Primary tabs

473

Unveiling Statue of Illinois.

(Note. — The Legislature of Illinois had by law created a Woman's Exposition Board to make an exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition of the results of woman's work in Illinois. This Board caused to be cast in bronze a beautiful statue of a woman extending her hands as if in friendly greeting. They called it "Illinois welcoming the world." Both the designing and modeling were done by a woman, so that women were entitled to all the credit for it. On account of both its beauty and its sentiment it was much admired at the Exposition and afterward was presented by the ladies to the State of Illinois. It was removed to the rotunda of the capitol at Springfield, and there unveiled May 16, 1895. Mrs. Martia Louise Gould, the President of the Board, presented the statue to the State in an eloquent address, and the following speech was made accepting it:)

Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Our action here to-day may not seem of much importance to us, and yet its voice will reach further into the future and will tell more to the generations that are to come than will many things to which we give more time and effort. As a rule those matters which arouse the greatest interest of a people relate to their material welfare, and are soon forgotten. Only those acts which denote the birth of a new principle or which commemorate an important event are noticed by the pencil of time or are permitted to linger in the realm of tradition. That entire world of practical affairs which absorbs our thoughts and exhausts our strength, which harnesses us in the morning and drives us until night-fall, changes from day to day and then disappears not only from sight but from memory. As we glance back over the past it is not the everyday work and worry of men, not the fashion and gossip of the women, not the absorbing cares of life that greet the eye. These have all faded into the unknown. We see only headlands — we see only a succession of eras — we see mankind slowly struggling up onto higher ground, catching more and more of the rays of justice as they progress and, wherever a new ascent was made, there we find a landmark, and in many cases the landmark is all there is left to tell the story. Some one has said that "the clock strikes the changes from hour to hour, but no hammer in the horologe of time peals through the universe the

474

changes from era to era." This may be true, but there are all over the world silent sentinels that do proclaim to the universe the changes from age to age. All along the highway of humanity there are milestones, big and little, planted by nations that left no other trace of their existence, and we try to determine the progress of civilization by studying these monuments. Men gaze at the ruins of mighty cities and speculate as to the character of their inhabitants. Men look with awe at the pyramids of Egypt, built before the beginning of history, and say that the people who built them must have been familiar with both the sciences and the mechanical arts; men examine the statues of Greece and wonder from what altar Phidias drew his inspiration.

The traveler in a strange land searches for monuments and statues because they tell him in a silent but eternal language the great events of the country, and frequently he finds that these silent historians tell of centuries that have gone and have left no other trace of their existence.

Now, my fellow citizens of Illinois, all of our affairs, our politics, our business, all that makes up our life will pass away and will leave but little trace behind it, and in the centuries to come, when not even our burial place can be found, philosophers and historians will examine the statue which we unveil here to-day and will try to interpret its meaning. They will admire its graceful form and its artistic design, and they will say that the people who erected it possessed taste and cultivation and had a knowledge of the arts. But they will do more. They will see that its face is turned toward the morning; that it looks toward the rising sun. They will see that its arms are outstretched as though in the act of cordial greeting. They will read the inscription, "Illinois Welcoming The World," and I fancy I can hear them say: "What a beautiful idea; what a lofty sentiment. The State of Illinois welcoming the nations of the earth. Surely this is grand. But why does Illinois welcome the world? Has she invited the nations of the earth to come within her borders? If yea, then for what purpose?" I fancy now that I can hear these questions asked and that I see the inquirers looking again and reading an inscription about a World's Columbian Exposition, and on inquiring they learn that toward the close of the nineteenth century there was held in our State, on the shores of the great lake, the most wonderful exposition ever seen by man; that representatives of all nations came into our midst and brought with them the finest and best productions of the industry, the enterprise, the learning and the genius of their people; they will learn that at this exposition there were shown the various stages in the development of the human race, from the beings who dwelt in

475

caves to the men who study the universe and lay the foundations of empires. Never before was a State so honored, and it seems to me that coming generations will gaze with ever increasing interest on this statue which we to-day unveil and dedicate to the future when they remember that it stood, as it were, at the threshold of this great assemblage of nations, and with its graceful figure and outstretched hands personified the people of Illinois in bidding our guests a welcome.

My fellow citizens, these facts alone would make this statue worthy of everlasting preservation, not only as a memento of the grandest occasion of all history, but also as representing the attitude of our people at that time.

But the future historian and philosopher will discover that this statue is not only a memento of a past event, but that it stands for a living principle; that, if it does not mark the beginning of a new era, it does stand for a higher justice as applied to women; and that it does commemorate one of the most important steps ever taken in the whole history of her emancipation. They will notice from the inscription that it was erected by a woman's board and that it was shaped by the hand and modeled by the genius of a woman, and they will further learn that there was an Illinois woman's board which gave an exhibition of woman's work in this State which was highly successful and reflected honor on the board and on the women of Illinois, and, what is much more significant, that this board was absolutely independent in its work and possessed the same powers and privileges that were possessed in their respective spheres by the boards composed of men. They will further learn that there was a national woman's exposition board which erected one of the finest buildings on the ground, designed and superintended by a woman, and that this board gave an exhibition of the work of women of all nations, and that it was likewise independent and possessed the same powers within its domain as did boards composed of men.

The future philosopher and historian will see that here for the first time in the history of the race the principle was recognized that, no matter what her ability or experience may be, woman possesses the same inherent rights that man does. During her whole history she had been a dependent. First, as a chattel, scarcely noticed by the law. Then came a period in which she was treated much like a beast of burden. Later the law gave her more recognition and began to define her status, but always as a dependent. She had to beg of man and accept what was given. She had no voice in affairs and it was an evidence of weakness to talk of her having inalienable rights. By degrees the chains which bound the world to the wrongs of the past

476

were broken. The torch of civilization gave the world a higher sense of right until, finally, towards the end of the nineteenth century, and in connection with this great exposition, the principle was recognized that in the sight of the Almighty and at the bar of eternal justice woman has the same inherent rights that man has. And this statue will proclaim this principle to the world just as long as this granite and this bronze shall endure.

Madam President, I thank you and your board for the work you have done for the State, and especially for conceiving and carrying out the grand idea of erecting and dedicating to the future this beautiful statue, and, as the chief executive of this mighty commonwealth, I am proud to accept it and add it to the glories of Illinois.

Share