ON NOVEMBER 16, the rebuilt Dana Avenue Bridge in Hyde Park will be renamed in honor of two trailblazing sisters who lived in the neighborhood, the great suffragists and abolitionists Angelina and Sarah Grimké. This is a perfect moment in a perfect place to recognize two heroic women who sacrificed so much of their own lives to ensure more rights for women and people of color. Last year, a record-breaking number of women were elected to Congress, including right here in Massachusetts. We are on the cusp of 2020— the centennial year of women’s suffrage— and in the middle of a presidential primary that includes a record number of women candidates.
Representation matters. When women and girls see landmarks named after extraordinary women, it reminds them that they can be heroes too. This bridge is an important step in our evolving thinking about who we decide to honor and memorialize, and how we can ensure our public symbols are more inclusive.
Our city is brimming with history. That’s why millions of tourists flock here annually to immerse themselves in the pivotal stories about our country’s beginning, wandering the Freedom Trail and stopping at sites like the Museum of African American History and the Paul Revere House. To these sites, we are working to add those places in Boston where the fights for abolition, women’s rights, immigrant rights and other civil rights took place. The Grimké Sisters Bridge will be part of that conversation. We were delighted when the Hyde Park Historical Society and others in the neighborhood suggested the idea.
The Grimké sisters personified the phrase “ahead of their time.” Daughters of a prominent slaveholding family in South Carolina, Angelina and Sarah became nationally known social reformers as leaders in the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements in the 1820s and 1830s. The Grimkés combined their work with an unwavering belief in the inherent dignity and humanity of all people, regardless of race or gender.
One hundred years before the 19th Amendment finally passed in 1920, Angelina, Sarah, and their fellow suffragists did not let the status quo limit their imaginations. For daring to work for a more equal world, generations endured taunts, threats, and even imprisonment. Change can be slow, but breakthroughs can happen at any moment. Their vision and endurance remind us that we all have to keep dreaming bigger and pushing further—and never, ever give up.
Angelina and Sarah Grimké did not live long enough to see their dreams fully achieved, which is why it is so important to make this moment not just a commemoration, but a call to action. We have seen signs of progress, but there is still far more work to do. One hundred years after the suffrage movement, voter suppression has not ceased, the tactics have merely evolved. Women and people of color are still underrepresented in elected office, in C-suites and on corporate boards, and on statues, building names, and landmarks.
In Boston, we live side-by-side with history. Much of our city’s—and our nation’s—story is told through the many monuments that dot our public squares. What we see and who we see— depicted in our museums, on television, and in our landmarks — influences what we value. Here in Boston, we are working to see that women get the respect and the representation they deserve.
Martin Walsh is mayor of Boston. Barbara Lee is president and founder of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. Catherine Allgor is president of the Massachusetts Historical Society.