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Senate President Spilka Unveils Portrait of Abigail Adams; Calls for Public Input on the First Woman to be Permanently Honored in Senate Chamber

March 1, 2024

Historic addition is latest step in boosting representation in State House art

BOSTON (3/1/2024)—Today, the Massachusetts Senate marked the first day of Women’s History month by unveiling a portrait of former First Lady Abigail Adams and putting out a public call for nominations for an influential woman to be the first honored with a permanent bust in the Senate Chamber. The nominations will be considered by a renewed Senate Art Committee, led by Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro).

The portrait of Adams, an early advocate for women’s rights, opposer of slavery, supporter of women’s education, and who advised the Founding Fathers to ‘remember the ladies’ as they debated the structure and governance of the fledgling United States, was unveiled by Senate President Karen E. Spilka at a public ceremony. The portrait will hang permanently in the Senate Lobby.

She is the second woman with a permanent portrait in the Massachusetts Senate, following former Senate President Therese Murray, whose portrait hangs in the Senate Reading Room. It is the latest step in Senate President Spilka’s effort to expand representation in the State House.

“Centuries after Abigail Adams told the founders to ‘remember the ladies,’ we still have a long way to go to reach full equality when it comes to women’s representation on Beacon Hill,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Either by accident or design, the many contributions of women who have shaped our Commonwealth and our nation have been left out of the art here in the State House. As we celebrate their achievements—and those of the strong women who lead our government today—I am committed to ensuring that the halls of power change to reflect these women.  As we unveil Adams, we are taking a meaningful step towards ‘remembering the ladies’ and making it clear that women belong here.”

“Unveiling Abigail Adams's portrait at the Massachusetts State House marks a significant step towards expanding American history,” said Dr. Catherine Allgor, President of the Massachusetts Historical Society. “Senate President Karen Spilka's commitment to recognizing influential women, like Abigail Adams, acknowledges the importance of listening to the diverse voices from the past.  They deepen, challenge, complicate, and ultimately change the stories we tell.”

The portrait is a reproduction of an original pastel created in 1766 by Benjamin Blyth and was gifted to the Massachusetts Senate by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Adams was an advocate for women at a moment in history when women were prohibited from voting or holding elected office. Adams famously told her husband, a delegate in the First Continental Congress, to, ‘remember the ladies.’

A native of Massachusetts’ South Shore, Adams was born and raised in Weymouth, and later moved to Braintree. After several decades of advising and traveling alongside her husband, and then serving as First Lady, Abigail and her family returned to Massachusetts to live in Quincy.

The portrait is the twenty-first permanent image of a woman to be added to the State House.

It comes at a time when women hold more of Massachusetts’ elected positions than ever before, including Senate President, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Treasurer, one U.S. Senate seat, three Congresswomen, and Mayor of Boston.

Spilka announces revival of Senate Art Committee

During the unveiling of Adams in the Senate Lobby, Senate President Spilka announced the renewal of the Senate Art Committee and that the committee would solicit nominations from the public for a woman to be honored with a statue in the Chamber.

The Senate Art Committee, which was established in 1972 but has not done business formally in many years, will be revived to continue finding ways to make Senate art more representative of the residents of the Commonwealth.

Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro) will lead the effort, and with an announcement about additional members forthcoming.

Senate calls for public input on first woman to be commissioned for Senate Chamber

Next week the Senate Art Committee will put out a public call for nominees for a woman to be honored with a bust in the Senate Chamber.

The Committee is seeking input on an influential woman who has made historic contributions to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Women of national import will be considered as well as long as they have ties to the state.

“The art that adorns the halls of the State House should embody the values of Massachusetts and reflect who we are as a Commonwealth,” said Senator Julian A Cyr (D-Cape and Islands). “Yet, as I come and go from my office, I often remark that the portraits, murals, and sculptures in our capitol do not encompass the richness of our history and the diversity of our communities. I am thrilled and honored to lead a renewed Senate Art Committee, one that will work to expand inclusivity and representation in the art that beautifies the State House. As an LGBTQ+ person, I understand how integral it is to see people like yourself represented in spaces of power. As we solicit submissions for a sculpture of a trailblazing woman to join the all-male busts in the Senate chamber, I am excited to see the remarkable names that will be put forward. I remain grateful for Senate President Spilka’s vision and persistence to realize a Senate that embraces a more complete story of Massachusetts.”

Via a submission form, any Massachusetts resident will have until 11:59 PM on April 30, 2024, to submit nominees and a brief explanation of why they should be honored in the Senate.

Entries will be reviewed by the Senate Art Committee, and the honoree will be chosen in the months following the closing of submissions. The woman selected will be honored with a commissioned figure that will fill the eighth and final statue position in the of the Massachusetts Senate chamber, where she will take a permanent place alongside American leaders including Douglass, Lincoln, and Washington.