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Look Up to Her

By Sen. John Thune

May 29, 2020

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which formally granted women the right to vote, was officially adopted on August 26, 1920, a common-sense change that was long overdue. For its centennial celebration, I can think of no better location to honor the women who helped build America than Mount Rushmore, a symbol of our democracy and a shrine to all Americans, past and present, who contribute to our nation’s success.

I’ve partnered with the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission and the Mount Rushmore Society to begin laying the groundwork for a first-of-its-kind event at Mount Rushmore later this summer to honor women trailblazers. From elected leaders to inventors to astronauts and everything in between, America is a stronger and better place thanks to the generations of women who have made some of the most significant contributions to our country and our future.    

Our plan is similar to the popular 50th anniversary Apollo 11 display, which Smithsonian Magazine described as the Washington Monument being “transformed into a launching pad for the 363-foot rocket that first brought man to the moon.” The audio and visual display included animation that projected images of the rocket onto the monument itself. Like the Apollo 11 display, our “Look Up to Her” event, which is the brainchild of South Dakota native Christina Korp, will feature images of iconic American women that will be projected onto the sides of Mount Rushmore, to the left and right of the faces themselves.

Susan Combs, who chairs the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, said her organization is “committed to telling the stories of the suffrage movement in ways that make women’s history visible and accessible to all Americans” and that she expects this event to be a “breathtaking tribute to the legacy of the suffragists.”

“The centennial passage of the 19th Amendment to guarantee and protect women’s constitutional right to vote deserves to have attention and recognition by the entire nation,” said Diana Nielsen Saathoff, CEO of the Mount Rushmore Society. She added, “We vote yes [for this project]!”

Since Mount Rushmore is a national park, the first step in this process is getting approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior. I recently introduced a joint resolution in the Senate to formally make this request with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. We’re hopeful he will favorably consider our plan, which would allow us to move forward with scheduling the event.

I’m lucky to be surrounded by strong and accomplished women – at home, at work, and throughout the state of South Dakota. And while the coronavirus pandemic has obviously changed just about everything in our day-to-day lives, when it comes to recognizing something as important as ensuring America’s daughters and granddaughters have the right to vote, it deserves to be celebrated.

Since people will be able to see this display from afar, including from the safety of their vehicle, if they’d prefer, the plan we’re working on will allow us to celebrate this important milestone, while also keeping people safe – a true win-win.

One hundred years might sound like a long time, but in a historical context, women have only been allowed to vote in national elections for less than half of America’s existence. Women were not allowed to vote for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, or Theodore Roosevelt – the four men carved into Mount Rushmore. That’s what will make seeing the faces of so many distinguished American women projected onto the monument all the more meaningful and symbolic.