WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- It’s one of the most recognizable rooms in the U.S. Capitol -- Statuary Hall -- aptly named for its collection of marble and bronze works of art -- depictions of some of the most important people in American history.
But you won’t find the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson here. This collection is reserved for influential state figures – two from each to be exact.
One of South Dakota’s statues has a prominent spot at the entrance to the Capitol rotunda -- General William Henry Harrison Beadle. He’s been here a long time.
“That statue was commissioned in 1938 to honor the centennial of his birth. He was one of the first educators to be honored in Statuary Hall," explained Architect of the Capitol curator Dr. Michele Cohen.
Beadle was president of Madison State Normal School -- now Dakota State University. Beadle’s education career began after serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. That’s when he was appointed surveyor-general of the Dakota Territory and developed a plan to manage school lands. His ideas were written into the state’s constitution.
“He’s often considered the Father of Public Education in South Dakota,” said Cohen.
You won’t find South Dakota's other representative his statue in Statuary Hall. The sculptures can weigh 10,000 pounds, and that’s a lot of weight on the room's old floor. So the statue of Dr. Joseph Ward is on display in the Capitol Visitor’s Center. It’s been in the collection since 1963.
Ward was an ordained minister who founded Yankton College and served as its president. He had a lot of things in common with Beadle.
“They were both born in 1838. They worked together on the Constitutional Convention," said Cohen. "They were very forceful advocates to retain and protect these lands for public education.”
So if you’re a product of that education, you have these men to thank. And you can do it in person at the U.S. Capitol.
“I’m in awe every time I walk through these doors when I step in. It’s almost as though we can feel the weight of history on our shoulders," said Cohen.
WEB EXTRA: Video above with curator Michele Cohen explaining how the collection came to be, how statues become part of the collection, and how the collection is maintained.