By Joe Ponti
Are you interested in American history? Do you have some time to offer to an exceptional and noble volunteer activity? If so the “Doric Docents” are just what you have been looking for.
In 1969 Mrs. Francis Sargent (the wife of the governor) along with several civic minded women formed a group known as “the Doric Dames”. These dedicated women created the group because they saw a need for a more organized touring system here in our beautiful state capitol building. Doric Dames, Inc was established to be a non-political, non-profit group. The name of the group was created by taking the name of the main hall in the State House from where tours originate – Doric Hall. The name of the room was inspired by the architectural style of the columns. The term “Dames” was chosen because at the time the organization consisted all of women.
The new organization was positioned to operate in cooperation with the Archives Division of the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Its mission was to research the historic Bulfinch State House building and to acquaint the visiting public from Massachusetts and from around the world with the architectural beauty of the structure, the artifacts contained therein and the legislative process that has been conducted in the building since 1798.
Under the aegis of the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, currently the Honorable William F. Galvin, the Doric Dames has operated for the past 36 years. The group has enlisted, trained and scheduled volunteer guides who conduct historical tours lasting 45-60 minutes. Each guide volunteers at least one day a week from September through June.
Traditionally the guides have been women, and the name “Doric Dames” was a comfortable fit. Recent years has seen the membership expanding through the welcomed addition of male guides. Currently there are 23 women and 5 men who serve as active guides, donating their time each week or month to conduct historic tours.
In the spirit of diversity and the genuine desire to be more inclusive, a movement was launched a few years ago to reshape the organization and make it more welcoming and appealing to men as well as women.
The first order of business was the choosing of a new name that would better reflect the mission of the organization. The name “Doric Docents” was chosen and has proven to be an excellent fit. The word “Doric” still refers to the main hall where the tour guides greet visitors and is a link to the past traditions and the efforts of an organization that has always been a valuable asset to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The word “Docent” is reflective of a link to the future based on the changing make up of today’s membership. A docent is defined as one who is a knowledgeable guide who conducts visitors through a museum. The word has a Latin root from the word “docere” meaning to teach.
The State House guides are indeed teachers and during their tenure have amassed considerable in-depth knowledge of the State House building itself, its contents and the legislative process. The guides consider it a privilege to help teach students and visitors about their role as citizens, and about our history and government process. In addition to their role as teachers, the Doric Docents also serve as ambassadors to the many visitors who come from across the world. Visitors who leave the State House with a positive experience serve to build stronger bridges to the global community. School children as well take home lasting memories of our rich history and its impact on their daily lives. Typically there are over 85,000 visitors who pass under the golden dome each year to enjoy a free tour with one of our volunteers.
New members are always welcome and an in-depth training program on a self-paced basis is offered. Ongoing educational lectures and trips are also offered to all members during the year to provide a continuing source of new information to the docents, and to enrich their understanding of the history of our Commonwealth.
The interest and passion about history, art, architecture and government by the members is infectious and new volunteers are quickly caught up in an atmosphere which breeds a love for history and its impact on today’s world.
Citizens who can volunteer for a few hours or a full day once a week or even once a month are most welcomed to join the Doric Docents and participate in a truly noble and stimulating activity.
If you are interested in becoming a State House tour guide, please contact Mary Rinehart at the State House Tours Division at 617-727-3676. We look forward to meeting you!