California! Put a Woman in Statuary Hall!

Father Junipera SerraCalifornia is currently represented in Statuary Hall by Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) and Father Junipero Serra (1713-84). The Reagan statue is new: it was installed in 2009 as a replacement for the statue of Thomas Starr King.

We think California should consider replacing Father Serra as well.

Father Junipera Serra, whose statue is pictured at right, was the head of the California missions under the Spanish. Despite Serra’s religious sincerity, the mission system was extremely brutal: Indians were enslaved, beaten, forced to convert, and killed if they rebelled. Some modern historians have described the missions as “genocidal.”

California could choose a far more positive role model for Statuary Hall. California history is full of outstanding women who deserve to be memorialized:

  • Winema (1848-1932): Modoc chief
    Winema, also known to whites as “Toby Riddle,” was a crucial figure during the conflict between the Modoc tribe and the United States. She acted as chief, diplomat, negotiator, and interpreter during the Modoc War of 1872-73.
  • Clara Shortridge Foltz (1849-1934): First professional “Lady Lawyer”
    Clara Shortridge Foltz was America’s first professional woman lawyer. A committed feminist, she also pushed through significant legislation for women’s rights, beginning with replacing the words “white male” with “person” in the California legal code. Foltz was the first woman to run for governor of California.
  • Donaldina Cameron (1869-1968): San Francisco missionary and social justice activist.
    Donaldina Cameron was a Presbyterian missionary who devoted her life to rescuing the trafficked women enslaved in the brothels of Chinatown. From 1895 to 1934 she rescued more than 3,000 Chinese slave girls and women.
  • Julia Morgan (1872-1957): California’s first woman architect
    Julia Morgan was one of the most prolific architects in American history, designing more than 700 buildings over her 47-year career. Her most famous designs include the Hearst Castle in San Simeon and the exquisite Asilomar Conference Grounds. Morgan was the first woman to be certified in architecture by L’Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris.
  • Isadora Duncan (1877–1927): Foremother of modern dance
    Isadora Duncan was a revolutionary. At a time when dance meant stodgy classical ballet or music hall frivolity, she conceived of creating a high art form based on natural body movements. One of the most celebrated artists in the world during her lifetime, Duncan’s influence on 20th century culture was enormous.
  • Dorothea Lange (1895-1965): Photographer
    Lange photographed bread lines in the depression years, living conditions of migrant workers in California in the 1930s, and documented the treatment of Japanese-Americans in WWII in the crowded internment camps. These powerful photographic images brought public attention to the inhumane conditions. “If any documents of this turbulent age are justified to endure,” Ansel Adams wrote, “the photographs of Dorothea Lange shall, most certainly.”
  • Edith Head (1897-1981): Costume Designer
    Edith head was nominated for 35 Academy Awards, and won eight times — more than any other woman in history. She was responsible for some of the best-known Hollywood fashion images of her day, with her costumes being worn by the most glamorous and famous actresses in films.
  • Jeannette Henry Costo (1909-2001): American Indian activist, historian, and writer
    Jeannette Costo and her husband Rupert Costo (1906-1989) spent their lives advocating for American Indians and documenting the history of California’s native inhabitants. Ironically, it was Costo who helped expose the brutality and cultural genocide of the mission system headed by Father Serra — currently one of California’s two representatives in Statuary Hall.
  • Lucille Ball (1911-89): Entertainer and Hollywood executive
    The most beloved television star of the 20th century, Lucille Ball was also a powerhouse executive. She was the first woman to run a major TV studio, Desilu Productions, which created numerous hit series (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl, and more).
  • Julia Child (1912-2004): Chef
    A native of Pasadena, Julia Child became one of the most celebrated women in America. She revolutionized American cuisine by introducing French dishes and cooking techniques to a vast audience.
  • Ray Eames (1912-88): Designer
    Ray Eames and her husband Charles Eames (1907-78) were two of the most influential designers of the 20th century. Their visionary furniture designs gave shape to the modern American aesthetic. The ubiquitous Eames Chair — a molded bucket-shaped lounger — is one of the great icons of the modern age.
  • Dian Fossey (1932-85): Zoologist and conservationist
    Dian Fossey pioneered the study of mountain gorillas, spending years living alongside them and documenting their behavior. Acknowledged as the world’s leading authority on gorillas, she became an international celebrity with her bestselling Gorillas in the Mist. Fossey was murdered in her camp in Rwanda, probably by the poachers she had spent years fighting.

Our California Statue Project is just now getting underway. If you’d like to be involved, please email us at We need volunteer researchers, letter writers, interns, and helpers of every description. Watch this space for updates as the project takes shape.

In the meantime, leave a comment to let us know who you think should represent California!