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A feminist artist and sculptress, known as “The sculptor of the women’s suffrage movement.”
Born as Sarah Adeline Johnson in Plymouth, IL, to a family of farmers. She received her education attending rural schools, and after graduation, she began her art training, taking classes at the St. Louis School of Design. She was only 18 years old when she exhibited her artworks at the 1877 St. Louis Exposition, and thanks to the prizes she won, she was able to move to Chicago and make a living from her art.
At 23, on her way to her studio, she fell 20 feet into an open elevator shaft. She was severely injured, but the compensation fee she was awarded enabled her the financial freedom to study sculpture and painting in Europe.
As a feminist and women’s rights activist, she expressed her political views in her art. Among the many individual busts she sculptured, were busts of the Suffrage Movement’s leaders – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott, which she presented in the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 (The busts are currently located at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument Museum). She wanted to put the busts as a group monument at the US Capitol Rotunda but did not get the support at that time.
After the 19th Amendment was ratified, she got the funding from the philanthropist Alva Belmont and the commission from the National Woman’s Party. She went to Italy to bring an 8-ton piece of marble to her studio and created her most famous artwork – “Group Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony.” The statue was dedicated in a special ceremony on Susan B. Anthony’s birthday, February 15th, 1921, in the US Capitol. This was the pick of Johnson’s career.
During the 1930s, her career declined, and she had financial problems. In 1939, 80 years old Johnson invited the press to witness how she destroys her own artworks as a protest against her living conditions as well as against her shattered dream of opening a studio-museum honoring the suffragists and women’s rights organizations.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She changed her name from Sarah Adeline to Adelaide because she thought it was more dramatic.
- By the end of the 19th century, she had several studios and worked in the biggest cities in the world, among them are London, New York, and Chicago.
- She was a vegetarian.
- She got married at age 37 to English businessman Frederick Jenkins who was eleven years younger than her. They got married by a female minister, and her husband took her family name. They got divorced after 12 years.
- At the age of 88, she celebrated her 100th birthday because it made good publicity.
More About Her Legacy
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One of Her Landmarks
Johnston standing on the left near the Group Portrait Monument she sculptured in 1921. Photo credit - National Woman's Party Records at the Library of Congress.