Nine states have chosen women to represent them in Statuary Hall. We salute them for honoring women’s achievements:
Alabama: Helen Keller (1880–1968)
Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. When she was 19 months old, an illness (possibly scarlet fever or meningitis) left her deaf, blind, and unable to speak. From her childhood teacher and life-long companion, Annie Sullivan, she learned to communicate by touch, Braille, and the use of a special typewriter; in 1890 a teacher from a Boston school for the deaf taught her to speak. She attended the Cambridge School for Young Ladies and then entered Radcliffe College, from which she graduated with honors in 1904. Settling outside Boston, Keller and Sullivan collaborated on Helen’s autobiography, The Story of My Life.
Soon, encouraged by Sullivan’s husband, Keller embraced a variety of social causes, including woman suffrage. She lectured and wrote in support of these causes as well as to call attention to the plight of the physically handicapped. Following World War II, she and her secretary, Polly Thompson, traveled abroad to support the blind. She died on June 1, 1968, in Westport, Connecticut; her ashes are interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Colorado: Florence Sabin (1871-1953)
A pioneer in science and public health, Florence Sabin was born in Central City, Colorado, on November 9, 1871. She graduated from Smith College in 1893, attended the Johns Hopkins Medical School, and was the first woman to graduate from that institution. In 1902 she began to teach anatomy at Johns Hopkins. Appointed professor of histology in 1917, she was the first woman to become a full professor at a medical college. In 1924 Sabin was elected the first woman president of the American Association of Anatomists and the first lifetime woman member of the National Academy of Science.
In September 1925 she became head of the Department of Cellular Studies at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City. Her research focused on the lymphatic system, blood vessels and cells, and tuberculosis. In 1944 she came out of a six-year retirement to accept Colorado governor John Vivian’s request to chair a subcommittee on health. This resulted in the “Sabin Health Laws,” which modernized the state’s public health system. In 1948 she became manager of health and charities for Denver, donating her salary to medical research. She retired again in 1951 and died on October 3, 1953.
Illinois: Frances E. Willard (1839–1898)
A pioneer in the temperance movement, Frances E. Willard is also remembered for her contributions to higher education. Born on September 28, 1839, on a small farm outside Rochester, New York, she spent her childhood in Oberlin, Ohio, and later in Janesville, Wisconsin, where her father had purchased a large farm. She attended the Female College of Milwaukee for one year and finished her college degree at the Woman’s College of Northwestern University. She taught at Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in 1866-1867 before returning to the Evanston College for Women, where she served as president from 1871 to 1874.
Willard gained a reputation as an effective orator and social reformer. She became associated in the evangelist movement with Dwight Moody and was elected president of the National Women’s Temperance Union in 1879. Her zeal sustained her fight for prohibition, and she organized the Prohibition Party in 1882. During the same year she was elected president of the National Council of Women. She later founded and served as president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1883.
Frances Willard died on February 18, 1898. Her statue was the first honoring a woman to be chosen for the National Statuary Hall Collection.
Minnesota: Maria L. Sanford (1836-1920)
Maria Sanford was born in Saybrook, Connecticut, on December 19, 1836. Her love for education began early; at the age of 16 she was already teaching in county day schools. She graduated from Connecticut Normal School, using her dowry funds for tuition. She rose in the ranks of local and national educators, becoming principal and superintendent of schools in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and serving as professor of history at Swarthmore College from 1871 to 1880. She was one of the first women named to a college professorship. When the University of Minnesota asked her to join its faculty , she did so enthusiastically.
During her tenure at the university (1880-1909) Sanford was a professor of rhetoric and elocution, and she lectured on literature and art history. She was a champion of women’s rights, supported the education of blacks, pioneered the concept of adult education, and became a founder of parent-teacher organizations. Sanford was also a leader in the conservation and beautification program of her new state. She traveled throughout the United States delivering more than 1000 patriotic speeches, the most famous being the powerful address “An Apostrophe to the Flag,” that she delivered at a national Daughters of the American Revolution convention.
She died on April 21, 1920, at the age of 83. In June of that year the University of Minnesota held a memorial convocation in her honor. She was called “the best loved woman of the North Star State.”
Montana: Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)
Jeannette Rankin was born on June 11, 1880, near Missoula, Montana. Educated in the public schools, she graduated from the University of Montana in 1902 and studied at the School of Philanthropy in New York City. She undertook social work in Seattle, Washington, in 1909 and in subsequent years worked for woman suffrage in Washington, California, and Montana. She traveled to New Zealand in 1915 and gained first-hand knowledge of social conditions by working as a seamstress.
In 1916, Rankin became the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican Senate nomination in 1918, engaged in social work for the next three decades, and was re-elected to the House in 1940. She did not seek re-election in 1942. In her last 30 years she was a rancher, a lecturer, and a lobbyist for peace and women’s rights.
Rankin supported the cause of peace throughout her life. She voted against America’s entry into World Wars I and II, and she was the only member of Congress to oppose the declaration of war on Japan. She died in Carmel, California, on May 18, 1973.
Nevada: Sarah Winnemucca (1844–1891)
Sarah Winnemucca (1844–1891) was a member of the Paiute tribe born in what would later become the state of Nevada. She was the daughter of Chief Winnemucca and the granddaughter of Chief Truckee. Her Paiute name was Thocmetony (or Tocmetoni), which means “shellflower”; it is not known why or when she took the name Sarah. Having a great facility with languages, she served as an interpreter and negotiator between her people and the U.S. Army. In 1878 when the Bannock Indians revolted and were being pursued by the U.S. Army under General Oliver Howard’s command, Sarah volunteered for a dangerous mission. Locating her father’s band being forcibly held by the Bannocks, she secretly led them away to army protection in a three-day ride over 230 miles of rugged terrain with little food or rest.
As a spokesperson for her people, she gave over 300 speeches to win support for them, and she met with President Rutherford B. Hayes and Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz in 1880. Her 1883 autobiography, Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, was the first book written by a Native American woman. She started a school for Native Americans, where she taught children both in their native language and in English. She was married at least twice, first to Lieutenant Edward C. Bartlett and later to Lewis H. Hopkins. Sarah Winnemucca died in 1891.
North Dakota: Sakakawea (ca. 1788-1812)
In 1800, at about the age of 12, a Shoshone girl was captured by the Hidatsa tribe in an area that is now North Dakota. Her original name is not known, but she was given a new name by her captors. The State of North Dakota has adopted Sakakawea as the most accurate English representation of this name, which means “Bird Woman,” although other spellings (e.g., Sacagawea and Sacajawea) are also used. By 1804 Sakakawea had become the wife of a French-Canadian, Pierre Charbonneau, who was hired in that year as an interpreter for the northwest expedition headed by Meriweather Lewis and William Clark. She traveled with the party and assisted with translation and made contacts with Shoshone and Hidatsa people, who considered the presence of a woman a sign that the expedition was peaceful. She served as a guide and gathered edible plants along the route. Her son Jean Baptiste was born on February 11, 1805, in winter quarters at Fort Mandan in North Dakota, and she carried him with her when travel resumed. After the return of the expedition in 1806, Sakakawea and her husband and son lived in the Mandan and Hidatsa villages. She is believed to have died of a fever in 1812 at Fort Manuel near Kenel, South Dakota.
In selecting Sakakawea as the subject of this statue, the state legislature chose to honor her as a “traveler and guide, a translator, a diplomat, and a wife and mother” and to recognize that “her indomitable spirit was a decided factor in the success of Lewis and Clark’s . . . expedition.” Their choice appears to agree with the sentiment expressed by William Clark in a letter to Sakakawea’s husband almost two centuries ago: “your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatigueing rout to the Pacific Ocian and back diserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that rout than we had in our power to give her.” The statue was in place in the Capitol for the beginning of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Washington: Mother Joseph (1823-1902)
On April 16, 1823, Esther Pariseau was born in St. Elzear near Montreal, Canada. At the age of 20, when she entered the Sisters of Charity of Providence in Montreal, her carriage-maker father remarked, “I bring you my daughter, Esther, who wishes to dedicate herself to the religious life. She can read, write, figure accurately, sew, cook, spin and do all manner of housework. She can even do carpentering, handling a hammer and saw as well as her father. She can also plan for others and she succeeds in anything she undertakes. I assure you, Madam, she will make a good superior some day.”
In 1856 Mother Joseph was chosen to lead a group of five missionaries to the Pacific Northwest Territories of the United States. There she was responsible for the completion of eleven hospitals, seven academies, five Indian schools, and two orphanages throughout an area that today encompasses Washington, northern Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. An architect and artist, she was actually responsible for designing the buildings, supervising their construction, and fund raising. Each of her “begging tours” into mining camps lasted several months and raised between $2,000 and $5,000 toward the realization of her goal. A stickler for detail, Mother Joseph often inspected rafters and bounced on planks to insure their support.
Mother Joseph died of a brain tumor in 1902, leaving a legacy of humanitarian service. She is recognized as one of the first architects in the Northwest.
Wyoming: Esther Hobart Morris (1814-1902)
Woman suffrage leader Esther Hobart Morris was born in Tioga County, New York, on August 8, 1814. Orphaned at age 11, she was apprenticed to a seamstress and became a successful milliner and businesswoman. As a young woman she was active in the anti-slavery movement. Widowed in 1845, she moved to Peru, Illinois, to settle the property in her husband’s estate. There she realized the legal difficulties faced by women. She married John Morris, a prosperous merchant, and in 1869 they moved to a gold rush camp at South Pass City, Wyoming Territory.
To promote the idea of giving women the right to vote, Morris organized a tea party for the electors and candidates for the first territorial legislature. With the national woman suffrage movement still being organized, Wyoming’s enactment of such a law in 1869 was a legislative milestone. Laws were also passed giving married women control of their own property and providing equal pay for women teachers.
When appointed justice of the peace for the South Pass District in 1870, she became the first woman to hold judicial office in the modern world. During the statehood celebration in 1890 she was honored as a suffrage pioneer. In 1895, at age 80, she was elected a delegate to the national suffrage convention in Cleveland. She died in Cheyenne on April 2, 1902.