A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 20, 1999
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
ROLLING OUT THE RED CARPET FOR CONSTITUENTS
You might not know it, but the Massachusetts State House is one of the most remarkable places to visit in our state. It may not be the tallest or even the largest building in the Boston skyline, but the State House holds a dazzling magnificence that astonishes all who step under the Golden Dome. Not only is the building beautiful inside and out, but it is home to a rich and fascinating history that reaches back to the Revolutionary Era. And while it is rare that all representatives and senators be in agreement with one another on every issue, no legislator will disagree that working in the State House is truly an honor and a privilege.
When residents come to Beacon Hill, they see firsthand how over 200 years of continuous improvement, preservation, and beautification has made the building the unique place that it is. This is why I strongly encourage my constituents to come in visit "their" State House. I say "their" State House because it has been the tireless efforts of patriotic citizens who have made the building what it is today. Back in the late 18th century, native-born architect Charles Bulfinch designed the first section of the building, which has since seen two more additions. Bulfinch was a public-minded citizen who had served Boston as a selectman, and is best remembered for his marvelous contributions to his fellow Bay Staters (the official term for Massachusetts residents that is rarely used, of course). Today, the red brick front of the State House is home to his legacy of masterful architecture.
Continuing in the tradition of serving the citizens of the Commonwealth are the people who lead the public through the halls of the State House. There is an organization of civic-minded women who donate their free time to give guided tours of the building. They call themselves the "Doric Dames," named after Doric Hall, one of the oldest rooms in the State House (which is under the Golden Dome). The non-profit and non-partisan organization was founded by Mrs. Francis Sargent in 1969 in conjunction with the Archives Division and Secretary of the Commonwealth. For 30 years, the Doric Dames have volunteered their free time to welcome and guide State House visitors, and even though these women only have to spend 10 days volunteering, most of them surpass this guideline within a few weeks.
Members have many other responsibilities in addition to simply giving tours. They must recruit guides, train them, and schedule tours for groups as large as 200 persons. Sometimes they make visits to other historical sites and provide lectures on historic preservation. In addition, they continuously research the history of the State House and the government in order to dig up unknown but important facts about the Commonwealth. That way, they can tell curious visitors that it was Paul Revere & Sons who coppered the original wooden shingled dome to prevent leakage in 1802; that the State House has a collection of flags from every major conflict since the Civil War; and that Massachusetts has the oldest written constitution in effect in the world today.
Since a visit to the State House would not be the same without the Doric Dames, it is only fitting that we pay tribute to their decades of faithful service to the Commonwealth. In November, we did just that in a 30th anniversary celebration that was held right here in the State House. We gave praise to the members for everything they had done for our visitors over the past 30 years. Many of the volunteers were wearing the silver pins that had been given to them upon completion of 100 hours- symbolizing the generous spirit that has made the organization an irreplaceable part of the State House. One Doric Dame that I was especially appreciative of was none other than my own mother, who has been giving tours since I was 10 years old.
Like any other good thing, tours given by the Doric Dames are often booked well in advance. Occasionally, my staff and I have become "Doric Dames" for the day when school groups from my district come in to see the State House. We try to give kids an interactive experience with their state government, so in addition to a tour, we engage youngsters in "real life" legislative sessions. Groups from all of the towns in my district have participated in such an activity, which is always a tremendous learning experience and lots of fun for everyone involved. This fall, for example, we were visited by the 4th grade class from the Robin Hood School in Stoneham. As part of their day, the students were led into the House chamber where they became "mock" legislators for a brief period. You could sense the excitement and learning that filled the room as the kids voted in favor of the chocolate chip over the Fig Newton as the official cookie of the Commonwealth.
Last week we hosted the 8th graders from McCall Middle School in Winchester for 2 days., who participated in a mock debate over the controversial topic of reinstating the death penalty. I ran the session as it would normally be run in the House. Students had to stand and respectfully ask their colleagues to "yield the floor" before they could speak either in favor or against the bill in question. Many were delighted to know that they could deny a person the opportunity to speak, and students used this tactic quite brilliantly on their opponents (and in one case, on their science teacher). Although at first hesitant to speak, the kids really jumped in and made some excellent points about the issue (they had obviously been well briefed by Ken Tully and Randee Martin, their civics teachers at McCall). The death penalty was overwhelmingly denied on one day, but on the other, reinstated by a narrow margin.
The "legislator for a day" activities that we sponsor, combined with the volunteerism of the Doric Dames, are modern examples of how everyday people are still an integral aspect of our government. Citizen participation is the hallmark of a healthy civil society, representing the virtue of decentralized government that was idealized by our founding fathers. Back in those early years of our Republic, people were required to work for the government from time to time. The militia, for example, consisted of full time farmers and merchants who would pick up their guns at a moment's notice and gather together for the protection of the state. When finished (often on the same day), they would return home and finish what they were doing before the crisis arose.
Our government has come a long way since then and we do not require citizens to assist the state except in the most serious emergencies. But that does not mean that the government does not welcome civic participation. On the contrary, our democratic government is still of the people, by the people, and for the people. It naturally follows that citizens should play an important part in the process, whether it is something as grand as designing the State House or as simple as coming to see it.
In this season of giving, we can all learn from the example of the Doric Dames- and others throughout our state and nation- who give of themselves to their fellow citizens year round. Such people truly make our country the "city upon a hill" that was envisioned by its founders so long ago.