- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
ANNAPOLIS After a failed attempt last year to put a Harriet Tubman statue in Congress’ Statuary Hall, the Maryland women’s caucus is trying again to get the state native what they feel is her due representation in national history.
Instead of proposing to replace an existing statue of Maryland-born revolutionary figure John Hanson, this year, the female legislators hope to place a statue of Tubman in a prominent location in the U.S. Capitol, and to honor her with a holiday.
Tubman, born in Dorchester County, is “our hero in Maryland,” said Del. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery), chairwoman of the caucus. She is sponsoring four bills related to the historical figure this year. Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore) is cross-filing the bills in the Senate.
The first bill would ask Congress to accept a gift of a privately funded statue of Tubman to be put in an unspecified place of prominence at the Capitol, Lee said.
The delegate also is sponsoring a bill to declare Harriet Tubman Day in Maryland on March 13, a date that often is celebrated as Tubman’s birthday. A third bill would ask the governor to make the day permanent and a fourth would push for national recognition of the day.
In Statuary Hall, each state has two statues representing historical figures who lived there.
A statue of Hanson, born in Charles County, represents Maryland as the first president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Joining him is a statue of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Tubman, an escaped slave, led other slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She was a nurse and spy for the Union during the Civil War and championed women and the elderly. “She is exemplary,” Lee said.
In 2000, Congress passed a law allowing rotations and trades of the statues. Several female legislators saw this as a chance to finally honor Tubman, and attempted to replace Hanson, who owned slaves, with the former slave.
The proposal upset many, notably Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s), who strongly opposed the bill. He said he believes Hanson was, technically, the first president of the United States, under the Articles of Confederation before the U.S. Constitution.
Miller is pleased with this year’s approach. “She’s a great Marylander, a great American, and needs to be honored in every way possible,” Miller said.
Women Legislators of Maryland, as the caucus is known, also is supporting the National Foundation for Women Legislators in its effort to build a National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C.
Del. Addie Eckardt (R-Dorchester) is co-sponsoring the bill along with Del. Carolyn Howard (D-Prince George’s) to join other female legislators around the country in asking Congress to approve the project, which will be sponsored by private funds.
“It’s federal land that they would like to use, so it’s just a matter of getting Congress to authorize the use of that land or provide an alternate spot and they’ll take it from there,” Eckardt said.
She hopes to “pave the way” for the bill by speaking to other high-ranking female legislators before introducing it. This can avoid the hostility and division brought about by last year’s Tubman bill, Eckardt said.
“I do not want any issue to be divisive for the women’s caucus,” she said. “It’s very important that we come together as women and we support and champion those causes that affect women across the board.”
Despite last year’s political struggle, Lee feels former opponents will be more willing to support the new Tubman bills.
“She embodies everything that’s wonderful about this country: freedom, justice, a fight for equality. We think we should honor her and pay tribute to her in this way,” Lee said.