Central Park is perhaps New York’s best-known, albeit unofficial, sculpture park, featuring famous sculptures like The Angel of the Waters in Bethesda Fountain, the Egyptian obelisk Cleopatra’s Needle, King Władysław II Jagiełło of Poland, and Alexander Hamilton. Yet, among Central Park’s 23 statues of historical figures, none honor a woman; among the only women featured in the park are the fictional Alice in Wonderland, Juliet (with Romeo), and Mother Goose, yet not a single historical statue depicts a woman.
This morning, the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument depicting Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony was unveiled on Literary Walk, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. The sculpture depicts the three women gathered around a table for a possible strategy meeting, with Anthony standing in the middle holding a pamphlet that reads “Votes for Women,” Stanton on her left holding a pen, and Truth in the midst of speaking. All three women are not only Women’s Rights pioneers but also New Yorkers.
It has been a seven year battle to get the sculpture here, and many of those present at this morning’s press event cited that they were inspired by the activism of young New Yorkers from the Girl Scouts to others who demonstrated in New York City in years past asking, “Where are the women? Where are the women?”. We were honored today to be at this morning’s event, which was attended by an illustrious group of both ordinary New Yorkers, young and old, and by star-studded names like Hillary Clinton, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Kathy Hoschul Lieutenant Governor of New York, Coline Jenkins the great-great-grand daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and more.
Board members of Monumental Women along with Gale Brewer, Kathy Hochul, Hillary Clinton, Carolyn Maloney.
The sculptor of the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, Meredith Bergmann stated today, “Today we present a labor of love to you, to New York, and to the world. A labor of love is done for the love of the work itself. Done without any assurance that the work will be rewarded and done with all the intensity that drives this intensity. Intensity that is never easily welcomed by those around us. I’ve labored to make these bronze figures embody what each of these three women most loved.”
Before the countdown and unveiling.
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in Ulster County, New York in 1797. She escaped from slavery in 1827 and later joined the abolitionist movement, living around New York City from 1828 to 1843. At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Truth delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Bermann said today, “Sojourner Truth, loved speaking the truth. Her voice was her weapon and her art. It was said of her that she carried the people by storm, possessing a heart of love and a tongue of fire, combining power and sweetness in that great warm soul and that vigorous rain here among this collection of statues, she will be as male urban painter called her the electrifying black presence in the white crowd.”
For large parts of their lives, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony attended conventions, rallies, marches and meetings throughout New York City. They founded the Women’s Loyal National League in 1863 in New York and collected over 400,000 petition signatures urging President Abraham Lincoln to immediately end slavery through the 13th Amendment. Stanton was the first woman to run for Congress in 1866 as part of the city’s the Eighth Congressional District, receiving 24 votes. The two published their newspaper The Revolution in New York City from 1868-70, and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association here in 1869. Sources and writings also reveal that the two women enjoyed walking and taking carriage rides through Central Park.
According to She Built NYC, the city’s official campaign to increase female representation in public art, only five statues out of the city’s 150 statues of historical figures depict women. Monumental Women was created in 2014 to raise funds for the suffragist statue, and sculptor Meredith Bergmann was commissioned for the statue’s designed in 2018. Beyer Blinder Belle facilitated a national sculpture competition in 2017, open to all professional sculptors residing in the United States, and Bergmann’s designed won. However, the sculpture only at first include Stanton and Anthony, and The Public Design Commission approved the new design with the inclusion of Truth last October, after criticism that the sculpture only included white women.
Hillary Clinton at the press opening with Girls Scouts from New York City
As Hillary Clinton said in her speech, which addressed some of that today, “All three wanted universal suffrage for all Americans and were not happy when men of color got the vote without women. They had passionate disagreements and Sojourner Truth spoke out against the racism she experienced as a black woman, including, too often, at the hands of white suffragists. Because while the passage of the 19th Amendment was a critical important historic victory, it was also an incomplete one. It would take decades longer to guarantee the franchise for women of color, especially Black and Native American women, and a century later, the struggle to enforce the right to vote continues. We’re still fighting so that every eligible American can cast their ballot and know their vote will be counted regardless of race, age or geography. As Sojourner, Susan, Elizabeth, understood, we are all freer when every one of us is free, our democracy belongs to all of us.”
Bergmann on Monumental Women’s website notes that “I have worked for decades for social justice and historical redress through my art, using my artist’s imagination to create empathic representations of diverse, inspiring people.” According to Bergmann, the three figures share a pedestal and relate to each other, serving as an allegory of sisterhood, cooperation and activism. The monument represents an indoor space, since much of women’s political work originated in the home, not in the public sphere. The women wear long skirts and dresses resembling the “Bloomer” costume, which offered freedom from corsets and floor-length dresses that were standard at the time. The bronze sculpture was meticulously designed to harmonize with the surrounding statues, yet the work attempts to correct the injustice done to women of all races and their invisibility in public spaces. “My intention is that viewers will decide for themselves what Sojourner Truth is saying and what Elizabeth Cady Stanton is thinking and what Susan B. Anthony wants them to consider,” she writes.
The group raised a total of $1.5 million for the statue, with a total of $135,000 coming from Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, New York Life Insurance Company matched $500,000 worth of donations honoring the family of Susan B. Anthony who was a policy holder and whose family were agents of the company, along with funds from Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal. Monumental Women hopes to write all women back into the historical record through an inclusive education campaign, challenging U.S. municipalities to honor the contributions of women and people of color with tributes in public spaces. Projects like “Put Her On A Pedestal” also community members to pick a suffragist, download their pedestal template, create an artwork, and upload it to be displayed at the statue’s unveiling ceremony.
Gale Brewer with Coline Jenkins great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Statnton, in background
Gale Brewer stated today that everyone involved strove to break the “bronze ceiling.” She says, “It wasn’t easy. The answer no came in many forms: ‘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 my personal favorite: ‘You have to prove that each of these women had actually set foot in Central Park.'” Yet, with support from NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, who lifted the 70 year moratorium on new statues in Central Park and many other important figures who helped fundraise and change the rules to let the statue come into being, it is here today.
Award-winning actors Jane Alexander, Viola Davis, America Ferrera, Rita Moreno, Zoe Saldana, and Meryl Streep will portray Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in English and Spanish-Language ‘Talking Statues’ monologues that will accompany the monument. The public can easily access the monologues by scanning a QR code on a smart device or by downloading the Talking Statues app on a mobile device.
Additionally, Highlight, an all-female skydiving team, will be celebrating women’s right to vote in the Bronx with an aerial display, coinciding with the unveiling of the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Central Park. The events are being regarded as “kick offs” to the commemoration of the 19th Amendment across the country for the entire next year. The action will begin from 4,500 feet in the sky as members of the Highlight team swoop across the city with brightly colored smoke and streamers in suffragist colors of purple, white and yellow, as well as fly giant flags displaying women’s suffrage themes of “Equality Can’t Wait,” “Votes for Women,” “Shall Not be Denied” and more.
Join us for our next tour of the hidden gems of Central Park‘s north end! All of our in-person tours have small groups, state-of-the-art radio ear pieces for safe social distancing, and more health & safety measures.
Next, check out All-Female Statue Exhibit #IfThenSheCan Pops Up in Central Park Zoo!