Every Word We Utter honors the suffragists who secured for women the rights and privileges afforded citizens of the United States. The monument lifts in our consciousness not only the beauty of working together for equality, but also the responsibility to march onward for human rights.
When a water droplet impacts a body of water it pushes outward and rebounds upward as a smaller droplet. This “daughter droplet” – gains height – falling back to the water in what is called a coalescent cascade. This describes the height, breadth, and lasting impact of the suffragists’ work.
My concept, “Every Word We Utter,” depicted Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a drop of water that forms the ripples of perpetual change. My design was inspired by a letter from Stanton to Lucretia Mott in which she wrote about the power of every gesture in the women’s movement: “Every word we utter, every act we perform, waft unto innumerable circles.”
When a water drop impacts the water it pushes waves outward and then rebounds upward as a smaller droplet. This droplet, called a daughter droplet – gains height – then falls back to the water in what is called a coalescent cascade. The coalescent cascade not only offered a structural way to re-envision the placement of the figures, but even more, it uncovered new meaning in the design concept that captures the height and breadth of the suffragists’ work. As Stanton said at the Second Women’s Rights Convention in Rochester, NY, “Woman herself must do this work – for woman alone can understand the height, and the depth, the length and the breadth of her own degradation and woe.”
My composition centrally places Anthony and Stanton writing the Nineteenth Amendment. This nucleus holds the beginning of the women’s movement. To the side of the authors stands the elder Sojourner Truth, a beacon for the movement. The young Harriet Stanton Blatch represents the future. From them rises the next generation of the movement, the “daughters” who ratified the nineteenth amendment, represented by Ida B. Wells and Alice Paul. Standing on the shoulders of giants, these women were elevated by what came before. From this height, the ratification flag cascades to the innumerable circles that ripple outwards.
The first bronze ripple will hold the names of the women on the first tier of the monument those that envisioned the women’s right to vote but did not live to see the day. Names of instrumental women involved in the second wave of the movement, those women who experienced the ratification of the nineteenth Amendment and voted for the first time will be inscribed in the second ripple. The third ripple will hold the names of women who continue to make significant contributions to the ideals of the sentiments and the efforts for equality for all women. These individuals will include Native and African American civil right advocates who later were granted citizenship and the right to vote.
Sojourner Truth, an African-American abolitionist and women’s right activist, was among the first voices of the women’s movement. She propelled the movement in its early days because she was willing to speak at time when few women did so. I have depicted her standing on a pulpit to illustrate how she willingly projected her voice against injustices. Her gaze is to the future – to the horizon – looking to a place where women – together – will turn the world “right side up again.” In my composition, I have sculpted her in her early 50’s, around the time she would have delivered her seminal speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Within the composition, she is a guardian of the belief that women should have the right to vote.
I used the same iconic photograph of the co-authors of the Declaration of Sentiments as inspiration for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but I depicted them at their age at the time of the writing of the Sentiments. The two women are physically connected in the sculpture, forming a unified force that truly speaks of the one-ness of their purpose. Their words, speeches and wisdom launched a worldwide, peaceful revolution. Even today, these two women offer us the courage and the tools to be the stewards of human rights.
Alice Paul and Ida B. Wells are at the peak of the coalescence, one in their mission. Although these two women would not have marched side by side, their juxtaposition at the height of the sculpture, symbolizes their shared vision of equal rights. Neither one of these women would take no for an answer. In the photos of the suffragist women marching, they are wearing elaborate hats, an announcement of their presence in the movement. I have depicted Alice Paul and Ida B. Wells wearing such hats. Both women also hold a flag.
The portrait of Paul is inspired by the photo of her draping the ratification flag with its 38th star over the balcony of the suffrage headquarters in Washington D.C. I chose to depict Paul and this celebratory moment to capture the monumental triumph of the nineteenth amendment, an accumulation of the efforts of thousands of American women. She appears youthful and weightless in this monument, and yet she was militant in her efforts. She dedicated her life to the movement and after the vote continued until her death the work for the equal rights amendment.
Ida B. Wells began her career as an activist at a young age. She fervently rallied against the practice of lynching even with the threat of being lynched herself. Wells was known for using the pen and her voice to battle sexism, racism, and violence. In this sculpture Wells stands proudly with a flag of the United States, representing the hope for justice and the rights of every human being. The open gesture of her hand outstretched to the other women around her in this monument reinforces the invitation to join the cause.
Every time I put my hands to clay to envision this monument, I am so moved by the work of the women who came before me. The ripples have come under my feet, and my gestures in clay are my contributions to the continued work that we as women need to do. The work is not done. I believe the words of Anthony and Stanton still inspire, for these words were meant for action. indeed, these words became action. Actions became the movement. And the movement continues to set the world right-side up again. Every word we utter, every act we preform waft unto innumerable circles.