On August 18, 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. This amendment prohibits state and federal governments from denying the right to vote based on sex, therefore granting women the right to vote. Although at the time the main beneficiaries of the amendment were white women, in modern times the law has since come to cover all women of the nation.
What some of you may not know, is how Senator Ted Stevens ties into the story of the 19th Amendment- clearly he didn’t help pass it so how is he connected? To be fair- his involvement is actually with the Suffragists who helped create the amendment and less with the legislation itself, but he very much wanted to keep the women leaders’ legacies alive and well in the Capitol.
The story all begins back in 1921 when artist Adelaide Johnson, commissioned by the National Women’s Party, delivered her statue Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony to the U.S. Capitol for its unveiling ceremony. Unfortunately, the statue only stayed on display for a single day before Congress had it moved down to the basement- otherwise known as “the Crypt”.
It remained hidden there until 1963, when the Crypt was cleaned up and opened to the public, allowing the public to see the Suffragists for the first time in decades. But women were not content to leave the marble statue languishing in the basement.
The event that led Senator Stevens to becoming involved was actually the fourth time activists had tried to move the statue. The National Women’s Party (NWP) tried in 1995, for the 75th anniversary celebrations of the 19th Amendment’s passing, to begin again the process of convincing Congress to release the ladies. This time though, they found help.
Karen Staser, later founder of the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) and wife of Jeff Staser- a member of Senator Stevens’ staff, found herself at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (then the Sewell-Belmont House) and discovered information about the NWP’s efforts to move the Suffragists statue. She offered to set up a meeting between NWP organizers and Senator Stevens- who was raised by suffragists and “learned the suffrage songs as a child and would sing them at the slightest provocation.” (1)
Senator Stevens was delighted to help out and introduced S.Con. Res. 21 on July 14, 1995 (2) to authorize Congress to move the statue up from the Crypt for display in the Capitol’s Rotunda. It passed the Senate unanimously- however, the House shot it down. They did not want to authorize any public funds for the statue’s move and Speaker Newt Gingrich was especially against the statue.
According to Ann E.W. Stone, NWHM Board Member Emerita, the Speaker “was under the impression that this was a push by liberals for political reasons. I called the Speaker’s office and gave him the history of the statue, pointing out the women in the statue were all Republicans and said, ‘So, you have locked three Republican women in the basement.’” (1)
This caused negotiations to move forward, and eventually H.Con. Res. 216 (3) was agreed to on September 27, 1996. The statue could be moved, but only with private non-tax payer funds. The advocates had already begun raising money in hopes for approval, but now the race was officially on!
Senator Stevens attended fundraiser “Raise the Statue” event in Washington, D.C. on July 25, 1996 and met young activist Arlys Endres there. She was only nine years old but already very active in raising awareness for the cause. She desperately wanted to get the statue out of the basement, and sent at least 2,000 letters soliciting donations for the cause before “she finally stopped counting.” (4)
Arlys and many others managed to raise the “estimated $75,000 required to move” the statue (5) and on May 14, 1997 the monument was officially moved into the Capitol’s Rotunda where it still stands today.
Bibliography & Works Cited:
Architect of the Capitol. “Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.” Explore the Capitol Campus / Art. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/art/portrait-monument-lucretia-mott-elizabeth-cady-stanton-and-susan-b
(5) Boissoneault, Lorraine. “The Suffragist Statue Trapped in a Broom Closet for 75 Years.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 12, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/suffragist-statue-trapped-broom-closet-75-years-180963274/
Deseret News. “Supporters Want to Move Suffragists’ Statue Stuck in Capitol Crypt.” Deseret News. July 3, 1996. https://www.deseret.com/1996/7/3/19252554/online-document-supporters-want-to-move-suffragists-statue-stuck-in-capitol-crypt
(1) National Women’s History Museum. “Moving the Women into the Light: An Interview with NWHM Co-Founder Ann E.W. Stone.” NWHM Article. May 23, 2017. https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/moving-women-light
(2) U.S. Congress. Senate. Directing that the “Portrait Monument”… be restored to its original state and be placed in the Capitol Rotunda. S.Con. Res. 21. 104th Cong., 1st sess. Introduced in Senate July 14, 1995. https://www.congress.gov/104/bills/sconres21/BILLS-104sconres21hds.pdf
(3) U.S. Congress. House. Providing for relocation of the Portrait Monument. H.Con. Res. 216. 104th Cong., 2nd sess. Introduced in House September 24, 1996. https://www.congress.gov/104/bills/hconres216/BILLS-104hconres216ih.pdf
(4) Webb, Dewey. “Desperately Seeking Susan B.” Phoenix New Times. March 13, 1997. https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/desperately-seeking-susan-b-6423335
National Park Service. “Did you know? Suffragist vs Suffragette.” September 20, 2020. https://www.nps.gov/articles/suffragistvssuffragette.htm