State House Women’s Leadership Project

SHWLP IntroductionThe Foundation initiated the State House Women’s Leadership Project in 1995. The first step was to commission a new piece for the State House Art Collection.

A virtual tour of the art work is available on this site; you can view the portraits, read the captions, and learn more about the women honored.

SHWLP Virtual Tour Click HereIn addition to the artwork, the Foundation developed a curriculum for use in middle and high school classrooms and commissioned a dramatic presentation based on the life of one of the women honored. All of these aspects of the project are described on this part of the Mass Humanities website.

The Project

State House Women's Leadership Project logoEach year more than 90,000 people, including 30,000 schoolchildren, visit the historic Massachusetts State House. Until 1999, all of the many works of art they saw displayed in the Commonwealth’s most important public building depicted men, and white men at that.

We know that women had a profound impact on public life long before they could testify at legislative hearings, cast a vote, or hold elected office. Yet there was virtually no recognition of their contributions within the State House.

In 1995, the state legislature began to remedy this problem by establishing a Senate Select Committee to commemorate the contribution of women to the government of the Commonwealth. After consulting with experts, the committee recommended that six women be honored in a work of art to be permanently installed in the State House: Dorothea Dix, Lucy Stone, Sarah Parker Remond, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Mary Kenney O’Sullivan, and Florence Luscomb.

The next step was the launching by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities of the State House Women’s Leadership Project. With funding from public and private sources, the Foundation:

  • Commissioned Sheila de Bretteville and Susan Sellers to create HEAR US, a work of art honoring the contributions of women to public life in Massachusetts;
  • Developed Making the World Better: The Struggle for Equality in 19th Century America, a curriculum packet for middle and high school students;
  • Commissioned Judith Black to write and perform “Meet Lucy Stone,” a character presentation based on the life of honoree Lucy Stone.