Few statehouses feature memorials to actual historical women

Published 5:09 am Friday, January 17, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio —  Ohio’s Statehouse would join a small number of others around the country with outdoor monuments dedicated to real women in U.S. history under a proposal expected Thursday to create a memorial to Ohio women who fought for voting rights.

Currently, all statues of historical figures outside the Statehouse are of men, including Christopher Columbus, President William McKinley (a former Ohio governor), and seven Civil War generals including Ulysses S. Grant.

“Who are these seven men?” asks a trivia question for tourists at the base of the Civil War statue, which is topped by a statue of a woman from ancient Rome whose sons were prominent in the military and politics.

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Around the corner, “Peace,” a winged female figure, stands on the north side of the Statehouse, remembering Ohio’s civil war soldiers “And The Loyal Women Of That Period.” Another statue of a generic woman, also representing peace, sits below a statue of McKinley.

On Thursday, members of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission planned to propose the voting rights memorial to the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board.

It’s time to include real women on the Statehouse grounds, especially those who fought for such an important right, said State Sen. Stephanie Kunze, a co-chair of the commission. Such a statue would both honor their work and inspire the girls and young women of today, she said.

“It’s deserving to honor the women who fought for the right to vote during this 100th anniversary, and then to really look forward to see what else women are going to achieve in the next 100 years,” said Kunze, a Republican from Hilliard in suburban Columbus.

If the memorial is approved, fundraising would likely top $1 million and construction could follow after a five-year waiting period.

Nationally, statues of real women are relatively rare on the grounds of statehouses.

Connecticut’s Statehouse features a statue of former Gov. Ella Grasso, the state’s first female governor elected in her own right, while Utah has a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, the country’s first female state senator.

A statue of Esther Hobart Morris, Wyoming’s first female justice of the peace, stood for years in front of the state Capitol but was moved inside after last year’s renovation, with some calls for it to be returned outside after its own renovation. In Hawaii, the Capitol features a statue of Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

The Arkansas Capitol has a statue featuring the Little Rock Nine, the black students who integrated Central High School, six of whom were girls.

Arkansas and Mississippi also have monuments to Confederate women featuring figurative representations. “Forward,” an allegorical female statue, stands outside the Wisconsin State Capitol. “As Long as the Waters Flow,” a 13-foot representation of a Native American woman, stands prominently outside the Oklahoma Capitol.

Minnesota has a memorial to women’s suffrage that honors 25 women who fought for voting rights, with an expansive garden that includes their names but no statues.

Inside statehouses, Alabama has a statue of Gov. Lurleen Wallace, Illinois has a statue of Lottie Holman O’Neill, the first woman elected to the Illinois General Assembly, and Oklahoma has a statue of Kate Barnard, the second woman ever to be elected to a statewide public office in the United States (Oklahoma commissioner of charities and corrections in 1907).

Nebraska’s hall of fame inside the Capitol building includes busts of Willa Cather and Mari Sandoz, and Maryland will soon have an indoor statue of Harriet Tubman.

Over the years, the country hasn’t done a great job honoring all the people who contributed to what it means to be American, said Lisa Benton-Short, a geography professor at George Washington University.

“There’s a lot of our story that’s missing, and it’s missing from those key spaces,” she said.

The Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial, unveiled in 2014 on the South Side of the Ohio Statehouse, was the Capitol’s last new outdoor memorial. At the time, some questioned its appropriateness because it includes a representation of the Star of David, while others worried about triggering a race to erect other memorials. In the end, though, it was easily approved.