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Lawmakers Seek to Add Truth to Suffrage Statue

In a late-session push, Democratic Reps. Major Owens (N.Y.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) are seeking support for a bill that would mandate the addition of Sojourner Truth to the Capitol’s “Portrait Monument,” which honors the women’s suffrage movement.

The 14,000 pound, white marble sculpture, donated to Congress in 1920 in honor of the 19th Amendment, depicts three leaders of the women’s suffrage movement: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.

“These women were contemporaries of Sojourner Truth, yet she is not preserved on the statue in the Capitol alongside them,” the lawmakers wrote in a Sept. 3 “Dear Colleague” letter. “Sojourner Truth was a towering figure among the founders of the movements for women’s suffrage in the United States. By not having any representation of her, we are not accurately representing this important development in our Nation’s history.”

Lee said last week that she and Owens intend to approach committee chairmen this week to find a vehicle for the bill, introduced in February 2003.

Although it remains unclear whether the legislation could be approved before the close of the 108th Congress, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced a similar bill in June, and Lee remained upbeat about the possibilities.

“Women have come together around this from all walks of life,” Lee said. “Her addition to the statue will be a symbolic representation of minority women everywhere.”

The statue, donated by artist Adelaide Johnson in 1921, has an unfinished appearance, a deliberate statement by its creator about the unfinished state of the suffrage movement. (In an unintended result, the statue is often referred to as “three ladies in a bathtub” because the women appear to be sitting in tub due to the statue’s shape.)

The monument spent nearly eight decades in the Capitol’s Crypt area before Congress mandated the artwork be put on display in the Rotunda, where it has been since 1997.

It is not yet clear what would be required to modify the monument, which is estimated to weigh around 26,000 pounds when combined with its dual marble bases.

Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol’s office, declined to comment, noting the legislation is still pending.

But Malecki did confirm that if Truth were added to the monument, the artwork would be the first statue in the Capitol collection to be altered.

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