On Friday, May 5, 2023, the National Archives is co-hosting a baby-themed hashtag party with our friends over at the Social Security Administration, who are about to release the list of the most popular baby names for 2022. Join the conversation on Instagram and Twitter using #ArchivesHashtagParty and #ArchivesBabies.
The National Archives Building is the most elaborately decorated building in Washington, DC’s Federal Triangle, and with its neoclassical design, it is full of allegory and symbolism. On and around the building are stories of preservation, protection, the past, and the future, and depicted in stone are eagles, horses, lions, dogs, griffins—and a baby.
The baby is part of the Heritage statue on the southwest corner of the National Archives Building near Ninth Street and Constitution Avenue, NW.
The statue includes a woman holding a baby and a sheaf of wheat in one hand. The baby symbolizes future generations, and the wheat symbolizes fertility. In her other hand, the woman holds an urn containing the ashes of past generations. She wears a snake-bordered robe symbolizing the protection of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.
The quotation on the base—“The heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future”—is attributed to abolitionist Wendell Phillips. The quote builds on a common theme around the building that preserving and understanding the past is critical to our nation’s collective future.
The accompanying reliefs on the pedestal include a plow, cornucopia, lamp, and books, which are all symbols of the importance of home. The base also includes a winged globe with the United States in front, and an ox and horse.
Taken as a whole, the statue symbolizes the government’s role in preserving the home.
Sculptor James Earle Fraser designed Heritage with sculptor David Rubins assisting. The Gino A. Ratti Company carved it in place from a single slab of Indiana limestone. Weighing in at 60 tons, the statue is more than 10 feet high, and with the base, it towers 25 feet above the ground. The baby alone is about 5 feet.
Heritage is one of four large statues on the National Archives Building grounds. They highlight the important role of the National Archives to protect the heritage of the nation.
To learn more about the symbolism and the National Archives Building visit the online exhibit Temple of our History.