The monument, carved from an 8-ton block of white marble by the sculptress and feminist Adelaide Johnson, was made in Carrara, Italy and made a transatlantic voyage until it reached Washington, DC.
The monument was commissioned by the National Woman’s Party (formed in 1916 with the mission to fight for women’s rights and to secure the Equal Rights Amendment) and was presented as a gift to the U.S. Capitol from the women of the US.
It was unveiled on February 1921, a year after the 19th Amendment was ratified guaranteeing women with the right to vote.
At the dedication ceremony, the memorial was placed between the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, but afterward, it was removed and placed temporarily at the Capitol Crypt – the Capitol’s basement at the time. It stayed there for more than 70 years.
In addition, some of the inscriptions were removed from the monument, and “provocative” lines, such as “Woman, first denied a soul, then called mindless, now arisen declared herself an entity to be reckoned” and “Men their rights and nothing more, women their rights and nothing less”, were erased for good.
It took 76 years and an act of Congress to bring the monument back to the public, and in 1997 it was placed again at the Capitol Rotunda after a campaign led by the National Women’s History Museum.
The monument appears unfinished because of the large chunk of uncarved marble in its back. The motive for this decision is unclear – some say it represents the unfinished struggle for women’s equality, and others say it’s preserved for the first US woman president.
At the moment, it’s the only monument on display in the Capitol Rotunda dedicated to women.