Adelaide Johnson: Sculptor of the Woman's Movement

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Burton, Shirley J.
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Western Illinois University
This thesis is an investigation of the life of the sculptor Adelaide Johnson. One of the most remarkable women to come out of west central Illinois, Johnson spent her childhood in a log cabin, and received her education in a one-room country school. As an adult she became an intellectual whose political art was presented on two continents and a feminist who marched with suffragists in London and Washington D.C. and counted Susan B. Anthony a close friend. While Johnson has been the subject of scholarship in her role as a professional artist, her biography has not yet appeared. This study has attempted to emphasize Johnson's personal, rather than professional life, and to find the reasons she was able to evade her seemingly inevitable narrow, domestic existence. Johnson facilitated the task by leaving 35,000 pages of manuscript, most of it now a part of the Adelaide Johnson Collection of the Library of Congress. These papers include diaries which she kept for over sixty years, records of sittings, essays, speeches, and her personal correspondence. Interviews with people who knew her provided additional insight, particularly Mata Grace Keebler, with whom Johnson lived during the last ten years of her life. This study concludes that Johnson, influenced by her pioneer heritage, developed into an independent, self-sufficient person who believed in her own ability to overcome obstacles, These qualities also made her a feminist who freed herself from her nineteenth century female existence by becoming an artist, defying convention, and becoming a self-defining woman.