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 women 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 Delegate Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, and chair 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 is also sponsoring a bill to declare Harriet Tubman Day in Maryland on March 13, a date which is often celebrated as Tubman’s birthday. A third bill would ask the governor to make this day permanent, and a fourth would push for national recognition of the day.
In Statuary Hall, each state has two statues representing historical figures that lived there.
A statue of Hanson, born in Charles County, stands in representation of 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 women legislators saw this as a chance to finally honor Tubman, and attempted to replace Hanson, a former slave owner, with the former slave.
The proposal upset many, notably Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., who strongly opposed the bill. He believes Hanson was, technically, the first president of the United States.
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.
Maryland Women Legislators, as the caucus is known, is also supporting the National Foundation for Women Legislators in its effort to build a National Women’s History Museum in Washington.
Delegate Addie Eckardt, R-Dorchester, is co-sponsoring the bill along with Delegate Carolyn Howard, D-Prince George’s, to join other women 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 women legislators before introducing it. Eckardt said this can avoid the hostility and division brought about by last year’s Tubman bill.
“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.