After weeks of wrangling, the Peru Library Board on Thursday night voted unanimously to place a statue of one of the area’s prominent supporters of the women’s suffrage movement on the library’s lawn.
The vote came at the end of a sometimes tense two-hour meeting that was attended by all of Peru’s City Council and roughly 15 other supporters of the project to bring the statue of Marie Stuart Edwards to the city.
The City Council, earlier in the month, voted 6-0 (council member Steve Anderson was not present) to place the statue on the lawn following a late-August vote from the Library Board to turn down the statue project that is slated to be paid for with a state grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and Indiana Humanities.
Lieutenant Gov. Suzanne Crouch announced the awarding of the grant – one of three awarded in the state – in August to help build what has been dubbed the “Miami County Women’s Suffrage Trail” which will feature a life-size bronze statue of Marie Stuart Edwards as a young girl standing by her bicycle.
Members of the coalition of organizations that applied for the grant made up of Rediscover Downtown Peru, Miami County Worth Remembering, AcesPLUS and the Daughters of the American Revolution had long pictured that statue being built at the library because of Edwards’ historical ties to the library, but that was thrown into the question with the Library Board’s first vote.
Minutes read from that August meeting on Thursday night, and comments from board members Leslie Murphy and Bryan Maggart, suggested that the three members who voted against it – Murphy, Maggart and Melissa Duckwall – had concerns about long-term costs of care and maintenance for the project.
Things grew more contentious after Brenda Weaver, a candidate for County Commissioner and a member of the coalition who had been working with Miami County Worth Remembering to celebrate this year’s centennial of the suffrage movement, asked in early September if the city could accept the grant from the state in order to have the statue built at the library.
Peru Mayor Miles Hewitt introduced the item to the Council earlier this month and later told them that the Library Board had already voted against it. He urged that, rather than taking a vote, that city leaders work with the library to come to a solution.
“I guess what I am saying is, I would like to see not us override that board, but the library, all the employees and everything, work with that board and get their approval before we agree to say we will place it,” he said.
“I feel 100 percent comfortable overriding the Library Board on this,” Council member Betsy Edwards-Wolfe said ahead of the vote from the Council. “I think it is embarrassing to turn this gift down.”
That appearance of having overridden the board’s vote seemed to play into the contentiousness on Thursday night, that many involved said had spilled over in previous days to social media.
A solution was reached after the reading of a letter from City Council, signed by Council President Tom Gustin, that said the city will accept the gift of the grant and own the statue, though it will placed at the library and “maintained by various community organizations throughout the city of Peru.”
A motion later in the meeting from Board President Alison Paul said that the city, as the owner of the statue, would assume responsibility for the costs, though the statue would be placed on library property. Maggart provided a second.
As she voted for the motion, Murphy, who had said she felt she wasn’t properly included in the initial discussions about the project, signalled she was pleased with the solution.
“This is all I wanted from the get-go,” she said. “Communication, discussion between us and openness in front of each other.”
Duckwall echoed those thoughts.
“I needed this tonight,” she said and thanked all for coming to have that discussion.