Monument to suffrage leaves Congress unmoved


Washington - As the nation marks the 75th anniversary of women's right to vote, the Capitol's only monument to the suffrage movement will stay where it has been for 74 years: behind a pillar, a floor beneath the building's most famous gallery. Women's groups tried again this year to have the statue of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton moved upstairs from the crypt, a ground floor display area, to the Rotunda, the Capitol's largest room.

The Rotunda now features only statues of men, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island.

Anthony, a native of Adams, Mass., Stanton, of Johnstown, N.Y., and Mott, of Nantucket, Mass., led the fight during the last half of the 19th century to give women the vote. All three died before their mission succeeded in 1920.

To honor them, by moving their likenesses to the same level as the men's statues, requires an act of Congress.

While the Joint Committee on the Library usually makes such decisions, it has resisted the move, citing the statue's weight -- 13 tons including its marble-slab base. Other Capitol statues average half a ton each.

"There is some concern about the floor load in the Rotunda," said William F. Raines Jr., spokesman for the Architect of the Capitol. "It has always been our position that it's in a prominent location now. The crypt is one of the main corridors of the building."

But those who want the statue upstairs say the move would be a powerful symbol to mark Saturday's 75th anniversary of women's right to vote. A celebration of women's suffrage scheduled for Aug. 24-27 will include a march, art and history displays, music and dramatic readings.

"Someday I hope the Rotunda will be graced with a statue of the first female president," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "Until then, it is my hope to honor the role women have played by moving the women's statue up to the place of honor it should have in the Rotunda."

Mr. Stevens' spokesman, Mitch Rose, said the difference between the Rotunda and the crypt is like "the difference between going to the Grand Canyon and a neighborhood park. The Rotunda is the national display area of American history."

Although the Senate voted unanimously July 17 to move the monument, the House adjourned without voting on the matter. Maryland Republican Congresswoman Constance Morella says she plans to bring up the resolution when the House returns in September.

Meredith Ager, a spokeswoman for the 75th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage Task Force, said group members are angry the House didn't vote.

"We really thought it was going to happen this time," Ms. Ager said. "If anything, I think it's impelled us to want to move it even more."

K? The task force charged that House Speaker Newt Gingrich and

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., deliberately quashed the legislation.

But a Gingrich aide said the resolution was among several bills pulled because time was running out at the end of the session.

Mr. Stevens criticized Capitol architect George White for circulating a last-minute memo among House members raising concerns about the cost and difficulty of the move. Mr. Stevens said Mr. White's memo raised doubts that made a quick vote impossible.

Mr. White's memo said it would cost $130,000 to move the statue and replace seven tons of marble slabs in the base with lighter weight supports. He also said altering the base would damage the monument's appeal.

Mr. White concluded, "It is my considered opinion that, for both aesthetic and historical reasons, the statue should remain in its original form . . . which precludes its being placed in the Rotunda."

Mr. White's office has received complaints of sex and race discrimination. A 1994 report by the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, found Mr. White's office systematically denied women and blacks promotions. None of Mr. White's top aides is a woman. Mr. White, 75, plans to retire Nov. 21.

The women's task force challenged Mr. White's $130,000 estimate, saying the move would amount to $60,000. Mr. Stevens' office said a private group has agreed to pick up the tab.

The monument, sculpted by Adelaide Johnson in 1920, shows the three women's torsos and faces rising from rough-hewn stone, an effect similar to the faces on Mount Rushmore. Behind them is a block of uncarved stone, meant to represent future generations of activists.

The statue, a gift from the National Woman's Party -- a group active in the suffrage movement -- was supposed to be displayed in an open area, so visitors could view the women's faces and walk around it.

But it stands against a wall, sharing the room with dioramas of the Capitol.

Within a year of the statue's arrival, it was collecting dust in the crypt behind wastebaskets, tables and chairs, according to news accounts. After women appeared with cleaning buckets to scrub up the statue, the furniture was removed.

The only other statue ever moved to the Rotunda from elsewhere is the Martin Luther King bust, which once stood in a stairwell near the women's statue.

The only piece of art in the Rotunda featuring a woman is a large painting of Pocahontas, being baptized in order to marry John Rolfe.

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