Righting ‘sins of omission': Monument honors Virginia women

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Around a thousand people filled Virginia’s Capitol Square for the dedication Monday of statues honoring some of the state’s trailblazing women, part of a monument organizers say is unlike any other in the country.

The new women’s monument, about a decade in the making, will eventually feature a dozen life-sized bronze statues dotting a granite plaza a short distance from the Capitol in Richmond. Girl Scouts pulled blue drapes off the seven figures being dedicated Monday, including Native American chieftain Cockacoeske and Jamestown colonist Anne Burras Laydon, as the women’s names were read aloud.

Sculptor Ivan Schwartz called it “a new beginning, a deeply significant moment in the history of the nation, as we begin to address centuries-old sins of omission.” The artist said that as part of the art direction and research for the monument, he looked across America and found a “shameful” lack of statues dedicated to women.

“Women have been excised from the marble pedestal of history,” said Schwartz, who continued: “This doesn’t change the past, but it does begin to open a room with a new view. And while not all Americans may like this, it is happening nonetheless.”

The women, who also include a frontierswoman, a dressmaker and confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln, an entrepreneur, and educator and a suffragist, were chosen from more than four centuries of Virginia’s history.

“They were from all walks of life, from different times and places,” said Mary Margaret Whipple, a former state senator who served as vice chair of the Women’s Monument Commission. “They were famous and obscure. Real women, even imperfect women, who have shaped the history of this Commonwealth.”

Organizers say there’s no other such monument on the grounds of a state capitol in the U.S. showcasing centuries’ worth of both individual and collective women’s contributions.

Susan Clarke Schaar, clerk of the Virginia Senate and a member of the monument commission, described a marathon effort bringing the project to fruition. Organizers consulted several focus groups during the process, she said, including one comprising young women at the University of Richmond.

In the one-time capital of the Confederacy that’s filled with soaring monuments to Civil War leaders, that focus group had a particular request, Schaar recounted.

“No pedestals, no horses, no weapons,” she said, drawing laughter and applause.

Gov. Ralph Northam told the crowd, which Capitol police estimated at 800 to a thousand people, the monument was a “long overdue” addition to Capitol Square.

“It is an acknowledgement not only of those women who helped shape us, but of the promise that we make today that our girls will grow up knowing that they are valued, they are important, and that we as a Commonwealth believe that they can shape our future just as these women did our past,” Northam said.

The remaining five statues will be added as they are completed. Organizers said more than $3.7 million has been raised for “Voices from the Garden: The Virginia Women’s Monument” so far, and about $100,000 is still needed.