Worcester Women's History Project

Mechanics Hall Portraits

Information about the portaits and the portraits appear with the permission of Mechanics Hall

Clara Barton - Dorothea Lynde Dix - Abby Kelley Foster - Lucy Stone

The Concept

In the spring of 1996, the Markers and Monuments Committee of the Worcester Women's History Project, then under the leadership of Angela Dorenkamp, Professor Emerita of English and Women's Studies at Assumption College, was charged with bringing "public and permanent recognition to those women who have contributed to the history and culture of the Worcester area." Among the ideas proposed, the concept of exhibiting portraits in Mechanics Hall of distinguished mid-nineteenth century women connected to Worcester emerged. The existing portraits in the Great Hall had been donated or acquired over many decades; the last was acquired in 1927, seventy years after the building opened in 1857. As a result of research conducted by members of the Committee, four leading nineteenth century women were selected, proposed, and approved by the Steering Committee of the Worcester Women's History Project. The Trustees of the Worcester County Mechanics Association first gave their approval in principle in September 1996 then, in May 1997, unanimously endorsed the idea of having portraits of distinguished women hung in Mechanics Hall.

At the request of State Representative Harriette L. Chandler, Mary Melville and Shirley S.Siff agreed to co-chair a task force whose charge was to implement the goal of having the women selected by the Worcester Women's History Project represented in the Great Hall. They pledged to respect the aesthetic and historic integrity of Mechanics Hall. In June 1997, a meeting was called to introduce the initiative to the public, seek support, and suggestions. The response was remarkable. Fifty people attended, dozens of individuals offered to help, experts were consulted, several committees were formed, and a fund raising effort was embarked upon. Within a year over $125,000 had been donated by some 210 private individuals and foundations.

Work Begins

An Arts Committee of recognized art experts was appointed, chaired by Sheila Tetler, art teacher, respected arts community leader, past coordinator and steering committee member of the annual Art All-State Festival at the Worcester Art Museum. The Committee consisted of Georgia Barnhill, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, the American Antiquarian Society, David Brigham, Curator of American Art at the Worcester Art Museum, and Sandra Grindlay, Curator of the Harvard University Portrait Collection. A national search was undertaken for artists specializing in traditional classical style portraiture. Four artists were selected and recommended to the Trustees of the Worcester County Mechanics Association, who voted unanimously to approve the commissioning the paintings. Nineteenth century frames similar to those in Mechanics Hall were located and acquired. The committee's responsibility has been to ensure that the portraits conform to the style of the Great Hall paintings, are historically accurate and are hung in appropriate locations.

The Outreach Committee initiated a portrait contest open to all school-age children in Worcester. Some 300 entries were received, portraying either a woman the students admired or one of the four women selected to be in the Mechanics Hall portraits. The works of the twenty finalists were exhibited at the first celebratory event in Mechanics Hall in March 1998, were shown in the Worcester Common Outlet Mall and in the Public Library, and are once again exhibited at this celebration in October 1999.

The Gift to Mechanics Hall

In March 1999 a presentation was made to the Trustees of the Worcester County Mechanics Association by representatives of the Honoring Women in Mechanics Hall initiative. The Trustees asked numerous questions, deliberated at length, and voted unanimously to accept the four portraits as a gift from the Worcester Women's History Project, to be hung in the Great Hall. The portrait of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was painted by Daniel Greene of North Salem, NY; Dorothea Lynde Dix, who was responsible for changing the way the mentally ill were treated first in Massachusetts then nationwide, was painted by Susan Murray Stokes of Newbury, MA; Abby Kelley Foster, a famous crusader for the abolition of slavery and for women's suffrage, was painted by Charlotte Wharton of Worcester, MA; and Lucy Stone, a committed reformer and leading women's rights advocate, was painted by Numael Pulido, of Hancock, NH.

On the basis of research by the History Committee chaired by Janet McCorison (now deceased) co-founder and former executive director of Preservation Worcester, four portraitsrecently hanging in the Hall have been relocated to sites in Mechanics Hall appropriate to their historical and artistic importance. They are the likenesses of John A. Andrew, former governor of Massachusetts; James B. Blake, former Mayor of Worcester whose portrait also hangs in City Hall; Augustus B. R. Sprague, civil war veteran and later mayor of Worcester; and Josiah Pickett, civil war hero, later Worcester Postmaster and Trustee of the Worcester County Mechanics Association.

Legacy

Mechanics Hall has been judged by architectural historians as the nation's finest pre-Civil War concert hall. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hall was built in 1857 by the Worcester County Mechanics Association, and owned by industrialists, their employees, and students of the mechanical arts. Today it is a non-profit association which owns and operates the building and membership is open to all. In its early years, Mechanics Hall was used for cultural and educational events including concerts and lectures, and industrial exhibitions. It housed classrooms and a technical lending library. The Association's modern mission is to preserve and maintain the Hall as an artistically inspirational facility for cultural and community events.

Today, October 25, 1999, is the anniversary of the gathering one hundred and forty-nine years ago of women and men from across the country here in Worcester, right across the street from Mechanics Hall. They were here to support and further of the cause of women's rights and universal suffrage. We are celebrating today the inclusion of the likenesses of four women who deserve to be honored and remembered together with their male counterparts in one of the finest gathering places in the country.

A very large number of individuals have made this historic enterprise possible. The portraits in Mechanics Hall, representing distinguished and dedicated nineteenth century women and men, serve as models for present and future generations. Worcester has much to be proud of both in its history of responsible leadership and in its present vitality and dedication to the well-being of all of its citizens.

Clara Barton - Dorothea Lynde Dix - Abby Kelley Foster


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