William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) was a man of strong words, and strong words are used to describe him – reformer, activist, abolitionist.
His statue, on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall near Dartmouth Street, is inscribed with one of his powerful statements. “I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch- and I will be heard!”
Garrison’s Abolitionist Advocacy
In his 1913 biography of Garrison, John Jay Chapman wrote, “From the moment he founded the Liberator he was the strongest man in America. He was affected in his thought by no one. What he was thinking, all men were destined to think.”
Chapman’s book has been called “adulatory.” Later writers, like Gilbert Hobbs Barnes, questioned Garrison’s extremism, saying it had contributed to a polarization that led to the Civil War.
In 1835, sentiment in Boston was so strong that at one point a mob chased Garrison through the streets threatening to lynch him. He was rescued by then Mayor Lyman and spent the night sheltered in the Leverett Street Jail.
Garrison championed causes beyond abolition.
He was a lifelong supporter of the temperance movement.
He might have enjoyed seeing Lucy Stone honored on the Boston Women’s Memorial two blocks from his statue. He is said to have been influenced by her ideas, and became her ally in the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
Today, Garrison is seen as a role model for those who embody the principles he espoused. The Museum of African American History’s “Living Legends Awards” recipients are given a replica of a silver cup that was presented to William Lloyd Garrison in 1833 by black community leaders.
The Garrison Statue
In The City Observed: Boston, Donlyn Lyndon wrote a vivid description of the Garrison sculpture. “It’s larger than life, relaxed but attentive, with piles of loose papers and a thick book under a comfortable-looking armchair, as if he were still in his publishing office, immersed in work, just leaning back for a moment to have a word with a visitor.”
Olin Levi Warner created the sculpture in 1885. “Although most of his works were portraits, the superb statue of William Lloyd Garrison in Boston and the impressive doors for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., testify to the wide range of his abilities,” says Warner’s Smithsonian American Art Museum biography.
The statue bears a true resemblance to photographs of Garrison. Warner is said to have used a life mask created by another sculptor, John Rogers, when Garrison was about age 63.
The Boston Public Library has a Garrison Death Mask that was on exhibit during the Homefront Exhibition. The library description of this item follows:
"WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, Death Mask. 1879.
Death masks–plaster or wax casts made of a person’s face soon after death–saw a popular revival in the 19th century. Generally created for the wealthy or for famous artists, writers, and political figures such as Garrison, death masks were often used as models for future portraits and busts. BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department"
Does the Statue look like Garrison?
Here's a portrait photograph of the man taken by "Warren's Portraits, 465 Washington St., Boston" and now in the New York Public Library Collection.
The Smithsonian’s report on this work of art says, “The statue was presented to the City by a group of Boston citizens. The group, established in 1879, included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wendell Phillips, Samuel Cobb, and William Endicott Jr.” They note that the base was designed by John W. Wells of the McKim, Mead and White architectural firm.
Photo from the files of Daedalus, Inc., the conservators that did the restoration.
Restoration in 2005
The Garrison sculpture was restored in 2005 as part of the Friends of the Public Garden sculpture restoration and maintenance program. That same year, 150 Garrison descendants held a reunion to honor the 200th anniversary of his birth.
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Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino (some of this material was previously published in a feature article we wrote about this statue.)
Photography: except as noted © 2014 Ed Cherubino