Updated July 28 at 6:16 p.m.
After years of public process, the nonprofit group LexSeeHer has earned definitive approval to represent the contributions of women to local and national history with a permanent monument in the heart of Lexington.
The Select Board voted unanimously Monday night to approve the widely-supported project proposed by LexSeeHer entitled “Something Is Being Done!”. In its vote, the Board explicitly approved LexSeeHer’s request to site the monument on a prominent, much-debated location in front of the Visitors Center.
The bronze gateway, designed by renowned sculptor Meredith Bergmann, will represent more than 20 women from the 18th to the 21st centuries who have taken action for liberty, equality and justice, LexObserver previously reported.
“Bergmann’s design has engaged with our community’s deep respect for history and eagerness to share untold stories that spotlight women,” LexSeeHer president Jessie Steigerwald wrote in an email following the vote. “The monument will be a gateway to honor women’s contributions through our history, and it will also stand as a testament to what we as a community have been able to do together…in this moment in time.”
The Select Board’s 5-0 vote provides LexSeeHer with the key approval needed to move forward with the project, which will likely take about 18 months to complete. LexSeeHer intends to complete the project well in advance of the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington in April 2025; Bergmann said that even taking pandemic supply chain delays into account, “we can certainly have this finished by November of ’24,” as requested by the Select Board.
The project will ultimately become Town property; the monument was envisioned as a gift from LexSeeHer to the community, and the approved site is on public land. LexSeeHer has raised more than $300,000 from hundreds of supporters to fund the project.
The Select Board’s vote follows support for the monument from at least 15 community groups, and votes in favor of the project by public committees including the Commission on Disability, the Historic Districts Commission, the Monuments and Memorials Committee and the Tourism Committee.
But the Select Board broke from the Monuments and Memorials and Tourism Committees by unanimously approving the monument’s location in front of the Visitors Center at 1875 Massachusetts Ave., which LexSeeHer refers to as Site 15. In April, the Monuments and Memorials Committee held two unanimous votes supporting the monument and opposing Site 15. The Tourism Committee voted 4-2 in favor of the monument and against the site one month earlier; the two members in the minority supported the proposed site.
Tourism Committee Chair Dawn McKenna was the only community member to criticize the project during public comment at Monday’s meeting. As previously reported, she continued to argue that the monument’s proposed location “absolutely ignores the basic principles of” the decade-old Battle Green Master Plan, which provides guidelines for the design and stewardship of the Battle Green Area. LexSeeHer has argued that the monument would strengthen the historic and visual cohesion of this area, not weaken it – and has noted that the plan is technically outdated.
Several community members voiced their support for the project at the proposed location during Monday’s meeting. A few community members directly disagreed with McKenna’s comments.
“History is something that evolves; women were left out in the past, and it’s time to include them,” said Town Meeting Member Wendy Reasenberg (P8).
Town Meeting Member Bridger McGaw (P6), who is also a board member of the Meriam Hill Association, voiced his support for the monument at Site 15 as well. He added that “master plans over time have been meant to change,” citing a prominent national example: “The plan for the National Mall didn’t include the Vietnam War Memorial; it didn’t include the WWII Memorial. And yet, both of those designs were met with many pros and cons…and both are some of the most…visited destinations in our nation’s capital.”
“As we approach our 250th celebration in our own community, it’s important to remember that women have played such a significant part in so many parts of our history – and will in the future,” McGaw said.
Town Meeting Member Cindy Arens (P3) shared a more personal perspective. Already, in the Town Center, anyone can see from the Minute Man Statue that “we are elevating a man to a very permanent place of honor.” In her view, “Our residents, our visitors, especially all of our daughters and granddaughters should be able to just turn around, travel a few yards, and see that Lexington also values what women have contributed to the very important history of our Town,” she said.
Comments during Monday’s meeting represented just a sampling of community input about the project: Select Board Member Suzie Barry noted that the Board has received “probably hundreds of emails” about the project which have “spanned the range – the majority of them have been in support.”
Barry added that “there were a few times when the tones of [the emails] were a little bit concerning to us, or to me,” and encouraged community members not to let the project be a source of permanent division regardless of their views. “I just hope that if any relationships during this process were fractured, that we can work together as a community to try and heal those,” she said. “I want to make sure we continue to value all of our volunteers in town across the board” – LexSeeHer members and Town board and committee members alike.
Steigerwald wrote that LexSeeHer members “were so grateful for all of the time people – residents, supporters, town staff – put into consideration of our proposal, and offering input that improved the project.”
Select Board Vice Chair Doug Lucente, who was liaison to both the Monuments and Memorials and Tourism Committees for the majority of time LexSeeHer worked with those groups, estimated he had attended “about 20 to 25 meetings on this topic.” In his view, the project isn’t perfect; for instance, “there’s some individuals represented on the monument that were a little too contemporary for my liking,” he said. But he does not believe the perfect should be the enemy of the good, and said LexSeeHer has done due diligence to explore alternative locations and concepts.
“Am I 100% in love with every element of it, 100% in love with the location? No,” he said. “Do I think this is good, and it’s a good project? Yes….This will be something, years from now, I think the Town will be happy and proud of.”
Barry agreed with Lucente, adding that she appreciated the Historic Districts Commission’s input resulting in a 45-degree rotation of the monument.
In response to Barry’s slight concern about the possibility of children climbing on the monument, Bergmann reassured Board members that the monument “will be designed in coordination with structural engineers so that it can withstand high winds – and it can withstand a football team climbing on top of it.”
“I’m constantly thinking about safety, and vandalism, and durability, and maintenance – not just sculpture and art,” she added.
Member Mark Sandeen pointed out that according to Town records, Lexington has monuments and memorials naming 227 men – and just six women. “That’s 38 times more men honored than women,” he said.
Sandeen referenced one of his favorite movies, Hidden Figures, which recounts how the contributions of Black women to NASA enabled John Glenn’s launch into orbit. The film, he said, is an example of the way exploring overlooked histories enriches overall historic understanding without anything being lost or diminished.
“From my perspective, this is not the time to delay honoring women; this is the time to move forward, recognizing that women have been, are and always will be at the center of our lives and key to all of our successes,” he said. This project should not be Lexington’s last monument honoring women, he added.
Member Joe Pato, who served at the Board’s previous liaison to the Commission on Disability, noted he has been impressed with LexSeeHer’s responsiveness to that group’s input on monument siting and design. The Commission on Disability was among the first public committees to vote in favor of Site 15, as previously reported.
As the longest-serving member of the Board, Pato noted that he has “grown to expect that few things are unanimous in the community,” he said. While he respects different views on how the monument may change or affect “how things have been…if we don’t move forward, we die,” he said. Change is emblematic of a “vital community” – which Lexington is, he emphasized.
Chair Jill Hai acknowledged that “the location..is directly connected to the women represented….there’s a symbiotic relationship between the content and the location.”
Steigerwald affirmed as much during her presentation. “These women worked here, they protested here, went to school here; some were enslaved here, some died here,” she said.
“Many monuments in America have been built by women who were celebrating or uplifting the accomplishments of men,” she added. “We’re a group of mostly women, and some men, who feel like it’s time to put a spotlight on women’s contributions.”