Adelaide Johnson (1859–1955) sculpted the first monument to American women, displayed in the U.S. Capitol. She was, first and foremost, a feminist who was devoted to the cause for equality of women.
Born Sarah Adeline Johnson to a farm family of modest means in Plymouth, Illinois, she attended rural school and then took classes at the St. Louis School of Design. In 1878, she changed from Sarah Adeline to Adelaide, a name she thought was more dramatic. She moved to Chicago and supported herself with her art. In January 1882, hurrying to get to her studio, she slipped and fell twenty feet down the well of an unguarded elevator shaft. Badly hurt, she sued for compensation and was awarded the sum of $15,000. Ironically, this injury and award gave her the financial freedom to travel to Europe to study painting and sculpture. She studied with Giulio Monteverde in Rome where she kept a studio until 1920.
In 1896 she married Frederick Jenkins, a British businessman and fellow vegetarian eleven years younger than she. He took her name as “the tribute love pays to genius”. They were wed by a woman minister, and her bridesmaids were the busts she did of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. However, the marriage ended after twelve years.
She exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, showing busts of prominent suffragists Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The high point of her professional career was to complete a monument in Washington D.C. in honor of the women’s suffrage movement which was unveiled in 1921.
Her career declined after the 1930s, and financial problems beset her. Faced with eviction for failure to pay taxes, in 1939 she invited the press to witness her mutilating her own sculptures as a protest against her circumstances, and against the failure to realize her dream of a studio-museum commemorating suffragists and other women’s campaigners. She later appeared on TV quiz programs trying to win money to buy back her home. Her flamboyant nature led her to lie about her age through her life. She celebrated her 100th birthday at the age of 88, realizing that it made good publicity. Upon her death, her age was reported to be 108, though she was in fact 96. She is buried in Washington, D.C. at Congressional Cemetery. (Wikipedia)
Pictured: the group portrait monument to the pioneers of the woman suffrage movement, sculpted c. 1893 from an 8-ton block of marble in Carrara, Italy. The monument was presented to the Capitol as a gift from the women of the United States by the National Woman’s Party and was accepted on behalf of Congress by the Joint Committee on the Library on February 10, 1921. From left to right: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott.