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‘Remarkable ability to persevere’: Idaho unveils monument to women’s right to vote

The Idaho State Historical Society unveiled the statue, designed by local sculptor Irene Deely, commemorating women’s right to vote on Monday at the Idaho Capitol with Gov. Brad Little, first lady Teresa Little, legislators and members of the historical society. (Kelcie Moseley-Morris/Idaho Capital Sun)

Local sculptor developed concept with women’s shoes from decades past

Idaho was the fourth state in the country to grant women the right to vote, in 1896, and the first to do so by enshrining that right as an amendment to the state constitution. It is also the only state with a state seal that was designed by a woman.

And now it’s one of few states with a monument dedicated to women’s suffrage.

The Idaho State Historical Society unveiled the statue commemorating women’s right to vote on Monday at the Idaho Capitol with Gov. Brad Little, first lady Teresa Little, legislators and members of the historical society.

The statue was supposed to debut in 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted national suffrage to women in August 1920. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the ceremony and statue unveiling until this year — coinciding with Dec. 11, 1896, when the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the state’s constitutional amendment after it was challenged.

Teresa Little spoke at the event and discussed the legislative history behind Idaho’s suffrage movement, and said change happens because of people with courage.

“Those people demonstrate a remarkable ability to persevere in the face of enormous odds and disappointing losses,” Teresa Little said. “They also understand the human condition and rely upon their instinct to build alliances to expand their reach and impact. And they have courage to challenge the status quo and initiate action for change.”

In her shoes: Suffrage monument has shoes modeled from Idaho historical collection

The Idaho State Historical Society and the Foundation for Idaho History privately fundraised to commission the piece created by local sculptor Irene Deely.

The bronze sculpture is stretched out in a ballet-like pose and has one foot on the ground inside a shoe while her hand is outstretched holding the other shoe. Behind her are 14 stone steps with shoes that are emblematic of the decades leading up to today, beginning with a pair of moccasins that are meant to represent Native American women such as Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who helped guide the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In her remarks, Teresa Little described how Sacagawea was included in the Lewis and Clark group’s vote on where to spend the winter — in 1805, long before a woman could legally vote, and even longer before Native American women could vote in Idaho in 1950.

Deely, who created the statue, said at the event that while most concepts take a few weeks to develop, this one struck her quickly. Deely said she wanted to tell the story of the spirit of Idaho women through the shoes they once wore.

“This true adventure is imagined by a larger-than-life bronze representation of the feminine spirit,” Deely said. “One pair of beaded moccasins begins the account on a stone path revealing 14 decades of shoes. … These shoes represent chapters in the story of the courage and grace in which Idaho women have walked.”

The shoes were cast from actual shoes in the Idaho State Historical Society’s collection, Deely said, and the statue’s pose was modeled by a former Ballet Idaho dancer. The outstretched hand invites the next generation to keep striving for progress, she said.

“This sculpture also speaks to those of us who find ourselves questioning the shoes we are given, only to find later they function like a sculptor’s tool, training our feet for a road of the most enduring and adventurous sort,” Deely said. “Though the shoes we are given may cause a few blisters at the start, I for one am grateful I didn’t cast mine aside too soon.”

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.