Capitol to get statue of first woman in Congress

By MARY BETH FRANKLIN  |  April 29, 1985
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WASHINGTON -- Jeannette Rankin, a suffragette and the first woman elected to Congress, joins 93 other Americans in the political hall of fame this week as her statue is added to the Capitol's Statuary Hall collection.

Montana will pay tribute to Rankin, who was elected to represent that state in the House in 1916 and again in 1940, by dedicating a bronze statue of (er May 1.

A pacifist, Rankin was the only member of Congress to vote against U.S. entry into World War I and World War II. Nearly 30 years later, she led 3,000 women to the Capitol to protest the war in Vietnam. She died in 1973.

Rankin also was a leading feminist, urging her state to give women the right to vote long before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed.

The placement of Rankin's statue -- the 94th in the Capitol's collection -- probably would surprise Justin Morrill, author of the 1864 legislation who envisioned Statuary Hall as a place were visitors could 'come and behold a gallery filled with such American manhood ... who have inerasably fixed their names on the pages of history.'

Rankin will be the sixth woman to be honored in the collection. Others include Frances Willard of Illinois, founder of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union; physician Florence Sabin of Colorado; missionary Mother Joseph of Washington; suffragette Ester Morris of Wyoming and educator Maria Sanford of Minnesota.

Montana's latest contribution brings to 44 the number of states that have contributed their limit of two statues, each. Six other states - Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming -- still have the option of selecting another person to honor in the collection.

Statuary Hall, a marble-columned, semi-circular room adjacent to the Capitol rotunda, was created to honor a select group of the nation's leading citizens and to bring some order and beauty to the cluttered and dusty room that once served as the House chamber.

When the new House wing of the Capitol was completed in 1857, the chambep moved from the Hall of the House of Representatives -- now Statuary Hall -- to its present location. For years the former House chamber had been used as a thoroughfare between the new House and Senate chambers, where vendors sold fruit and root beer.

The first piece in the hall was placed in 1869, when Rhode Island sent a statue of Revolutionary War Gen. Nathanael Greene.

Selection and design of the statues is up to the states and the result is a collection of some unusual and sometimes contradictory pieces of art.

The collection includes signers of the Declaration of Independence like Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Caesar Rodney of Delaware and the colonial governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, who opposed democracy.

There is also George Washington, the nation's first president, and the first president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Hawaii donated statues of King Kamehameha and Father Damien, a Jesuit missionary to the leper colony on Molokai.

Perhaps the most beloved statue in the collection -- its bronze foot worn bx the touches of hundreds of thousands of tourists -- is that of humorist Will Rogers.

An Oklahoma native son who spent much of his career as a columist and comedian poking fun at Congress, Rogers sometimes referred to Congress as the 'Capitol Comedy Club of Washington.'

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