Central Park’s ‘Monumental Women’ Receive Community Board Thumbs-Up After Historians Question Design

A rendering of the statue of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth planned for Central Park.

By Carol Tannenhauser

By now it isn’t news that there are 23 statues of historical figures in Central Park and not one of them is of a woman. (Alice, Mother Goose and Juliet are fictional.) That’s scheduled to change on August, 26, 2020, the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. A monument to three pioneers of the woman’s right’s movement will be unveiled that day on the park’s famed Literary Walk — barring prolonged administrative delays.

The design process for the statue — which  is expected to feature Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth — has been complicated. But on Monday night, Community Board 7’s Parks and Environment Committee gave the latest iteration a seal of approval: they adopted a resolution in support of the second design of the statue.

The first design — which did not include Truth, but a scroll with quotes from 22 diverse women involved in the suffrage movement — was accepted by the NYC Public Design Commission (PDC) in March, but the PDC required the scroll be removed. Advocates also argued that, by only including Stanton and Anthony, the design obliterated the contributions African-American women made to women’s suffrage.

Meredith Bergmann, the sculptor, went back to her drawing board and produced a design that includes Truth — a former slave who became a famed abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. A new controversy ensued. “[N]early two dozen scholars signed a letter in August claiming a statue showing the three activists working together ‘could obscure the substantial differences between white and black suffrage activists, and would be misleading,’” amNY reported. As a result, the PDC tabled its decision on the statue at its Monday morning meeting. It requested the input of community boards  — and CB7 responded.

At the committee meeting, Bergmann defended her design, but indicated a willingness to amend it further.

“Sojourner Truth knew these women, she worked with these women, and she did live in New York City. She belongs with them. Her inclusion has been approved,” she said.

Another rendering.

Now the PDC wants Bergmann to get input from other historians as well, to verify the accuracy of her depiction of the women and their relationships.

“I will now do it,” she said, “because as they ruled this morning, they refuse to go any further until I have.”

“We look forward to the PDC approving of the statue in October,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who testified at the PDC hearing.

Louise Bernikow, a noted feminist author, historian, and expert on women’s suffrage, who lives on the UWS and attended the CB7 committee meeting, wrote to WSR, “…[you] can’t expect to convey such a nuanced and complex history in one work of art–so I think it’s time to get it done–.”

We’ll keep you posted as this story unfolds.

This article was updated based on information received from Monumental Women, the nonprofit organization that spearheaded and funded the statue.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 12 comments | permalink
    1. jezbel says:

      Here’s a lay person’s opinion. Why do they feel compelled to solve the issue of no female statue/role models in just one statue?
      These were three strong women who deserve credit and their places in our Parks and history book. But putting them in just one monument is not going to kill 3 absences with one stone (monument). We need more statues/monuments scattered throughout the Parks and the City so that every little girl & boy can look up and admired the work strong women have done. And to see that women are as much a part of the Nation’s/City’s history as the men.

    2. Andy says:

      Some time ago, Italian Americans realized that there were no Italian statues nor Italian idols featured in the city and they set out to enshrine an Italian. They chose Christopher Columbus. There might be a moral here to not simply chose someone based on the boxes they can check off.

    3. Watto says:

      Good grief … let’s just honor these historic wonderful women and not bicker about them “working together”. They each contributed to The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote (unbelievable that women needed an amendment to The Constitution to be considered equal)!!!!

    4. BJK says:

      I wish they could put this statue somewhere else. Knowing how long the Parks Department takes to do anything, the aesthetic of Literary Walk is going to be ruined for months while they erect this.

    5. CWR10025 says:

      A solution is three separate statutes.
      These women deserve their own place in history and their own statue like so many men who are represented on their own.

    6. Trudi says:

      Not nearly enough.

    7. ellen says:

      If these women can not have their own separate statue, then I believe that when Sojourner and Susan B. Visited Elizabeth Stanton in her Tenafly home parlor they would be seated in Victorian chairs and table. Let’s check accuracy.

    8. Francie Grace says:

      Separate statues is certainly the way to go! And while we’re at it, let’s add Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Dorothy Parker, Eleanor Roosevelt, Billie Holliday, Jane Jacobs, Nelly Bly, Dotty Schiff, Frances Perkins, Victoria Woodhull, Ruth Vader Ginsburg, Althea Gibson, Gertrude B. Elion, Margaret Bourke White, Penny Marshall, Ella Fitzgerald, many more.

      • Steve says:

        And let’s not forget New York’s (and America’s) extraordinary social reformer and children’s rights advocate and champion:

        L I L L I A N W A L D
        Founder of the Henry Street Settlement &
        Visiting Nurse Service

    9. Holly Tooker says:

      There are four empty pedestals near the bandshell and above the staircase that leads to Bethesda Arcade. They were meant for statues but never filled! More than four women are worthy. I don’t find this trio as satisfying as MANY female statues would be.