Springfield Home To Madonna of the Trail Monument
In 1806, Congress authorized federal funding for a road that would connect Cumberland, Maryland west to the Ohio Territories, opening up westward expansion for the country. The National Road, as it was eventually called, became the first Federally funded, and paved, highway in the U.S.
The National road has changed a lot over the years absorbed into the modern interstate system, but, monuments commemorating the role that women played in America’s Westward expansion still line the original route. Springfield is home to one of these monument - the first of twelve that were constructed, from Bethesda, Maryland, to Upland, California.
In 1928 the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated the first Madonna of the Trail monument along the National Road in Springfield. This monument, and her sisters in other states along the road, were dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women’s role in the nation’s westward expansion.
The idea was introduced by the Springfield Lagonda chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, also known as the D.A.R.
"They knew exactly what this woman should represent. That this is something that should commemorate all the things that women have done as part of this glorious, progressive, westward movement. Which I think is just marvelous," says Virginia Weygandt, director of museum collections for the Clark County Historical Society. "And if you take a look at the Madonna, she is first of all very strong. She has one child clutching her skirt, one in hand, and her rifle is right there by her side, and she was meant to be facing westward, because that’s how we expanded."
In the Historical Societies archives collection are newspaper clippings, handwritten letters, and photographs which tell the history of the monuments.
"The local Lagonda chapter of the D.A.R. were the ones who really spearheaded, and made the claim, that this first Madonna should be here because the National Road ended here. It got to the western edge of Clark County right outside of Springfield, and that’s where the federal funding stopped. And even though the road still continued to be constructed, it was from then on a state project. It was a toll road. And because of competition from the railroad, it really suffered, and the construction really slowed down," says Virginia.
Spread out on a table are pages of beautiful cursive writing, recording the history of the monuments. Included in the collection is a handwritten letter by Carrie Zimmerman, who was the head of the D.A.R. monument committee in the 1930’s, which Virginia read aloud.
[They wanted to] ‘inspire the beholder with the sense of the power, the dignity, the heroic self-sacrifice, which every student of pioneer life knows must have motivated the early settlers of every commonwealth of our nation’.
The decision to focus on the role women played in history, just happened to coincided with the very beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement, which fought for the recognition and equality for women in the U.S., and the right for women to vote. The Daughters of the American Revolution played an important role in the suffrage movement. Member Susan B. Anthony formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
The Springfield Madonna of the Trail monument has been moved 3 times over the course of her history. She now resides downtown in her own park at the corner of Fisher and Main Streets.
These days, she casts her steely gaze over the motorists traveling on this portion of the former National Road, but, no longer looks westward.
"She is facing south. But that’s okay," says Virginia. "And I’m glad she was saved, and taken care of, and re-erected in the city, to keep that focus on it wasn’t just men doing things in the west, and oftentimes the women that were at home by themselves, they needed to be strong, competent, ready to handle anything that would come along, and so I think it’s a great monument."