A new sculpture along the banks of the Rock River is a celebration of the centennial of women gaining the right to vote – and of the women who are carrying that right forward.
The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Sculpture is a fifteen-foot-tall mosaic that’s expected to become a public gathering spot. It's not far from Rockford’s downtown, on the YMCA campus grounds. Sculptor Susan Burton of Marseilles told the crowd at Saturday’s unveiling she believes the sculpture will have a profound effect on the community, adding, “It is my hope for all of you to walk away from this today, understanding the symbolic power of this and the power of community building together.”
Over the past year, the community did build what’s said to be Rockford’s only public sculpture dedicated to women. The mosaic was designed and pieced together by more than a hundred community members, under Burton’s direction. The community is still raising money for the $120,000 project.
The sculpture’s three panels honor Rockford suffragist Kate F. O’Connor, activist and educator Dr. Constance Goode, and the young activists of tomorrow. Goode represents the women of color who fought for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many in Saturday’s dedication crowd had worked with the late Dr. Goode, in education and in the civil rights movement. Her family returned to Rockford for the dedication: Granddaughters Krystalyn and Gabriella read a moving letter from Goode’s husband Alphonse. Daughter Alicia Gladney and son Andre Goode also spoke. After the ceremony, Andre said, “My mom really did pour her heart and soul into this community. She never did it expecting anything like this, obviously.”
The Women’s Suffrage Centennial sculpture is also rich with symbolism, from the mirrored women’s symbol at the top to the 36 stars wrapping the base. They represent the number of states that were needed to ratify the 19th Amendment, finally granting U.S. women the right to vote. Around the base of the sculpture are the images of 32 “foundational women”: They represent women’s empowerment and include historical figures as well as women who have played important roles in Rockford’s history. The faces of Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams are mixed in among the faces of recently-departed local activists such as Alicia Neubauer, Martha Pulido Logemann, and Womanspace co-founder Dorothy Bock.
There’s still more work to be done on the sculptural installation before it is the community gathering point its creators envision. Six mosaic benches featuring the text of the 19th amendment as well as important Rockford sites will be added next spring, circling the main sculpture. Volunteers can still get in on the project through Womanspace in Rockford over the winter.