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Even in stone, suffragettes cause a stir on Capitol Hill

Statue

In this story:

May 10, 1997
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Louise Schiavone

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For more than 70 years, the three women languished in the crypt, gathering dust in obscurity. But now they are in the spotlight at the United States Capitol rotunda -- at least for a year.

"Portrait Monument," a 7.5-ton statue that depicts three leaders of the suffragette movement, was hauled into the rotunda Saturday.

Anthony

It took a special act of Congress, passed at the urging of women's groups who believed the pioneer suffragettes deserved better than the capitol basement.

"These three women led the greatest bloodless revolution in the history of this country," said Joan Meacham, co-chair of the Women's Suffrage Campaign. "It took 72 years to get the right to vote."

movie icon (896K/27 sec. QuickTime movie slide show)

That goal was gained in 1920, after an epic political battle led by Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who are depicted in the statue.

The statue, dubbed by critics "Three Ladies in a Bathtub," first stood in the rotunda in 1921. But it was removed shortly after by an all-male Congress.

Groups urge that Sojourner Truth be included

Getting it back into prime real estate was no mean feat, and it was gained at the expense of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, whose statue was moved down the hall to clear space for "Portrait Monument."

The special legislation authorizing the move says the suffragette statue can stay in the rotunda only for a year.

Truth

Moreover, African-American women's groups were upset about the statue's relocation into the spotlight because it doesn't incorporate Sojourner Truth, another turn-of-the-century women's activist.

Last month, a coalition of groups converged on Congress demanding that Truth be included in any homage to the women's movement.

"She was left out of history and betrayed then and now on the eve of the 21st Century, and they are trying to leave her out of history and betray her again," said C. Delores Tucker, chairman of the National Political Congress of Black Women.

'Women today stand on the shoulders of our foremothers'

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But for many others in the women's movement, the statue -- and the cause it represents -- deserves to be recognized.

"I have a paycheck. I vote. I'm an elected official, but none of this was an opportunity for my great-great-grandmother," said Coline Jenkins-Sahlin, great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Staton. "The women today stand on the shoulders of our foremothers."

 
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