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Plaque Honoring Idaho's Female Legislators Moved To Better Location


In the Idaho State Capitol, an exhibit on the state's first women lawmakers has been stuffed in a corner for years. Now it's getting a new spot front and center. Who's responsible? An outspoken elementary school student. James Dawson with Boise State Public Radio has this story.

JAMES DAWSON, BYLINE: Eleven-year-old Anna Wiese loves politics. Just about every time she makes the two-hour drive with her mom Nancy Wiese to Boise, she has one thing on her mind - seeing Idaho's marbled Capitol.

ANNA WIESE: My favorite area is the elevators. They're gold, and they're awesome (laughter).

DAWSON: Last year, when she was 10, Nancy says Anna wanted to spend a few hours combing through every corner of the building.

NANCY WIESE: We enjoy just walking around. And in this particular trip, we were kind of going through every nook and cranny of the building. And that's when we discovered that.

DAWSON: What they discovered was a plaque dedicated to the history of Idaho's first women legislators. But Anna says she wasn't happy about it.

ANNA: I thought it was very, very sad because, like, that should be out here with all the men. And it shows that women can make a change in the world.

DAWSON: The plaque was in a stairwell far away from the main rotunda area where most of Idaho's legislative history is on display.

WIESE: When we were there that day, she was standing there looking at it. And she told me, something doesn't feel right. I just don't feel right right now. I said, then that's your body telling you something needs to change.

DAWSON: So Anna wrote a letter to her state senator with the help of her mom.

ANNA: (Reading) I was on a recent trip to the Capitol for fun with my mom.

DAWSON: She talked about her recent trip to the Capitol and then got right to the point.

ANNA: (Reading) As a female, I am discouraged that this document is in a hallway where people don't usually go and not shown where people can see it a lot more. I would like to see this change, for it sends a message that men and women are not treated equally. Thank you. Anna.

DAWSON: Anna had taken a whole year of Idaho history lessons, just like every fourth-grader, but she never learned about the women on the plaque. So let's take a minute to change that. In 1896, Idaho became the second state in the country where women won the right to vote in state and local elections. Two years later, Clara Campbell, Harriet Noble and Mary Wright were the first women elected to the Idaho House.

ELIZABETH JACOX: I think their legacy is they jumped right into it and served as soon as they could.

DAWSON: That's local historian Elizabeth Jacox.

JACOX: They all were active in introducing legislation.

DAWSON: She says the trio cemented women's right to vote in the state. And Mary Wright also presided over the House for a day, possibly becoming the first woman in the country to ever do so, according to Jacox.

JACOX: The Statesman headline the next day read, "House Gavel Wielded By A Firm Woman" (laughter).

DAWSON: After lawmakers read Anna's letter, they decided she was right and got to work. The Idaho State Historical Society eventually yanked the plaque off the wall and moved it to the Capitol rotunda. I met up with Anna and her mom Nancy to find its new home.

WIESE: Lead the way. And...

DAWSON: It really didn't take much time.

ANNA: Oh, right there.

DAWSON: And soon it will sit with other artifacts, like the gavel Mary Wright used when she became Madam Speaker for a day. Anna, who wants to be both a politician and a doctor when she grows up, says she hopes people take away an inspiring message from this.

ANNA: Children can make a change. Kids my age can make a change, not just adults.

DAWSON: If nothing else, her potential future colleagues in the House or Senate can count on nothing slipping by her eagle eyes.

For NPR News, I'm James Dawson in Boise.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMANY GERMANY'S "MIRROR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

James Dawson covers Delaware politics and government as well as general assignment stories for Delaware Public Media. He came to Delaware from his home state of Idaho, where he served as a public affairs reporter and news director for the commercial radio network Inland Northwest Broadcasting. His reporting experience included state and local government, arts and culture, crime, and agriculture.
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