While many of the “great men” memorialized along Commonwealth Avenue are perched upon their pedestals, the three historical figures commemorated in the Boston Women’s Memorial occupy the ground level, standing beside, against, and atop their large blocks of stone. “I wanted to portray the women as having come down off their pedestals, making a feminist metaphor literal and concrete,” said Meredith Bergmann, the artist behind the structure, which was completed in 2003.
The project was inspired by a town hall meeting in 1992, at the Old South Meeting House in the Downtown Crossing neighborhood of Boston, where over 100 people gathered to discuss the under-representation of women in the city’s public art installations. Boston’s then-First Lady Angela Menino shepherded the project, in collaboration with the Boston Women’s Commision, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall Committee, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.
The women memorialized in the installation include Abigail Adams, the closest advisor and wife of America’s second president, John Adams; African-American poet Phillis Wheatley, who was sold into slavery but became one of the best-known writers in New England, catalyzing the antislavery movement in the early 1800s; and Lucy Stone, the prominent orator, abolitionist, and suffragist, who became the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree in 1847. Each woman’s pose symbolizes the unique character of her remarkable life story: Adams stands beside her pedestal, poised and companionable; Wheatley uses her pedestal as a writing desk, sitting in an almost regal position; and Stone leans across her deconstructed pedestal in a commanding posture, pen in hand and ready to write.
Bergmann’s design represents an inspired departure from the traditionally grandiose structures seen elsewhere around the city, encouraging visitors to interact more closely with the figures and reconsider the typical constraints of what a memorial can be or do.