At the southeast corner of Lexington’s historic Battle Green, the Minute Man Statue depicts Captain (John) Parker standing with his musket resting on a raised knee. His resolute gaze is fixed on the Town Center – where almost 250 years ago, the British bore down in a chilling mass of red.
Captain Parker’s statue was unveiled 125 years after what the National Park Service describes as “the short but momentous skirmish between the Minute Men and the British forces that initiated the Revolutionary War.” The statue has become the most recognizable symbol of Lexington, and the Battle of Lexington. Except, perhaps, for the annual Patriots’ Day reenactment that brings the battle to life, which ends with American women rushing out toward the fallen soldiers – to heal, and to grieve.
Captain Parker represents the men who fought in that storied battle. But who represents the women?
That’s the question LexSeeHer, a nonprofit group that has raised more than $300,000 and amassed hundreds of supporters, began asking in earnest in 2020 as they marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. In October 2020, Town Meeting almost unanimously passed Article 7, a citizen petition and non-binding resolution to establish a monument “in a highly visible and public outdoor location to honor the contributions women have made to improve Lexington.” The resolution specified that the monument should celebrate Lexington women “across time.”
LexSeeHer then began to grapple with more complicated artistic, political and practical questions. Who should create the monument? Which women should the monument represent? How can a single monument do justice to so many women with such rich and different histories? What is the Town’s process for approving a project of this scale and significance?
One question raised in the earliest discussions has proved to be the thorniest of all: In a town whose most prominent location is saturated with revolutionary history, where does a monument to women belong?
The issue will soon come to a head as LexSeeHer has asked the Select Board to vote on the monument, and its location. Though a vote is not yet scheduled, the group hopes to gain approval next month.
Imagining the monument: “Lace and steel”
You might know Meredith Bergmann, a renowned sculptor and poet, from her work on the Boston Women’s Memorial near Newbury Street. More recently, she completed the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Central Park.
“The underrepresentation of women in public statuary, despite their achievements, and the history of achievement, is profound,” Bergmann said. “And I’m very, very happy to be riding the wave of correction of that.”
In its May 2021 call to artists, LexSeeHer suggested statues of three women, and an empty pedestal “or other means of inviting visitors to interact and represent contemporary women and women of the future.” On its ideas page, the group included Bergmann’s Boston and Central Park monuments as inspiration. Bergmann was drawn to apply by Lexington’s history and LexSeeHer’s enthusiasm – but “didn’t want to do [three statues] again,” she explained. After attending the Lexington Historical Society’s “Bold Women of Lexington” exhibit and seeing the number of women included, she decided three women wouldn’t suffice: Lexington “need[s] a panoply of women who have achieved something, contributed something to the Town… and to American society.”
So Bergmann proposed a slim, bronze “triumphal arch” with many women sculpted into both sides, and was selected in part for that visionary concept. She substituted the empty pedestal with a central gateway atop a circular granite plaza: “The gateway is something that you can stand in or sit in if you’re in a wheelchair, and hold hands with this…spread of history, of women.” The proposed monument has grown to represent more than 20 women from the 18th to the 21st centuries who have taken action for liberty, equality and justice. Its title – “Something Is Being Done!” – pays homage to Abigail Harrington’s words to her son, Jonathan, on April 19, 1775: “The reg’lars are coming and something must be done!”
“It has a delicacy and a strength, which I very much wanted also for reasons of my sense of femininity,” Bergmann said. “It’s not all lace; it’s also steel.”
Carol Ward, executive director of the Lexington Historical Society and an art historian, was thrilled at the artist’s selection. “She is one of the foremost sculptors – forget female sculptors, sculptors – of our time,” she said. The Lexington Historical Society is LexSeeHer’s fiscal sponsor.
Despite widespread enthusiasm for Bergmann and her design, and official project endorsements from at least 15 community groups, a few critics have emerged. Véronique Hélénon, a historian and assistant professor at Roxbury Community College, joined LexSeeHer as an advisory board member during the artist selection process last year, but resigned this January due to concerns about the group’s decision-making process and the proposed design. She was dissatisfied, first, that none of the three artist finalists were “people of the global majority” – a term she uses to decenter whiteness in describing people of color.
Hélénon confided in her friend and fellow Lexingtonian, Monica White Ndounou, an artist and professor of theater at Dartmouth College, who shared Hélénon’s concerns. “I know there are people of the global majority who are artists that are here, that are capable,” White Ndounou said. Hélénon’s account made her think “that Black residents of Lexington were asked to be a part of this, to co-sign on the project, without actually even hearing [their] concerns” – disregarding their perspectives. White Ndounou was especially disheartened that Hélénon, as a professor with expertise in Africana Studies and history, seemed to have been “summarily dismissed.”
LexSeeHer president Jessie Steigerwald countered that the group had gone above and beyond to reach as many artists as possible with all backgrounds and life experiences, including people of color – at least one of whom was among the semi-finalists. Specifically, LexSeeHer put the word out through the Massachusetts Cultural Council as well as some professors at art schools to reach a more diverse array of artists. “We did not ask any artists to provide their racial identity,” Steigerwald wrote in an email.
The artists who weren’t selected proposed impressive projects too, Steigerwald said – but some of those designs were not “a good fit” for this endeavor. “Part of…site-specific art is really getting the right person at the right time, who’s got something that fits your site, that fits your community and fits your call to artists,” she said.
Budget constraints also affected the artist selection process, added LexSeeHer Secretary Michelle Tran. “We can’t raise a million dollars,” she said. “And if someone’s monument that they want to do is going to be way over our budget… it’s just impossible.” This challenge came up with at least one artist of color and one white woman, recalled LexSeeHer Treasurer Leslie Masson.
Larry Freeman, a LexSeeHer advisory board member who also is a member of the School Committee, Town Meeting and the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington (ABCL), strongly supported the process. “It was just diverse from the beginning to the end,” he said. “Every selection included all voices, and I found it quite impressive. Even, at times, I felt like they were really going overboard with trying to be so inclusive.”
The ABCL is among the many community organizations that have officially endorsed LexSeeHer’s project. Freeman, speaking as an individual, said the LexSeeHer organizers gathered many points of view, including within the African American community, before they voted to choose an artist. “The person I selected did not win,” Freeman said. “But I do recognize that as we celebrate democracy here at Lexington, that it fully showed democracy in action; we all had one equal vote.”
“You’re not going to please every person, regardless of their race or creed,” he added.
LexSeeHer’s process appeared to include all perspectives, Hélénon said, but ultimately, “we were all expected to rally around the majority’s viewpoint,” she wrote in an email. “The dynamic does not allow for nuances or other perspectives.”
Hélénon’s reservations grew as LexSeeHer members discussed the monument’s design. How would a white artist creating a single bronze monument capture women of color? Did the group give sufficiently nuanced consideration to Indigenous representation in the monument?
Hélénon was also shaken to see that a Black woman would be represented on one side of the monument, with a white woman on the other side. “You would have a Black woman and on her back a white woman, which kind of sends a message that a Black woman cannot be there by herself,“ she said.
Neither the LexSeeHer Advisory Board nor the Steering Committee shared these concerns, Freeman said. After a five-month open nomination process, final decisions on monument subjects were made by LexSeeHer’s Steering Committee, the volunteers who brought Article 7 to Town Meeting in 2020. The Advisory Board “was created in 2021 to add a group of people from different disciplines who could provide guidance, experience, support, and also pose good questions to help the project grow,” Steigerwald explained.
The 20+ women represented in the monument include both individual women and representational figures – from Margaret Tulip (who successfully sued for her freedom and has Black and Indigenous ancestry, per LexSeeHer), to suffragist Caroline Wellington, to a figure representing a “youth activist for liberty, equality & justice.”
On the question of Indigenous representation, Steigerwald added, “we see that there is a great future opportunity in Lexington…to find a way to recognize and memorialize the way Indigenous people live and have lived in this space, because Indigenous people are not simply ‘in the past’ – but are actually alive and have a 12,000+ year long history in this area.”
“It is a much longer story to share than the 309 years of the town’s history,” she wrote.
As for the back-to-back figures, Freeman said he views the two sides of the monument as separate – a way to represent more women. “I look at it as two separate monuments that just happen to be together; they are not dependent upon each other,” he said. After a robust discussion about the concern raised by Hélénon, LexSeeHer members voted to approve this approach, he added.
At heart, Hélénon objected to the monument’s concept. The unique aesthetic, weaving together different women, “gives the sense that all these women have been happily doing things together throughout history. And we know it’s not true.”
According to Steigerwald, “Across our 12 Steering Committee members and 17 Advisory Board members, we have a very thoughtful group of people who…have different perspectives and different lenses of identity themselves…All the feedback was taken into account and consensus was reached by that broad group.”
Location and design: A chicken and egg predicament?
In other monument projects she has worked on, Bergmann has noticed “this sense that women should…know their place, be submissive, be quiet and delicate and small and stay out of the way.” That can manifest as concerns “about the shape and size of the sculpture, the number of figures, the placement – but what they’re really expressing is deep, almost unconscious feelings about women.“
For LexSeeHer, siting the monument has been challenging from the start.
In fall 2020, at Special Town Meeting 2, LexSeeHer earned approval for a women’s monument with 165 votes in favor, 3 against and 6 abstaining. But multiple Town Meeting Members and four members of the Select Board, which must ultimately approve the monument, had reservations about the original motion, which specified installing it “near the Visitor[s] Center or Cary Library.” After an amendment substituted “public outdoor location,” all five Select Board members voted in support of the monument.
LexSeeHer’s first choice for a monument location was the green space outside Cary Library. But shortly after Town Meeting, that was ruled out by multiple practical constraints – so LexSeeHer began pursuing placement near the Visitors Center. Members outlined about 20 sites that would suit the monument based on criteria including accessibility, visibility, minimizing expenses and avoiding underground infrastructure. The group also wanted the monument to be “within view of Captain Parker” and “within view of the site of the Spinning Protest” of 1769, where 45 women protested British taxation on imported clothing.
LexSeeHer’s criteria put nearly all of the prospective sites within the Battle Green Historic District.
Select Board Vice Chair Doug Lucente (who was then chair of the Select Board) and Town Manager Jim Malloy directed LexSeeHer to present its proposal to the Monuments and Memorials Committee and the Historic Districts Commission. They also asked that LexSeeHer consult with Director of Public Works David Pinsonneault to ensure that the monument site would not interfere with existing Town infrastructure.
LexSeeHer narrowed down the possible sites after consulting with Pinsonneault. Then, last spring, the group hit a wall: When LexSeeHer approached the HDC for feedback on a site, following the Select Board’s guidance, HDC member Anne Eccles (who was then chair of the HDC) told them in an April 2021 email that the project needed to be “thoroughly designed and sited” before the HDC could approve or discuss it.
In the meantime, LexSeeHer had also scheduled a meeting with the Commission on Disability that month to address accessibility, one of the top site criteria. At the commission’s April 2021 meeting, representatives presented 20 locations and the narrowed-down options. They received the most feedback from the commission in favor of site #15, on the Visitors Center lawn, according to LexSeeHer’s report and CoD Chair Victoria Buckley (who is also a LexSeeHer donor); the CoD voted unanimously in favor of that location at a later meeting in August 2021.
LexSeeHer could not move forward with the HDC without a design – yet artists design monuments to fit their sites. Stuck in what its report calls “a chicken and egg situation,” LexSeeHer decided to move forward with selecting an artist to create a design in order to ultimately present their proposed artist, design and location together to the HDC. In May 2021, the group simultaneously launched its fundraising campaign and posted a call to artists specifying Site 15, while acknowledging that the location would require HDC and Select Board approval.
Bergmann designed “Something Is Being Done!” for Site 15, and erected a foam core and wood mock-up there at a “Sculpture Rehearsal” last November. She said that the arch of the monument refers to the architecture of the Visitors Center while also reinforcing the monument’s spinning wheel structural symbolism. To Bergmann, Site 15 is “a place of energy and community.”
The monument “could work in other places,” she added. “But I think it would be happiest on Site 15, and work best there.”
The Battle Green Master Plan
The Select Board originally asked to hear from two committees about the LexSeeHer monument. But the chair of the Monuments and Memorials Committee, Linda Dixon, sought input from a third body – the Tourism Committee, steward of the decade-old Battle Green Master Plan. Approved by the Select Board in 2011, the plan “offers recommendations for defining the Battle Green Area, unifying its design standards, and providing guidelines for its long-term stewardship.” The National Park Service classified the Battle Green as a National Historic Landmark in the early 1960s; crucially, the Battle Green Area extends beyond Battle Green itself to the Visitors Center lawn, where LexSeeHer would put the monument.
In a victory for LexSeeHer, the HDC granted the group a Certificate of Appropriateness for its monument in a 6-2 vote in February, with one caveat about adjusting the rotation of the monument so it would not overemphasize the Visitors Center within the historic area. The new rotation ties the monument more closely to Ruth Buckman’s garden, Steigerwald explained.
But two Town committees have now voted against Site 15. In March, the Tourism Committee voted 4-2 in favor of the monument, but against the site. And in April, the Monuments and Memorials Committee took two unanimous votes: one in favor of the concept, and one against the desired location.
Tourism Committee Chair Dawn McKenna was a key champion of the Battle Green Master Plan when it was approved, and still serves as committee chair. She said the monument would “be contrary to” this plan primarily because it would block both the open space between the Visitors Center and Captain Parker and the intentionally preserved view of Buckman Tavern for travelers approaching the Minute Man Statue. The Battle Green Master Plan sought to strengthen the cohesion of an entire historic area, in part by recommending preserving “focal points and views” between historic buildings surrounding the Green. The plan also quotes Tree Committee design guidelines from 1991 stating, “It is especially important to preserve the open space between the Minute Man Statue and the Visitor[s] Center” though that appears to be guidance intended for planting trees, not for the placement of other monuments.
LexSeeHer does not believe the proposed monument violates the Battle Green Area’s historical or physical cohesiveness; if anything, it “strengthens the connection,” Steigerwald said. The design is slender and permeable in part so it does not “block” the view of Captain Parker or Buckman Tavern, she added. “The sculpture is designed to pretty much vanish when you see it on end, because it’s only four inches thick,” Bergmann explained.
What’s more, the Battle Green Master Plan was explicitly written “as a blueprint for guiding changes to the Battle Green Area over the next 5-10 years.” LexSeeHer argues that the plan is outdated.
McKenna said that the plan might be behind schedule, but work is ongoing. “The fact of the matter is that towns move slowly,” she said. Yet the Battle Green Area’s “historic value, and the purpose of preservation, has not changed.”
According to Lucinda Brockway, the consultant who prepared the plan more than 10 years ago, “This is a very contested topic between a few good people, and I am encouraging them all to work together to find the best solution.”
“The master plan, at ten years old, should be updated to respond to the new Visitor[s] Center and other changes that have happened around the Green,” she wrote in an email, adding that the plan only addressed existing monuments, not new ones.
When the plan was approved in March 2011 by a 4-1 Selectmen vote, meeting minutes state that “The Selectmen made it clear that they are charged with the final decisions regarding the Battle Green and that will not change because of the Battle Green Master Plan.”
Peter Kelley was on the Select Board (then the Board of Selectmen) when the plan was approved, and voted in favor of it. Today, he and his wife, Beverly, are among the many financial supporters of the LexSeeHer project.
As far as he’s concerned, the Battle Green Master Plan is “just a reference from the way people felt 10 years ago,” he said.
At its core, the siting debate is about how to honor and respect Lexington’s past.
When Kelley visited the mock-up on the Visitors Center lawn, “My first reaction was, I don’t think it belongs here. It’s just too in your face,” he recalled, noting that the primary focus of the site is 1775. However, he will not be unhappy if the monument ends up there, he added.
“If it wins the day, I don’t have any objection to it,” he said.
Some members of the Tourism Committee and Monuments and Memorials Committee strongly object to the proposed site.
McKenna said that the monument would encroach on ”sacred” land if sited in the Battle Green Area. “There’s only one place in town where we honor our role in the formation of this country,” she said. “There are plenty of prominent locations in Lexington where women’s roles can be honored…I just think the Battle Green Master Plan Area, as voted by the Tourism Committee and approved by the Select Board, is not the appropriate location for that.”
Monuments and Memorials Committee Chair Linda Dixon voted against the location. “I have really wrestled with this vote,” she said during the meeting. “This tiny little piece of real estate is a jewel and a gem in our nation’s history, and I just can’t get away from the fact that this little piece of real estate should try to be preserved to that era and that period.” Dixon stressed that an alternative site within that central Battle Green Area could make sense – but believes the site chosen should be “less visible, less obvious” and “less offensive” than the Visitors Center lawn.
Steigerwald said, “If what someone who opposes Site 15 thinks is ‘these women should be less visible,’ then they’re missing the point entirely of having [the monument].”
“Part of our story is literally about the women who contributed to the years leading up to the battle,” she added. “So we’re not trying to dissemble that; we’re trying to weave in the untold stories.”
Longtime Tourism Committee member Margaret Coppe was one of the two committee members who supported Site 15.
Coppe’s views about where the monument should go have evolved over time. At Town Meeting, “I did not like an ad hoc citizen committee coming forward and saying ‘we want something placed on public lands, and here’s what we’ve decided,’” she recalled.
But in the March 31 committee meeting, when McKenna called the Battle Green Area “sacred,” something clicked for Coppe: “If it’s sacred ground, and since this is a project that is meant to memorialize…marginalized groups, of which women were…what better place than to put it on sacred ground?”
Bergmann said that putting the monument on this “sacred” ground will enrich revolutionary history, not detract from it. Women were present for the revolution too, she stressed: “They were in the house, protecting the children… they might have been loading the powder horns; they might have been melting down the spoons for bullets, the way Abigail Adams had to at one point.” In another sense, “they were what the men were fighting to protect.”
At the same time, Bergmann said that Captain Parker will not be threatened by this new monument – and she has no intention of weakening his preeminence. “Nothing can compete with that statue,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It’s huge, and it’s way up in the air. And it really dominates. So this is not meant to try to outweigh that at all.”
“I don’t believe that adding the stories of people who have been overlooked detracts anything from the admiration and attention given to the heroic men,” she said. “I think the more you know, the more in awe you are of the bravery and persistence and faith of our predecessors.”
“There’s history to basically every spot in Lexington,” Ward, of the Historical Society, reflected. In her view, “no matter where it goes…prominent being the key – it’s not taking away from anything that has come in the past. It’s just writing the next chapter of the history of Lexington.”
What this monument will mean for Lexington
After reexamining alternative sites, LexSeeHer still plans to request Select Board approval for Site 15, Steigerwald said. In fact, there has been an uptick in donations since the two votes against the location, Treasurer Masson said.
If approved, the monument could take about 18 months to complete; it may take Bergmann more than a year to sculpt, and up to seven months at the foundry. If LexSeeHer can fund assistants for Bergmann, they could expedite the sculpting process. A gift of $10,000 from LexSeeHer to the Town will be used to establish a fund for maintenance.
LexSeeHer hopes the monument will be done by the 254th anniversary of the Spinning Protest in August 2023 – and well before the much-anticipated 250th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington in 2025.
“If we gain approval in June, we are working to have the monument completed and installed as close to August 2023 as possible,” Steigerwald wrote in an email.
Whatever the outcome, there is consensus that a monument to Lexington women is an important project for the Town.
Freeman wants his daughter to have visible representation. “Primarily because there aren’t a lot of African Americans in Lexington, that figure is going to mean so much to her when she’s able to see herself being represented in a public, prominent location.”
Hélénon and White Ndounou are both parents, too. That’s part of why they care so deeply that the monument is inclusive. “There are other things around town that do not accurately reflect the history and the significance of Black people and our contributions to society. And we don’t need another one,” White Ndounou said. “Especially when there’s a real opportunity to do this differently.”
Even those who oppose the location strongly endorse the project. McKenna was on the first majority-women Board of Selectmen; “I think there’s lots of ways that we can and should honor women,” she said, “and there are plenty of prominent locations to do that throughout town.”