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‘Forward’ returns to rightful place

The “Forward” statue is back up outside the Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo by Chris Line)
Close-up of the “Forward” statue. (Photo by Chris Line)

The “Forward” statue, one of the very few sculptures of and by a woman on government property in the United States, was returned to its perch in front of the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison on Sept. 21. The statue had been damaged by protesters last year.

The statue was originally part of a private feminist campaign for women sculptors to create sculptures embodying their state mottos at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Jean Pond Miner designed the entry for Wisconsin, whose state motto is “Forward.” Wisconsin suffragists were so taken with Miner’s art that they raised the significant funds to recast the statue in bronze repousée (like the Statue of Liberty) and gift “Forward” to the state of Wisconsin. In 1895, it was placed at the east entrance of the Capitol, then rededicated in 1916 and moved to the north entrance.

In the early 1990s, then-Gov. Tommy Thompson announced plans to banish “Forward” to the Capitol basement and replace it with a monument to slain police officers. FFRF principal founders Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor led the charge to save “Forward,” after state Sen. Fred Risser exposed the scheme, and their protest was joined by thousands of citizens, art preservations and others. Thompson capitulated, agreeing to have his wife, First Lady Sue Ann Thompson, once again raise private funds to make a bronze replica. The original is now inside at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The bronze version at the top of the State Street entrance to the Capitol has served since 1998 as a focal point for many rallies and demonstrations.

“It was the most popular activism my mother and I ever undertook,” recalls Annie Laurie. “People were lined up at the Farmers’ Market to sign our petition, even some very conservative public officials. We’re delighted to see ‘Forward’ returned and consider the statue to be a de facto motto for FFRF.” 

The statue inspired FFRF to begin the “Forward Award,” with a modernized statuette created by world-renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis. Recipients who have been honored for “moving society forward” have included Bonya Ahmed, Cecille Richards, Katha Pollitt, Gloria Steinem and Margaret Atwood.