Our mission is to protect and share Massachusetts’ iconic places for the simple reason that nature and culture soothes the soul and improves the lives of everyone, not just some of us.
While that mission never changes, The Trustees is always seeking to learn and grow to find new ways to live up to it.
It is with this commitment in mind that The Trustees announces its Agassiz Rock property in Manchester-by-the-Sea has been renamed “The Monoliths”—a nod to the site’s two massive, granite boulders. The change comes after more than a year of reflection and deliberation regarding the complex legacy of Louis Agassiz, the 19th century biologist who published works that proposed that non-white human groups are inherently inferior.
We understand that after 65 years with the same name, people will want to know why we changed it now and what we hope to accomplish.
There is no doubt that Agassiz’s theories about the rocks dotting New England’s landscape being shaped and deposited by glaciers and not the biblical flood that floated Noah’s Ark, as believed at the time, were groundbreaking. However, Agassiz also vehemently promoted the theory of polygenism—the view that humans of varying skin color are of different origins and non-white races are inherently inferior—to a degree that was considered extreme even for his time.
After receiving several letters from people in the community who questioned the appropriateness of honoring Agassiz despite his work that denied the humanity of African enslaved people, The Trustees embarked on a journey to research Agassiz the man and Agassiz the property, and to determine how tributes like this one align with our overall mission of inclusivity across our portfolio of 123 properties.
After creating an internal review process and speaking to internal and external stakeholders as well as staff and local historians, The Trustees decided to change the name—the first time that’s happened in our 130-year history.
“The mission of The Trustees is to preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts for all people regardless of race or skin color,” said Janelle Woods-McNish, Managing Director of Community Impact. “While we cannot and will not overlook Agassiz’s scientific contributions, maintaining the Agassiz name on this property would run counter to our goals of inclusion and acceptance for each and every one of our guests who deserve to feel welcome at our special places.”
The name change is official on our website, trail maps, and the main sign on-site. In time, interpretive signage will be installed on the property that puts Agassiz’s scientific contributions in perspective while explaining why the name was ultimately changed.
While this is the first time a Trustees’ property has changed names, the organization has dealt with similar issues in the past.
Last year, insensitive names like “Squaw Peak” and “Indian Trail” at Monument Mountain in the Berkshires were identified and, after consultation and collaboration with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohicans, changed to Peeskawso Peak (meaning “virtuous woman”) and Mohican Monument Trail. The Trustees also supported the Munsee-Mohican on an exhibit at the Mission House in Stockbridge called Mohican Miles, covering a wide range of topics including an overview of Mohican history, information about the community today, and displays of historic objects belonging to the Tribe.
The goal is not an erasure of history; it’s a chronicling of change and taking an opportunity to learn and grow.
In this case, we will put Agassiz’s scientific contributions in the proper context while seizing the opportunity to better live up to our mission of making people from all backgrounds feel welcome and included at our special places.
“Coming to terms with our history is complex and can be contentious, but The Trustees has committed itself to the learning process and embraces this as a journey that doesn’t end but rather evolves,” said President & CEO, John Judge.
You can find information on The Monoliths property here.