Tag Archives: Kathleen Motes Bennewitz

Friday Flashback #196

Town arts curator and historian Kathleen Motes Bennewitz reminds us that next Wednesday — June 17 — is the 110th anniversary of the unveiling of the Minute Man monument.

In an essay for ConnecticutHistory.org, she describes “Bunker Hill Day,” which drew over 1,000 state residents.

Temporarily concealed by canvas and a bunting-clad dais was a life-sized bronze of a farmer-turned-soldier — with his powder horn and musket at the ready — kneeling atop a grassy pedestal that rose some 6 feet above the roadway. The monument was erected to honor the heroism of patriots who defended the country when the British invaded Connecticut at Compo Beach on April 25, 1777, and in the ensuing two days of conflict at Danbury and Ridgefield.

Created by Westport artist H. Daniel Webster (1880-1912), The Minute Man is sited in the center of the intersection at Compo Road South and Compo Beach Road, said to be the exact spot of the fiercest engagement between British and Continental militias that April evening. After accepting the statue and turning it over to the town’s care, Lewis B. Curtis, president of the Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution, declared that “Westport should always cherish among their brightest possessions, this spot and the monument, which we have erected to commemorate the noble deeds enacted here.”

The Minute Man statue, around the time of his 1910 dedication.

Surprisingly, our Minute Man is one of only 4 honoring those Revolutionary War civilian patriots. The most famous, Bennewitz says, is at Concord, Massachusetts near “the shot heard ’round the world.” The other 2 are also in the Bay State (Lexington and Framingham).

Bennewitz notes that the 1910 unveiling capped an 8-year campaign for a monument. It began in 1902, when the town “secured title to Compo Beach as a public resort.”

As for the sculptor, Webster was just 29 years old when he received the commission in 1909. Three years earlier, he had moved from New York to Westport’s “nascent artist community.”

After modeling the figure at his Westport studio, he had it cast by Tiffany & Co. at Roman Bronze Works, the country’s preeminent art foundry. To complete the monument, he asked nearby residents to donate fieldstone for the foundation wall and large, asymmetrical boulders for the earthen mound and to house the bronze plaques. The finished cost was $2,900.

Our Minute Man (Photo/Tim Woodruff)

Four years after its unveiling, the Minute Man was a destination for owners of newfangled automobiles, who followed George Washington’s route from Philadelphia to Cambridge to assume command of the Continental army.

In 1935 the monument was the emblem for the town centennial; in 1986, the centerpiece of Miggs Burroughs’ town flag.

In 1957, it was even featured on “I Love Lucy.” You can’t get more American than that.

(For Kathleen Motes Bennewitz’s full WestportHistory.org story, click here. For an “06880” account of the Battle of Compo Hill, click here.)

The Minute Man is beloved by Westporters. He’s decorated with Santa Claus caps at Christmas, bunny ears on Easter, even a COVID-19 mask. Some people think it’s sacrilege. Many more think it’s a tribute to our favorite son. (Photo/Topsy Siderowf)

Westport Suffragists: Neighbors, Crusaders

The Westport Library’s new exhibit — “Westport Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders” — opened in early March.

A week later, the library shut down.

Along with so much else, COVID-19 has robbed residents of the chance to visit an inspired, inspiring tribute to an astonishing group of women who worked creatively and energetically for years. Finally a century ago, the passage of the 19th Amendment changed history.

Fortunately this is 2020 — not 1920. Thanks to the internet, anyone anywhere can see the Suffragists exhibit.

And everyone everywhere should.

Designed by the library’s Carole Erger-Fass, in partnership with town arts curator Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, the exhibit is broad and deep.

In text and photographs, it shows the women (in Westport and beyond) who pushed suffrage forward; the places in Westport where significant events took place, and the (long) timeline during which it all happened.

Who knew, for example, that the then-brand-new library at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street was an important meeting place for early suffragists?

The original Westport Public Library

The exhibit notes:

On January 27, 1912, the public library’s handsome oak-paneled hall was transformed into a political theater bedecked with American flags and purple, white and green suffrage banners. The occasion was the Tri-County Crusade for Votes run by the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA). From January through March, the campaign held rallies at every town with trolley service—46 in all—across Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford counties.

Among the artists — the first wave of progressive people to live in Westport — fighting for a woman’s right to vote was Rose O’Neill. Known today as the creator of the Kewpie character, she was also an illustrator dedicated to women’s empowerment. She even used her Kewpies to send a message: “Give Mother the Vote.”

Lillian Wald

Lillian Wald is revered for her work building awareness of, and helping solve, pressing social ills like child labor and racial injustice. She founded the Henry Street Settlement and Visiting Nurse Service of New York, aiding thousands of immigrants. She also worked tirelessly in support of world peace and women’s full franchise.

In 1917 Wald came to Westport as a summer resident. When she retired, she moved full-time to a house on the pond across from Longshore. There she entertained a steady stream of guests, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

Sara Buek Crawford

O’Neill and Wald get their due in the library exhibit. But so does Sara Buek Crawford, a Westporter I’d never heard of. She was a leading suffragist — and, 20 years after the 19th Amendment was approved, she became the first woman in Connecticut ever elected to statewide office.

It’s all there — plus much more — in the Westport Library’s suffrage exhibit. Everyone — of every age, and both genders — should click on, and learn from it.

(Click here for the “Westport Suffragists: Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders” exhibit. Click here for information about more Westport Library exhibits and galleries.)