On Friday March 1st, the start of Women’s History Month, a new installation was unveiled in New York’s City Hall commemorating eight iconic New York women and their contributions to the city and beyond. A collaborative effort between the City Council and the New-York Historical Society, the exhibition, titled Women’s Voices: Shaping the City will display these legendary women’s portraits along with a short biography and inspirational quote that captures their passion and their legacy.
“Women’s Voices: Shaping the City…will highlight the contributions of these iconic New York women who have helped shape the city that we know and love today,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson Johnson during the unveiling. The eight women’s names were called out to whistles and cheers from the crowd: Alice Austen, Antonia Pantoja, Dorothy Day, Frances Perkins (the first female United States cabinet member), Dorothy Lee, Beverly Sills (Brooklyn-born opera singer), Shirley Chisholm and the famous African American writer Zora Neale Hurston. “It is critical that we speak their names, that we acknowledge them and that we thank them for the contributions they have made to our city.”
“Let’s be clear,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin, Co-Chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, “women run this city and have been an integral force for social change, innovation and resistance throughout its her-story. The trailblazers we are honoring today have left a legacy for so many young women to follow, from Shirley Chisholm, who became the first woman to run for president in The Democratic Party in 1972, to Dorothy Lee who was the only Chinese-American woman to work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II.
As Johnson said, “the point of this installation is to acknowledge out loud that we as a city have utterly failed in the way we memorialize historical figures, because we have failed to represent women and the contributions they have made to human history and the history of our beloved city. The artwork in this building should reflect the beautiful diversity that makes our city what it is and that cannot happen without proper gender representation.”
“When school trips come to City Hall now, young students – young girls – will see Shirley Chisholm on these walls, they will see Antonia Pantoja on these walls, they will see Frances Perkins on these walls, and hopefully they’ll run into Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera [Co-Chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus] and all of the amazing women who serve here in the New York City Council, and hopefully when they will leave this building they’ll already have decided to run for office themselves.”
“There’s a special meaning to unveiling this exhibit during Women’s Her-story Month,” said Margaret Chin, “especially at a time when we have to double our effort to achieve equality for all regardless of gender. Today’s exhibit is an incredible step forward, but we must continue to increase the representation of women leaders in our elected office and in the city spaces [there are only eleven women in the City Council and none in citywide office]. Together we can get to a day when all of our halls of power pay tribute to strong women who made this city what it is today.”
New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History is the first of its kind in the United States within the walls of a major museum, and showcases the lives and legacies of more than a hundred more women and their impact in shaping American history. Along with permanent and temporary exhibits, they have a wide array of talks and programs for all ages.
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