First Statue of Real Women is Unveiled in Central Park on Woman’s Equality Day

The monument.

By Yvonne Vávra

There could not have been a more invigorating blue New York sky under which to break the bronze ceiling.

On Wednesday, Women’s Equality Day, Central Park displayed its first statue of real women. Sure, there is Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare’s Juliet, and Mother Goose, plus a few witches, nymphs, and angels. But it wasn’t until this August 26th, the 100th anniversary of the ratification and certification of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote, that a statue of actual women was unveiled along Literary Walk, located mid park between 67th and 68th Streets.

Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, three New York women of different races, educational and economic backgrounds, and religions coming together in the fight for equality, are now joining 23 statues honoring men in the park.

Despite it being 8AM many gathered to watch the unveiling.

“I can’t think of three more deserving women to put on a pedestal in Central Park,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer at the unveiling ceremony. “Without them, we would not have the right to vote.” But the road to get them on their five-foot pedestal was a long and bumpy bureaucratic ride — or, as Gale Brewer put it: “It took 70 years to get the vote, but only seven to get the statue. And if you listen carefully, you can just hear Stanton’s voice: ‘Don’t worry ladies, we’re getting there.’”

The statue is the effort of Monumental Women, a nonprofit organization fighting to increase awareness and appreciation of women’s history. Led by the idea that all public spaces should include tributes to the diverse women who helped create them, they set out to cross the minefield that is New York City government. “It’s not easy to donate a work of art to the city of New York,” says Pam Elam, President of the Board of Monumental Women. They needed to get approval from the Parks Department, the Central Park Conservancy, the Public Design Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and every single community board surrounding the park.

Monumental Women raised over $1.5 million in private donations from more than 1,000 supporters, among them Girl Scouts, who contributed their cookie money, and kids from the Mary McDowell Friends School in Brooklyn donating from bake sales. “As we are often reminded, it does take a village to achieve a cherished goal. Or in this case, it takes a metropolis,” says Elam. (West Side Rag also played a very small part in jumpstarting things.)

From a distance.

“Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth must be smiling somewhere at the hoops the Monumental Women were made to jump through to curate a statue honoring three of the most important figures in American history,” says Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, remembering the many forms of No they were confronted with:

“The park is closed to new statues.”

“Women don’t want a statue, they want a garden.”

“If we say yes to this statue, we’ll have to say yes to any statue.”

And Brewer’s favorite: “You have to prove that each of these women had actually stepped foot in Central Park.”

The struggle was worth it. “One statue in one park can light a fuse that sparks the imagination and ambition of a child who sees herself in that statue,” says Pam Elam. “That one statue can start a chain reaction leading to an explosion of knowledge and possibilities.” Also, the sculptor Meredith Bergmann hopes to inspire young girls with her artwork: “I’d like them to think that they can be 9-feet tall too, that they could do something that would make the world that much better.”

There are 150 statues in the city, and up to today, only five of them depict women: Joan of Arc, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gertrude Stein, Golda Meir, and Harriet Tubman. The three activists joining them today are a reminder of the long and difficult fight for equal rights for all women and men. In light of the upcoming election in November, Monumental Women Pam Elam likes to remind everyone that the struggle to guarantee a woman’s right to vote 100 years ago was only a first step: “Let us honor all those women whose names we know and those whose names we may never know and let them know that we will forever fight to protect that right to vote for all of us. Let us assure them that in every election, especially this November, we will vote like democracy depended on it because it does.”

ART, NEWS, OUTDOORS | 16 comments | permalink
    1. Jerry says:

      Bravo!

    2. Jerry says:

      Don’t think the article tells us where in the park the new statue is located. Can that info please be added?

    3. Bob Lamm says:

      How great that this has finally happened!

    4. Ellen Pliskin says:

      Meredith Bergmann is an incredible artist. Congratulations for all of her
      hard work!

    5. Martha says:

      Who is the sculptor? Must give credit to this wonderful creation!

    6. Debbe Heller says:

      I look forward to taking my art students to this statue so we can draw inspiration from the sculpture and draw sketches for our portfolios. Thanks to all the hard work done to mount this project. The rejection excuses were appalling and comical. Brava to those nasty women who persisted.

    7. J says:

      I would like to propose an edit: “But it wasn’t until this August 26th, the 100th anniversary of the ratification and certification of the 19th amendment giving *WHITE* women the right to vote…”

      • Bnyc says:

        Important edit indeed! I am thrilled to have it there finally, although it sounds insane to hear myself tell my daughters that it’s the first statue depicting women in Central Park. And we only had to wait until 2020.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        thank you, J.

    8. Brian Lipton Michaels says:

      I am sure someone will find a reason to justify tearing it down eventually

      • Tronald J. Plump says:

        Excellent! I was hoping the 7 year streak with at least one negative comment per article would not be broken. Was getting nervous, but even women’s equality kept the streak alive!

    9. Beverly says:

      Bravo!
      My mother was born August 26, 1920 in Brooklyn.
      This would have made her so happy.

    10. Elisabeth O Clark says:

      Halleljah!! Long overdue and lovely in a favorite part of Central Park for me.

    11. peter says:

      ambling in the parkstopped in my tracks…long overdue important tribute ! …I was disappointed with cartoonish representation of the the sculpture…I guess I am a classicist…