Once we're done taking in the statuary of the Visitors Center, let's get a ticket and take a tour of the Capitol. As you come across the Rotunda, your guide will almost certainly point out a statue of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. Your guide may very well refer to it as The Portrait Monument, and he is not wrong. That is what is now officially known as, but I prefer to mention it as The Woman Movement, which is how the sculptor, Adelaide Johnson, referred to it. We'll get to Adelaide in a bit, but let's talk about the Monument itself.
The statue depicts busts of the three ladies with a roughly hewn outcropping behind them. This outcropping is meant to represent the unfinished nature of the struggle for equality, but its abstract nature has left it open to many new interpretations, one of which is one of my favorite urban legends of the Hill. The story goes, that if and when a woman is elected President, we'll grab some stone carvers and chisel a new face in the raw stone. Not at all true of course, but could you imagine the pressure on the poor carver, who would have one chance to get it right before he spoiled a timeless artifact? And I get nervous painting my living room.
But that's not to say The Portrait Monument (fine, I'll use their name for it) doesn't have a full and fascinating history, even without such superfluous additions. As I mentioned, it was carved by my neighbor, Adelaide Johnson and donated to the nation by the National Woman's Party in 1921. Adelaide was an eccentric character. In 1882, she fell down an elevator shaft and used the $15,000 in compensation to finance professional training as a painter and a sculptor. In 1896, she married British businessman, vegetarian, and Spiritualist Alexander Jenkins, who ended up taking Adelaide's name with the explanation that this was "the tribute that love pays to genius". The marriage did not last, but Adelaide continued to live a full and unconventional life, until her death in 1955.
Like its creator, The Portrait Monument also enjoyed a turbulent history. When I mentioned it was donated; that's factually correct, but glosses over some critical details. The statue was donated by the National Woman's Party, headquartered a few blocks away at the Sewall-Belmont House, but was hardly graciously accepted by the Capitol. In fact, the President of the NWP, Alice Paul, had to order it to be dragged by mules to the Capitol and unceremoniously left there. Shamed into action, Congress did grudgingly allow the ladies entrance to the Capitol, but for nearly seventy years it was on display in the Crypt (and often hidden in a closet nearby). Lest it's dangerous message get out, Congress also ordered the original inscription whitewashed, so that casual visitors would not be subjected to such incendiary lines as "Men, their rights and nothing more. Women, their rights and nothing less". In 1996, the seven ton statue was finally and permanently displayed in the Rotunda, where of course you can see it today. Ironically, Susan B. Anthony had urged the statue be placed in the Library of Congress, rather than the Capitol, an institution that was more open to the struggle for equality in her view.
So how is Adelaide Johnson my neighbor? Well, she is resting comfortably a few blocks away from me at Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill, but that is a story for a different day.