A 9-year-old girl is trying to haul her heroine from the Capitol basement to higher ground. Or at least help push her there.
Arlys Endres' activism began in February, when she wrote a report on Susan B. Anthony for her third-grade class. A week later she heard about a campaign to move a statue of her heroine and two other suffragists to the Capitol Rotunda, its intended home.Since then, the Phoenix girl has raised more than $1,400 for the National Woman's Suffrage Statue Campaign to move the statue of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott from the Capitol Crypt to the Rotunda.
Activists have tried four times to give a higher profile to the suffragists, with the most recent attempt in 1995 - the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment extending to women the right to vote. A resolution to move the statue passed the Senate only to be stopped in the House by objections to using taxpayer money for the move.
The current argument against the move: aesthetics.
The white marble statue depicts the three suffragists sternly rising from a large rough-hewn base, symbolizing their rise from bondage. The statue, officially entitled the "Portrait Monument," is affectionately called "Ladies in the Bathtub" because of the bathtub-like base. Sculptor Adelaide Johnson left it unfinished so future female leaders could be added.
Critics, however, call the monument ugly at worst and unfit for the Rotunda at best.
The Rotunda, the symbolic and physical center of the Capitol, now has 11 statues - all of men.
Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., thinks the suffragists' statue doesn't belong there, arguing that it doesn't fit stylistically with the Rotunda's individual statues.
Last week Johnson and 14 colleagues pitched a new idea: Move the statue to the Rotunda for a year, then to a "new site" with an "education display." After that, a statue of Esther Hobart Morris, who helped Wyoming become the first state to grant women the vote in 1869, could be moved to the Rotunda from a nearby hallway, Johnson suggested.
But the entire Senate, part of the House, the suffrage statue campaign activists and Arlys want the suffragists' statue permanently in the Rotunda, and some don't think Morris is an adequate substitute.
"There's no way she (Morris) could compare to those three. She worked at the state level; these women worked at the national and international levels," said Karen Staser, co-chairperson of the National Woman's Suffrage Statue Campaign.
The campaign was organized in February to raise $75,000 to move the statue.
The National Woman's Party presented the 13-ton statue to Congress in 1921, less than a year after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Congress grudgingly accepted it, with its gilded inscription praising the women "whose spiritual import and historical significance transcends that of all others of any country or any age."
Twenty-four hours later, the gilding had been whitewashed and the statue moved from the Rotunda to a storage area beneath, where it remains. The Crypt was renovated into a display area in 1963.
As for the statue's unusual appearance, activists think it shouldn't matter.
"It's a concept piece," Staser said. "There is symbolism behind that piece. When you know that, it takes on all new levels of meaning."
Sherry Little, a staff aide to Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who supported moving the statue to the Rotunda, said the attention given to its appearance is somewhat sexist.
"No one ever said Abraham Lincoln wasn't important because he was ugly," Little said. "It's not supposed to be about how people look. They had wrinkles under their eyes because they spent their lives and fortunes and health fighting for getting women the right to vote."
A fund-raising event next month in Washington will attempt to raise the $50,000 still needed to move the statue by mid-August - the end of the 19th amendment's 75th year, Little said.
Supporters hope that by raising private money for the move, they'll weaken congressional objections to placing the statue in the Rotunda.
Arlys plans to attend the fund-raiser. Since giving her class report, Arlys has collected money door-to-door, written letters to relatives, businesses and politicians, given three speeches and been interviewed several times.
"She has been one of our most aggressive fund-raisers," Little said. "She's kind of a little pioneer of her own."
Arlys plans to work "as long as it takes to get the statue moved" because "someday I'm going to take my daughter to see the statue in the Rotunda."