Women’s History, New York, and Park Statues

This year, America reflects on the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. New York State is the birthplace of the formal women’s rights movement and many prominent suffragettes. Recently, in recognition of the need to celebrate these women and more generally, to erect more statutes honoring women, New York City is designing and installing statutes of prominent women.

The first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls New York, took place July 1848, spearheaded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. At the convention she presented (and authored) the Declaration of Sentiments. This document was modeled after the Declaration of Independence and was signed by 100 women and men. This declaration was the first national call to action for equal voting rights and led in 1878 to the 19th Amendment’s introduction to Congress.

The amendment languished in Congress. Thirty years after its introduction, in 1908, Maud Malone organized the first suffrage parade in New York City from Union Square to 23rd street. The police tried to stop the parade but Malone persisted and defied the ban. The parade attracted thousands of men, evidence that her gender collaboration efforts were effective. The result was sweeping positive media attention, and the rally was deemed a moral victory. Finally, a little over a decade later, in 1919, the 19th Amendment passed, and women were granted the right to vote; a step forward in securing women’s economic security and autonomy.

Suffragettes taking part in a pageant by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, June 1908
Christina Broom died 1939 / Public domain

Fast forward to 2020, and the fight for equality and representation continues. There are 150 historical statues in New York City, but only five are of women. Non-profits like Women’s Monumental and She Built NYC are working to address the imbalance.

In 2013, Dr. Myriam Miedzian and her husband contacted Coline Jenkins, a descendant of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with a proposal to bring a historic female statue to Central Park. In 2014, Monumental Women was created to “break the bronze ceiling” in Central Park. To garner support, Jenkins met with Commissioner Silver and asked a question: Was he aware of the lack of statues of women in Central Park? Just one week later, this well-timed question resulted in a list of six tentative sites in Central Park for a new statue, breaking a decades-long hiatus on new statues. The statue will be unveiled in August 2020, for the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage. The statue, designed by Meredith Bergmann, will feature Elizabeth Stanton, Susan B Anthony and Sojourner Truth working together.

In 2018, First Lady Chirlane McCray and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen launched She Built NYC, a public arts campaign to correct gender representation in New York City’s statues. They are developing plans to install statues throughout the five boroughs. The first statue will honor Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress; it is scheduled to be installed in Prospect Park by the end of the year. Additional statues will be built to honor Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trias, Katherine Walker, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

Photo Credit: Abigail Weinberg

Recognizing and honoring women’s contribution to history is always important and consider this year a special opportunity to do so as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. In the meantime, you can learn about current parks, monuments and art installations that honor women on the New York City Parks website.

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