She’s not as famous as the Statue of Liberty, but she’s the crowning glory of a revered American symbol: the dome of the U.S. Capitol. 19½-foot bronze Statue of Freedom by Thomas Crawford depicts a woman in flowing draperies clasping a sheathed sword in her right hand. With her left hand she holds a thirteen-striped shield of the United States, along with a laurel wreath of victory. Her Roman helmet features an eagle’s head, feathers, and talons, said to be a reference to Native American culture. (The original design included the Phrygian cap worn by freed Roman slaves as a sign of liberty, but Secretary of War Jefferson Davis objected that it might incite Southern slaves to rebel.)
The dome on which she stands appears to be stone but is really cast iron painted to look like white marble. Construction on the dome began in 1856 and continued for a decade, even during the Civil War. “If people see the Capitol going on,” Abraham Lincoln said, “it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.” By 1863, the dome was far enough along to hoist the 15,000-pound statue in sections onto its perch, nearly 300 hundred feet high.
In 1993 the statue was temporarily removed for restoration. Preservation experts spent several months repairing cracks and corrosion. On October 23, 1993, with the aid of a helicopter, the Statue of Freedom soared to the top of the dome again, where she has remained since.