The Ladies of Lowell commemorative stone in the Washington Monument
The Lowell Advertiser, September 16, 1851
The Washington National Monument Society was founded in 1833 to build a monument George Washington. In 1836, Robert Mills (1781-1855) won the design competition and Congress authorized the Society to raise money and build this monument. In 1848, work began and on July 4th of that year the cornerstone was laid.
One hundred and ninety-three commemorative stone tablets were donated and set into interior walls of the Monument, Most of the stones date from 1849 to 1855. There is a stone from every state, a variety of public and private organizations, cities and towns, foreign countries, and individuals. The stone used includes granite, marble, limestone, sandstone, soapstone, and jade. Some stones are engraved with text, others are carved in relief, and some contain bronze and silver. The stones range in size from 2 by 2 feet to 6 by 8 feet and are placed above each landing of the staircase. (See The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones, Judith M. Jacob, 2005, pdf download)
One of these stones was designed and donated by “The Ladies of LOWELL, MASS.” It was noted at the time that this was the only stone that was contributed by a group of all women.
The Boston Pilot, December 10, 1853
The sculptor/carver was Theodore Warren who had a marble yard on Middlesex Street. T. Warren sculpted many gravestones in Lowell and surrounding towns.
Detail of a map of Lowell, 1850. T. Warren and Marvle [sic] Yard are in the center of the detail.
His work can be seen in the Lowell Cemetery, the Old English Cemetery, and the Clark Cemetery in Lowell, the Forefathers’ Burying Ground in Chelmsford, and the Bradford Burial Ground [pdf download].
Originally the Ladies of Lowell stone was a little larger and included in gold leaf the words, “Here, industry, her grateful tribute pays. To him, whose valor won us prosperous days.”
By 1854, when the monument was 150 feet high, the Society had run out of funds. The nation was in an economic recession and there was internal dissent in the Society. In 1855, the Native American Party, also known as the Know Nothing Party, gained control of the Society and continued with the construction of the monument. The reason the Know Nothings took control was because Pope Pius IX donated a stone to the monument, and the conspiracy-loving Know Nothings saw this as another imagined example of the Roman Catholic Church’s attempts to takeover of the American government. The stone never became part of the Monument as nine Know Nothings tied up the watchman at gunpoint, stole the stone, damaged it, and threw it into the Potomac River.
Photograph from "The Washington Monument Illustrated," Ina Capitola Emery Editor-Publisher, 1913
During the next three years, under Know Nothing control, about four feet were added to the shaft using blocks of stone earlier rejected but still on the site. Unable to raise the funds necessary to complete more than this and with their own party in disarray, construction on the monument was halted and the Know Nothings gave up their control of the Society. The monument stood about one-third completed for the next two decades.
At this point in time, the Ladies of Lowell stone had been installed at the very top of the unfinished monument. When construction on the monument was halted in 1858, the shaft stood at 156 feet. In 1880, when construction began again, the top few courses of stone were not in good condition due to exposure the elements. The top six feet were removed along with eight commemorative stones at the 150-foot level including the Ladies of Lowell stone. The stone was removed and stored. In 1889, the stone was trimmed, the gold leaf inscription mention above removed, and reinstalled in the Monument. Today the stone can be seen at the 250-foot level of the Monument.