Mrs. Butterworth...no, Mrs. Grant.

Mrs. Grant, or Mrs Butterworth?

Surprisingly few First Ladies have had statues erected in their honor. There's a Mary Todd Lincoln in Racine, Wisconsin; two Eleanor Roosevelts in New York, New York; and a Pat Nixon outside a senior center in Cerritos, California.

Now add to that list -- not Dolly Madison, Martha Washington, or even Jackie Kennedy -- but Julia Dent Grant. Julia was the wife of Ulysses S, Grant, who was President just after Lincoln. A bronze of her was unveiled on August 12, 2006, next to the Grant Home State Historic Site in Galena, Illinois.

Aside from the people who made the statue, or who came up with the idea for the statue, not many locals are happy with it.

"When she was brought into town, the first thing that people said was, 'She looks like Mrs. Butterworth!" recalls Terry Miller, the site superintendent for the Grant Home and the person who came up with the idea for the statue. "So the first thing that I did was to go to the grocery store and buy a Mrs. Butterworth. And it is similar."

The statue's unglamorous appearance opened the door for other criticisms. Some said that Julia Grant was undeserving of a statue; Miller argues that she was the first lady to be called "First Lady," that she brought graciousness back to the White House after the Civil War, that she supported women's rights. Some complained that the statue should have been sculpted by a local; Miller counters that the sculptor lived only 17 miles away and that almost all of the artists in Galena are actually from Chicago. Some griped that Julia Grant was a slave owner -- an awkward fact given that her husband fought a war to abolish slavery -- and some even planned to inscribe several of the bricks that surround the statue with the slaves' names followed by the phrase "slave of Julia." Miller contends that the slaves actually belonged to Julia's dad. The "slave of Julia" references were ultimately left off.

Mrs. Grant

"People have to get their feathers ruffled over something, I guess," Miller said. "It kinda irked me that people would say that she wasn't deserving. Who are those people to make that decision?"

Mrs. Grant's statue head.

"The clout of the wife of the President is underestimated," he added. "More gets done with pillow talk than with any meeting with a Secretary of State."

But none of this likely would have happened had Mrs Grant not looked like Mrs Butterworth.

The statue has several strikes against it, not all of which are Julia Grant's fault. It stands in a treeless clearing on a bluff overlooking the town, so that everyone can see it, all of the time. It was made proportional to a 9.5-foot-tall statue of Julia's husband, but Julia was only five feet tall in life, and the enlarged version magnifies her flaws. She stands on a four-foot tall pedestal (her husband got one nine feet tall) so up close those flaws are impossible to miss. And, of course, there's the frumpy Mrs Butterworth syrup bottle -- a pop culture icon that makes it easy for everyone to express their discontent.

Miller concedes that even he was somewhat displeased with the statue. Within a month of its dedication, the statue committee held a meeting to discuss "taking the statue down, cutting off her head, and sending it back to the foundry to be recast 7 or 8 percent smaller."

"It was just a guess on my part," Miller says, referring to the percentage. "Maybe that would have helped." But the majority of the committee voted to keep Mrs Grant's head the way that it was.

"The thing that I hated was that the controversy just took away the whole concept," Miller says. "My hope was that people would visit the statue and realize just how small a percentage of women are honored for what they've done, and maybe go home and name a street after a woman, or a school or a building or something."

"Should we have given her a 21st century makeover?" Miller asks in exasperation. "You gotta look beyond looks, not just in statues but in everyday life."

[03/10/2007]

Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site.

Address:
500 Bouthillier St., Galena, IL
Directions:
U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site. US Hwy 20 just east of the Galena River. Turn north on Park Ave., then east on Bouthillier St. The statue stands just west of the U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site.
Phone:
815-777-0248
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