Women’s suffrage memorial backed by near entirety of Kansas Senate gets committee green light

By: - March 1, 2022 2:00 pm

Sen. Elaine Bowers touts Senate Bill 491 for bringing a permanent memorial commemorating the Kansas suffragist movement to the state capitol (March 29, 2021, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Nearly every state senator has signed on to a bill establishing a permanent memorial commemorating the Kansas suffragist movement in the state Capitol.

Approved in October by the Capitol Preservation Committee after a pitch from the Kansas League of Women Voters, the memorial would rely solely on donations without access to state funding. Several details like location and the type of memorial are undecided.

Sen. Elaine Bowers, a Concordia Republican, backed Senate Bill 479 requiring the preservation panel to approve plans for the memorial and the creation of a fund to store donations. She shared the story behind a monument in Delphos, her hometown, of Grace Beffel, a 10-year-old who wrote to Abraham Lincoln and convinced him to grow a beard because it would get him more votes.

“It just shows that women were thinking ahead, even back when Abraham Lincoln was running for president, even though they couldn’t vote,” Bowers said.

Thirty-eight senators co-sponsored the bill. Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, and Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana, are the only two who haven’t joined as co-sponsors.

The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee on Tuesday approved the bill unanimously to be placed on the consent calendar as a non-controversial measure requiring less debate. An identical bill is in the House but has yet to receive a hearing. Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a measure approving a Gold Star Family memorial on Kansas Capitol grounds.

Bowers shared with the Senate panel members a bit of history on voting for women in Kansas, back to 1859. Kansas was the eighth state to extend equal voting rights to women.

The idea for the memorial stemmed from the League of Women Voters of Kansas centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment, which featured a traveling exhibit on the history of women’s suffrage in the state.

“When we finished the components of our centennial celebration, we found that we still had $34,000 left,” said Cille King, of the league. “One of our donors suggested that we might ask for a memorial in the Statehouse for women’s suffrage, and we thought that was an excellent idea.”

If approved, the sponsors will work with the Capitol Preservation Committee to make sure the plan fits into the grounds. King said a critical first step is determining the format of this memorial.

“Whether it might be a mural, whether it might be a statute, whether it might be a relief, we would need to know what the possibilities are for where this might go in order to ask for requests for ideas from artists and then to know how much more money we need to raise,” King said.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.