in a spoken word performance, City Council President Andrea Campbell said a few words.
Campbell reminded the audience that there are six women on the Boston City Council, a first in the history of Boston.
“As we continue to move forward, even in the toughest moments for each of us, let’s remember these women, let’s remember the women who aren’t here, who aren’t visualized, and the fact that they laid down their lives for us to sit together in this park, for us to run for office, for us to reach our dreams and our God-given potential,” she said, closing the program.