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.
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.