Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
While the statue commemorates three women, it is much more than a personal tribute. The portraits represent all those little handfuls of women---those of the past, present and future. As Adelaide Johnson proclaimed, the monument symbolizes womanhood and the feminine principle in humanity.
The monument is something vaster than suffragists on a pedestal. Suffrage was but one objective of the woman movement. Winning the vote provided the equipment, the political voice, with which to secure other rights. “Principle not policy; justice, not favor; men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”
The Portrait Monument brings to life the struggle against sexism and oppression. It brings to life the “first incontrovertible concept of human freedom, that of individual liberty”---words once stenciled on the back of the monument.
"We shall someday be heeded,
and when we shall have our amendment to the Constitution of the United States,
everybody will think it was always so..."
--- Susan B. Anthony, 1894
“Great movements, like great people, and those who led forlorn causes,
need the mellowing touch of time....but the cry of approval,
the shout of praise, the laurel-wreath, and the marble bust
are their inevitable, ultimate record..."
--- Ethel Snowden, 1912
A Short History of the Woman Suffrage Statue
The Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony stands in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. The work, sculpted by Adelaide Johnson, is the first and only sculpture of women in the Rotunda. Unlike most other busts and statues in the Capitol, the Portrait Monument exhibits an unconventional form which provokes fascination and requires thoughtful study.
Sculptor Adelaide Johnson created the monument in 1920, but its inception began in 1886 when Johnson met Susan B. Anthony and made a clay bust of her. Before long, Johnson executed marble busts of Anthony, Stanton and Mott---who she called the Great Three.
The three busts were exhibited at the World Fair in 1893. After the fair, the busts were intended to be placed in the Capitol. Due to conflicts with Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw, and others of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the busts were never placed in the Capitol. Johnson did exhibit them at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC for a few years.
In the spring of 1920, the National Woman’s Party wanted to place the three busts in the Capitol to celebrate the impending passage of the federal suffrage amendment. After obtaining a commission from the NWP to make a set of new busts, Adelaide Johnson traveled to Carrara, Italy, to execute the work. She soon abandoned the agreement and decided to merge the busts with a pedestal, creating one large monument.
After a troublesome voyage, the monument arrived in America in January 1921. When some Congressmen, still harboring anti-suffrage sentiments, saw the large, unorthodox work, they called it bizarre. One said it looked like “three ladies in a bathtub.” The 7-ton sculpture sat under the steps of the Capitol waiting to be accepted into the building.
The acceptance committee finally agreed to allow the monument into the Capitol. On February 15, 1921, the 101st anniversary of the birth of Susan B. Anthony, more than 1,000 women attended the unveiling of the Portrait Monument in the Capitol Rotunda.
While newspaper presses were printing the proclamation of women’s political equality, the monument was being demoted. Immediately after the ceremony, officials moved it downstairs to the Crypt. Though this move is usually represented as a malicious, vindictive act by some Congressmen, the relocation of the monument to the first floor was a condition of the acceptance agreement made by the NWP.
Although women’s groups tried to get the monument moved back upstairs to the Rotunda, all of their efforts were thwarted by claims of the statue being too heavy and too ugly. For decades, the monument remained the only artwork in the Crypt. Yet, the NWP continued to hold celebrations at the monument, as it symbolized the success of suffrage and the historic roots of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.
In the 1990s, Congress approved the relocation of the monument and women’s groups raised more than $75,000 to bring their foremothers upstairs with their forefathers. On Mother's Day, 1997, the Portrait Monument was returned to the Rotunda.