The Spotlight Series is an occassional series that highlights interesting people, places, programs, and partner organizations working on historic preservation issues.
Erected in 1938, the Mother’s Memorial is situated prominently in the town of Ashland, PA, in the anthracite coal region of Schuylkill County. The Ashland Boys’ Association (A.B.A.), an organization of men and boys born in Ashland, raised the funds for the fabrication and erection of this monument in 1938.
The A.B.A. was formed in the early 20th century in response to the widespread job loss and dispersion of coal miners as mines began to fail. It was a homecoming organization that welcomed former Ashland residents back to their hometown. Men from all parts of Pennsylvania, as well as several other states, participated in these annual celebrations. The A.B.A. was the archetype of a poignant Pennsylvania story: how successive waves of industrialization and economic development create then destroy industries and communities, leaving large groups of people longing for the associations and comforts of family, friends and home. The Mother’s Memorial stands as a symbol of this sentiment.
At an A.B.A. reunion in 1933, it was proposed to honor all Ashland mothers by erecting a monument or memorial. Members felt that such a memorial would represent the very foundation of the organization, because their motto was, “Come on home” and home evoked thoughts of one’s mother. A committee was formed in 1936 to investigate and plan the memorial. Some A.B.A. members, as well as many residents of the town, advocated the establishment of a library instead, but the memorial was decided upon and eventually gained the full support of the organization and the town.
The idea of commissioning a sculpture based on the painting known as “Whistler’s Mother” was a unique one. The A.B.A. responded enthusiastically and raised over $6000.00 for the project. The seven foot high three-dimensional sculpture was designed by Emil Siebern and sculpted by Julius Loester. Both artists were sculptors from New York who specialized in public art – funerary decoration, memorials, park statuary, etc. Although they did not routinely work together, both participated in several projects overseen by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The completed Ashland monument was made of bronze and placed atop an impressive stonework terrace built by the WPA in 1938.
An impressive sight, the monument has become quite a tourist attraction. A dedication of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker for the Ashland Boys’ Association will be held at the base of the Mother’s Memorial on August 31,2013.