RI’s Independent Woman

We unearthed the original sketch for Rhode Island's State House. On top: A woman in Grecian garb with an anchor at her back.
Photograph by Angel Tucker

She wasn’t even considered for the job. In this original 1895 elevation plan for the Rhode Island State House — twenty-five years before the passage of women’s suffrage — architects McKim, Mead and White imagined a female figure atop its massive marble dome. This Independent Woman, in Grecian garb with an anchor at her back, stood for the state’s motto: Hope. But the State House Commission, charged with negotiating contracts and approving plans for Rhode Island’s sixth State House (completed in 1904), wanted Roger Williams to mount Smith Hill instead. The architects disagreed; his pantaloons, jacket and hat didn’t align with the building’s Neoclassical design. Plus, nobody knew what he looked like. After great debate, the commission reached a consensus: It’d be yet another anonymous figure, this time a man, who would be cast in bronze and dipped in gold by sculptor George Brewster. “Just think of Roger without any clothes on,” teased a reporter in the October 10, 1899, edition of the Providence Journal, “Waving a spear and anchor!”