When sculptor Adelaide Johnson's work, "The Woman's Movement," honoring the three "mothers of women suffrage," was presented to Congress in 1921, the inscription called the movement a glorious representation of "the release of the feminine principle in humanity."

The inscription was whitewashed out and the statue consigned to the Capitol basement.

Yesterday, against a backdrop of this relatively obscure sculpture, tourists watched the dimly lighted crypt transform as banks of microphones were propped up against a lectern, klieg lights were hastily installed and television cameras set rolling.

It was the celebration of the 70th anniversary of women's suffrage.

"We want to use this opportunity to get the message across to the public that this statue, hidden by a pillar, is symbolic of the trivialization of the women's movement," said Rosemary Dempsey, a vice president of the National Organization for Women, one of the event's sponsors. Pointing toward the "sisters in granite" -- Elizabeth C. Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott -- Dempsey said there were several lessons from history.

"In many areas of women's rights, we lag behind several countries in the Western world," she said, "especially in the right to reproductive freedom, the Equal Rights Amendment, parental leave laws and day-care facilities."

It is heartening, Dempsey said, to see more female gubernatorial candidates, but there's a long journey ahead for the movement.

To that effect, Caroline Sparks, president of the Feminist Institute Inc., announced the launching of "Move the Statues," a campaign to make the statues of women leaders in the Capitol more visible.

"A visitor to the Capitol Rotunda is left with the impression that women had nothing to do with the founding of the nation," Sparks said. Amid enthusiastic applause, she delivered an impassioned plea to "liberate these statues from every corner, from behind every pillar."

"Public memorials serve as powerful symbols that validate the importance of the individual or the event," said Barbara Irvine, president of the Alice Paul Centennial Foundation, a New Jersey-based volunteer organization and co-sponsor of the event. She said she was dismayed that "there was not a woman in any town-square statue."

Her concern was echoed by Edith Mayo, curator of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, who cited anecdotes from the checkered history of the sculpture of the suffrage leaders to underscore that "historical visibility means empowerment in the present."

There was a smattering of laughter as Sparks hurled a vitriolic barb: "With the exception of scenes of Pocahontas getting baptized and Martha Washington and her nieces watching George, the women of the country are not represented in the sculpture, murals and architectural details of the Rotunda."

The ceremony featured an appearance by Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service Memorial, who praised the women "fighting {for} the women's movement in a slightly different way" by braving the blistering heat of the Middle East.

"All women are included in the women's movement," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), co-sponsor of the event. "Minority women get a double whack of discrimination. We have been fighting for all the minorities, including black women and Native American women."

"There are five states that haven't had any statues installed in the Capitol," and we hope that they "present minority women," Sparks said.