HEAR US is permanently installed in the oldest part of the Massachusetts State House, just outside of Doric Hall. A series of tall marble panels creates a “portrait gallery” of six remarkable women. In each panel sits a bronze bust of one of the honorees, based on period photographs; two quotations from her speeches or writing are etched on the marble. The wall behind the panels is covered with wallpaper composed of a repeating pattern of legislative documents relating to struggles these women waged.
The artists’ choice of bronze and marble links the new work to the statues and plaques that fill the halls of the State House. The use of type continues the tradition of commemorative plaques found throughout the building—but with an important difference: the words you read on these panels are the women’s own. They come from pamphlets, speeches, articles, newspaper writings, autobiographies, and oral histories.
The panels are arranged chronologically, beginning with Dorothea Dix, who was born at the beginning of the 19th century, and ending with Florence Luscomb, who lived until almost the end of the 20th. Dix had no choice but to work behind the scenes of state government. Luscomb helped win the vote for women and went on to run for office herself.
Take the Tour
I learned in school that the American government was founded on the principle that all men are created equal. But there was no equality for half of the human race – my half. Women were discriminated against not only in political freedom, but in their professional and work opportunities, in their pay, in many of their laws and social conditions and customs. And I burned with indignation at this injustice.
—Oral history, 1983
I was convinced that the workers must organize. Someone must go from shop to shop and find out who the workers were that were willing to work for better working conditions. I must be that someone.
—Unpublished autobiography, 1936
It is the women of America — black and white — who are to solve this race problem, and we do not ignore the duty of black women in the matter. They must arouse, educate and advance themselves. The white woman has a duty in the matter also. She must no longer consent to be passive. We call upon her to take her stand.
—The Woman’s Era, 1894
My strongest desire through life has been to be educated. I found the most exquisite pleasure in reading, and as we had no library, I read every book which came in my way, and I longed for more. Again and again mother would endeavor to have us placed in some private school, but being colored we were refused.
—”A Colored Lady Lecturer,” 1861
In education, in marriage, in religion, in everything, disappointment is the lot of woman. It shall be the business of my life to deepen that disappointment in every woman’s heart until she bows down to it no longer.
—Speech to National Woman’s Rights convention, 1855
I come to present the strong claims of suffering humanity. I come to place before the Legislature of Massachusetts the condition of the miserable, the desolate, the outcast. I come as the advocate of helpless, forgotten, insane men and women; of being sunk to a condition from which the unconcerned would start with real horror.
—Memorial to the Legislature of Massachusetts, 1843
The wall behind the marble panels is covered with wallpaper created out of a repeating pattern of six government documents, each of which relates to a cause one or more of the six honorees fought for.
An Act for the removal of Insane Convicts from the State Prison (1844)
Passed in response to Dorothea Dix’s campaign on behalf of the mentally ill, this law provided for moving convicts who “become deranged” out of state prisons and into the State Lunatic Hospital.
Report of the Committee on the Qualification of Voters (1853)
In June of 1853, Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell were among a group of men and women who petitioned the Massachusetts legislature meeting in constitutional convention to strike the word “male” from the state constitution, thereby giving women the right to vote. In this report, a legislative committee listed the arguments advanced by supporters of woman suffrage and explained that it was refusing to grant their request because it believed that “a vast proportion of the women of Massachusetts do consent to their political condition.”
An Act Forbidding Unjust Discrimination on Account of Color Race (1865)
Sarah Parker Remond first came to public notice in l853 when she was ejected from a Boston theater because she refused to sit in a segregated gallery. She was handled roughly by a policeman, and successfully sued the theater’s owners for damages. It wasn’t until l865, two months after the end of the Civil War and 22 years after her brother Charles had led the fight to integrate seating on Massachusetts trains, that the legislature passed this law outlawing segregation in all public accommodations.
An Act to Give Women the Right to Vote for the Members of School Committees (1879)
For decades, supporters of woman suffrage, including Lucy Stone, Josephine Ruffin, Mary Kenney O’Sullivan and Florence Luscomb, worked without success to get a suffrage amendment to the Massachusetts constitution. Their only victory came in 1879 with the passage of this law giving them the right to vote in school board elections. However, because Lucy Stone refused to register as Lucy Blackwell, insisting “there is no law that requires a wife to take her husband’s name,” she was never allowed to exercise even this limited franchise.
An Act Relative to the Hours of Employment of Women and Minors (1912)
For years, Mary Kenney O’Sullivan and other trade unionists lobbied the Massachusetts legislature to limit the number of hours a week women and children under 18 could work in factories. In 1912, the fight for a 54-hour law passed was won; factory owners refused to raise hourly wages, which meant smaller pay checks for already struggling workers. In Lawrence, 30,000 textile workers -many of them women–staged a dramatic strike, which ended in victory after three months. Mary Kenney O’Sullivan was among their strongest supporters.
Interim Report of the Senate Commission to Investigate Communism in Massachusetts (1955)
In l946, Florence Luscomb wrote to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, “While I am not, and never have been a Communist, I have publicly defended the Constitutional right of any American to hold any political and economic views his conscience dictates.” In 1955, Luscomb was called before the Senate Commission to Investigate Communism in Massachusetts. She answered questions about her background but refused to confirm or deny her membership in a long list of organizations. “I will not answer compulsory questions by government inquisitors into matters of my conscience and opinions… I have nothing to hide… But I cannot and will not tear up the Constitution and its guaranteed liberties, won with blood and tears. I cannot and will not be a party with you in destroying American democracy.”