The cover will be lifted Sunday on the first of four granite benches designed as part of the women’s suffrage monument planned for downtown Lawton.
The benches are phase two of a three-phase Celebrating Suffrage project that will give Lawton Oklahoma’s first monument highlighting the role that strong women played in the right to vote and civil rights. Sunday’s ceremony will begin at 4 p.m. in Ned Shepler Park, located along West Gore Boulevard immediately west of Lawton Police Station (406 W. Gore).
Barbara Curry, the founding force behind Women that VOTE Arts Corporation, said Cameron University history professor and author Sarah Eppler Janda will be the guest speaker for the ceremony and Mayor Stan Booker also will provide remarks before supporters lift the cover on the first bench. In order to provide the broadest possible viewing while protecting residents, the ceremony may be viewed via Zoom by linking to the Women that VOTE Arts Corporation on Facebook.
The granite bench will feature the names of those who are among the earliest supporters of the monument project. Nine belong to prominent women’s organizations: Lawton Business Women, Mountain Metro AMBUCS, Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women, League of Women Voters of Lawton, Pioneer Club of Lawton, Lawton Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, Women United For Action, Women That VOTE Arts Corporation and Theta Upsilon Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha ‘68. In addition, 18 lines of individuals who support the project are featured.
Before the bench is unveiled, participants will hear from Janda. Her works include “Beloved Women: The Political Lives of LaDonna Harris and Wilma Mankiller” and “Prairie Power: Student Activism, Counterculture and Backlash in Oklahoma, 1962-1972.”
Curry said the idea is to keep attention focused on the Celebrating Suffrage monument planned for Ned Shepler Park. That downtown venue, which hosts the annual Arts for All festival and which will become the home of Lawton Farmers’ Market, also is used for political meetings and other activities, the reason Curry said she knew it was perfect for the monument.
The first phase of the project occurred last year with installation of lights that will highlight the monument area (Curry, who has tested the site at night, said the lights provide illumination as far away as the Bill Crawford/Candy Early statue). Phase two is installation of the benches: the one to be dedicated Sunday; the Bench of the Matriarchs, to be dedicated in August to mark the 101st anniversary of women’s right to vote; and two Community Circle benches.
Funds donated for the four granite benches are covering their cost, but also are providing seed money that Woman that VOTE Arts Corporation will use as matching funds as it seeks corporate sponsors for the monument. To be created by Tulsa sculptor Denise Ford, it will feature life-sized bronze statues of five women dressed in clothing representing their ethnic background and/or the period in which they were active, standing back-to-back in a circle to demonstrate the strength they brought to the fights for voting and civil rights.
Donations will be accepted for the Bench of the Matriarchs through May 5, with sponsors provided certificates and small gifts to present to their honorees for Mother’s Day. Information is available via the group’s Facebook site or at www.womenthatvote.com.