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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: Solid Statues, Solid Lives - Part I

Another Angle, the occasional musings of a Kentucky pastor. Solid Statues, Solid Lives - Part I First published 26 March 2006, in the Hart County News-Herald
The next earlier Another Angle Forty can be a very good number

By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

In the United States Capitol Building, just off the great rotunda, is a large and impressive room that served as the chamber of the House of Representatives from 1807 until 1857. When the present House wing was completed, the representatives and their desks moved there, and the old hall became a cavernous and empty space. In 1864 Congress voted to designate this grand room as National Statuary Hall.

Each state was invited to donate statues of two illustrious deceased citizens for placement in the hall, people worthy of being remembered by the entire nation. Over the years the room became cluttered, and the weight of all the bronze and marble statues rendered larger than life size threatened to buckle the floors. Now many of the statues have been dispersed to other nearby areas in the Capitol, but about 40 of [these] sculptures remain in Statuary Hall. (Kentucky has legislator and statesman Henry Clay represented in Statuary Hall, while the sculpture of pioneering surgeon Dr. Ephraim McDowell is elsewhere. Tennessee has its first governor, John Sevier, noted there. Indiana has General Lew Wallace, Civil War hero and author of Ben Hur.)

Women's History Month

Of the statues selected by the 50 states, only a handful are of women; three of those women are memorialized in Statuary Hall. As March, Women's History Month, draws to a close, it is a good time to remember those three lives. The three were quite different from one another, but they each had a vision of the future and worked toward it. They all remind me of the description in Hebrews 11 of the faithful people of the ages:

"These people were yet living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and hailed them from afar."

Esther Hobart Morris, Wyoming pioneer

Esther Hobart Morris (1814 - 1902) is represented by a bronze statue eight feet tall placed by the state of Wyoming. Born in New York state, she was orphaned at the age of eleven. She trained as a seamstress, then became a successful milliner and prominent businesswoman. She married but was widowed early; when she went to Illinois to settle part of her husband's estate, she encountered great difficulty as a woman trying to get things worked out on her own because of her lack of legal standing. She vowed to make things easier for other women in similar circumstances.

She remarried, and Esther and her new husband went west as pioneers and merchants in Wyoming Territory. As Wyoming prepared for statehood, she lobbied territorial legislators on behalf of voting and legal rights for women. Largely because of the discussions that took place at the teas she hosted, Wyoming granted the vote to women in 1869 (51 years before the U.S. as a whole), and enshrined property rights for married women as well as guaranteeing equal pay for women and men teachers.

In 1870 Morris was appointed Justice of the Peace, the first woman in modern times to hold judicial office. In that era a person in her office on the frontier was asked often for rulings of law. Morris took her legal work seriously; not one of her decisions was ever overturned by a higher court. The statue in Washington is a copy of one that stands in front of the Wyoming State Capitol. Wyoming views her not as a "woman pioneer," but as a prominent pioneer. Period.

Florence Rena Sabin, public health pioneer

Colorado placed a bronze of Dr. Florence Rena Sabin in Statuary Hall in 1959. The statue, 5' 3" high, portrays Dr. Sabin seated and wearing a medical coat. Sabin's life was one of historic firsts. Like Esther Morris, Dr. Sabin was a pioneer, but her frontiers were in medical research and public health. Born in Colorado in 1871, she went back east to Smith College for her undergraduate degree, then pursued a medical degree at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore; she was the first woman to graduate from that institution. She stayed at Johns Hopkins to teach anatomy, beginning in 1902. Later she was named a professor of histology, the first woman to be a full professor at an American medical college.

Dr. Sabin became the first woman lifetime member of the National Academy of Sciences. In 1925 she joined the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, heading its Department of Cellular Studies and leading groundbreaking research on lymph systems and tuberculosis, among other areas. (She, of course, was the first woman department head at a major research institute.) After her retirement there, she responded to an invitation from the governor of Colorado to come back to her home state and help to revamp its public health laws and administration. She spent several years during the 1940's on this project. The resulting "Sabin Health Laws" reformed the whole public health system of Colorado. Retiring again in 1951, she died in 1953.

Seeing the future and bringing others into a new era

Esther Morris and Florence Sabin saw the future, hailed it from afar, and brought many people with them into a new era much sooner than they would otherwise have arrived. Their likenesses in Statuary Hall are solid and impressive things, but not nearly so impressive as the lives these women lived.

Next Week - Frances E. Willard, one of the most prominent American women of the 19th Century and Illinois' designee in Statuary Hall.


This story was posted on 2011-03-20 09:14:36
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