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Out of the Broom Closet and into the Rotunda

by Susan Brandell

When it was presented to the U. S. Capitol in 1921, the "Portrait Monument" represented to sculptor Adelaide Johnson and the members of the National Women's Party a breakthrough of the feminist spirit into the all-male enclave of the old order. A gala ceremony, including a pageant of 50 women's organizations, celebrated the milestone in the Rotunda.

But within two days, the statue - which captures the images of suffrage pioneers Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony - was banished to a basement broom closet. The "all-male Congress did not want these radical women" in the Rotunda, says Joan Meacham, co-chair of the Woman Suffrage Statue Campaign that seeks to return the monument to its intended place of honor.

With its gold-gilt inscription whitewashed to make it unreadable, the monument was stashed next to buckets and brooms, unseen, until 1963 when the room, renamed the Crypt, was renovated for public access. Even today, the statue, sculpted from an eight-ton block of marble from Carrara, Italy, is positioned so that our foremothers' names are hidden from view.

Organizers of last year's 75th Anniversary of Suffrage celebration planned to have the monument moved back to the Rotunda for the observance, and legislation in the Senate approved the move unanimously in July 1995. Stalled in the House until October, however, the legislation found an opponent in Representative Sue Myrick, who objected to using public money for the $75,000 relocation cost.

Undaunted, despite the inequity (it was public money that paid for the monument's original banishment, Meacham says), the committee is raising private funds to finance the move. About two-thirds of the total has been raised: "We are encouraged," Meacham says, "but we still have work to do."

If the House doesn't pass the resolution to move the monument before the end of this legislative session (December 1996), The resolution will have to be reintroduced in the Senate next session. In other words, it is back to square one.

Meacham says this is the fourth attempt to move the statute; three prior resolutions died in committee. This struggle has now taken as long as it took to get suffrage in the first place. As we near the end of this century that brought us the right to vote, and much more, we are sharply reminded that, while we have come a long way, indeed, we aren't there yet.

So, this year celebrate Women's Equality Day, August 26 - the anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment, by supporting the cause to return our foremothers to their rightful place in our Capitol, and our history.

Write of your outrage to this delay to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the congresswomen leading the pack against the statue legislation: Sue Myrick (R-NC); Linda Smith (R-Wash.); Helen Chenoweth (R-Ind.); Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.). Thank Sen. John Warner (R-VA) for his strong support of the effort.

And send a check to the:

Woman Suffrage Statue Campaign
303 West Glendale Ave.
Alexandria, VA 22301.

For more information, call co-chairs Joan Meacham (602) 924-5847 or Karen Staser (703) 299-0552.





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