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    Susan B. Anthony writes sculptor Adelaide Johnson as the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 begins

    Susan B. Anthony: Four Autograph Letters Signed "Susan B. Anthony" and written to feminist sculptor Adelaide Johnson between 1892 and 1893. Each letter is two pages, 5.75" x 9", on letterhead reading, "National-American Woman Suffrage Association." All letters are on toned paper with smoothed folds.

    While rushing to her art studio in 1882, twenty-three-year-old Adelaide Johnson (1859-1955) fell twenty feet down an elevator shaft, severely injuring herself. She was awarded $15,000 in damages by a jury which she used to finance her art education in Europe under the tutelage of Rome's Giulio Monteverde. As a student, she accepted as her mission to immortalize in marble and stone the history of the women's movement. When these letters were written, the flamboyant Johnson was travelling between Rome and Chicago, preparing for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, where she exhibited at the Women's Pavilion many of her sculptures, including those in the likeness of Susan B. Anthony and other suffragettes.

    Since Susan Anthony first learned in 1889 that the world's fair was coming to Chicago, she worked to insure that women had a prominent place in the event. Her hard work of lobbying Congress and gathering petition names paid off when several women were appointed to a special planning board and the Women's Building, which would house administration offices and exhibits by women, was erected to promote progressive attitudes about the place of women in America. Over a year before the fair began, Anthony wrote the first of these letters on February 19, 1892, from Rochester, New York, to Johnson, who was in Rome studying. In the next letter dated August 12, 1892, Anthony writes that she is gathering money from her "eight rich women" to send to Johnson, who has sunk into financial straits while in Rome. According to the letter, Johnson had made the "startling announcement" in a previous letter that she "would be compelled to leave there [Rome]" if she didn't raise $500 "to pay off debts." Anthony was "shocked" at the news and hoped that Johnson's plan of "disposing of the [John A.] Logan bust at the Grand Army Encampment in Washington" would be realized, but, she cautioned, "the boys in blue will not care so much for the Logan of the Senate - as for the one of the battle field - hence the absence of the brass buttons & shoulder straps - will be against it - but you can try - and yet I feel that you had a thousand times better stay there and rest & recruit and get ready for March when you get here - than to rush home."

    Two months later, Anthony wrote from Fort Scott, Kansas, on October 21, 1892, to Johnson, who had already arrived back to the U.S., despite Anthony's advice. In preparation for the World's Fair, Anthony hoped "to reach Chicago about Nov. 2d." where she hoped to see Johnson, though she would probably have no new funds for her: "I have heard of no more money going to Mrs. [Jane H.] Spofford [the treasurer of the N.A.W.S.A.] since I remitted you the last checks - immediately after your arrival home." Anthony encouraged the sculptor to call on patrons - including the Countess of Rosse - "about your busts," even offering to do what she could to help. "What do you see that I can say or do for her [the countess]?" Anthony also hoped Johnson "will have called on Mr. Lorado Taft - at his Studio Venetian Building Washington Street [Chicago] to see his bust of S. B. A. - It was in clay the last I knew of it." (Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft was also preparing at the time for the World's Fair. Taft is credited with advancing women as sculptors by training them as students, a practice considered unacceptable at the time.)

    By the time Anthony wrote the final letter on June 30, 1893, the World's Fair was already into its second month and Johnson had fallen and hurt herself, though this time, not down an elevator shaft. "The fates do follow you! how could you go stepping through the floor? - Well, I am awfully sorry - and hope you'll soon be all over it and find your busts well settled on their own Italian Pedestals. I do not care to know of the struggle to set them on their feet - only so they are safely on them - and where the people can see them - admire them - and be making you lots of offers of jobs - that shall cheer your heart -- & make you feel that the bad . . . [illegible] fates have turned their backs on you - and the good luck fellows are looking you full in the face!!! I now hope to be back in Chicago on the 20 or 25th and shall hope to find you then - taking orders -- & fixing to go back to Rome to chisel again."

    Adelaide Johnson had much respect for Anthony. At her wedding four years after these letters were written, Johnson's own busts of Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton served as her bridesmaids. But a few years later, Johnson and Anthony had a dispute over the possible location of Johnson's forthcoming masterpiece, The Woman Movement, a seven-ton white-marble memorial to the women's movement of the nineteenth century which featured the likenesses of Anthony, Stanton, and Lucretia Mott. Johnson, hoping for funding from the N.A.W.S.A, wanted her monument in the U.S. Capitol, but Stanton insisted on the Library of Congress. When no agreement could be reached, Johnson turned to the National Woman's Party for funding. With their help, the memorial was unveiled at the capital in 1921. Because of her continued devotion to the women's movement, Johnson's financial possibilities were always limited and she died poor. From the Judith Kaplan Women's History Collection.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2011
    8th-9th Friday-Saturday
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