Beloved by Argentinians, educator, statesman, and writer Domingo Faustino Sarmiento rose from country schoolmaster to become president of his country (1868–74). The bronze, stiffly posed statue of him now looks down Commonwealth Avenue Mall from the Gloucester-Hereford Street block. Sarmiento founded his country’s public education system, inspired by Horace Mann’s efforts for universal public education in Massachusetts. After traveling in the United States to study and pursue educational reform, he returned home believing that education was an essential ingredient in civilizing the continent. As president, he laid the foundation for national progress by instituting public education and encouraging the growth of commerce, agriculture, and a communication and rapid transportation system.
In appreciation of Horace Mann’s influence, and to celebrate the longstanding relationship between Argentina and Massachusetts, the Argentinian government offered a statue of Sarmiento as a gift to the City of Boston in 1917. Then-mayor John F. Fitzgerald wholeheartedly accepted, but unfortunately, the statue did not actually arrive for more than sixty years. After a renewed push for its installation by Carlos Manuel Muniz, the Argentine ambassador at the time, the anticipated arrival led to a lively debate in the City as to where Sarmiento should be situated, and there was some discussion of putting the statue of the statesman on the grounds of the State House. Ultimately it was decided that it should be placed across from the former International School on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The statue was dedicated in May 1973.
Designed by Argentinean artist Yvette Compagnion, the imposing demeanor of the 16-foot-tall, 30,000-pound bronze statue was softened with carefully selected landscaping maintained by the Beacon Hill Garden Club.
Today this statue continues to have a powerful impact on visitors from South America who recognize Sarmiento as one of their most powerful and influential founding fathers. Many can be seen with tears in their eyes when congregating at the site.
From his perch on the Mall almost 200 years after he visited Boston, Sarmiento continues his watch as an educator. His presence is a staunch reminder of education’s power to create change.
The Friends has announced a plan to design and install permanent lighting of the statues on each block of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. “It has taken 30 years to obtain permission for this project.” states Friends Board member and Commonwealth Avenue Mall Chair, Margaret Pokorny. “Thoughtful lighting design will enhance the beauty of each statue and create a focal point in each block of the Mall” explains Pokorny. “In addition, these new strong pools of light in the center of each block will be an added public safety feature at night.”
Lighting design work is underway for the Domingo F. Sarmiento statue. In December 2020, Friends staff and volunteers met with lighting and landscape designers to review options that best highlight the Sarmiento statue on the Mall.
Always thinking of the Mall statues, the photo of Sarmiento’s grave in Buenos Aires was taken by Margaret Pokorny on a trip to Argentina.