Central Park’s first statue of historical women unveiled
Photo by Emily Dombroff
The “bronze ceiling” has officially been broken in New York City’s most famous park. A new statue depicting women’s rights activists Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was unveiled in Central Park on Wednesday, becoming the park’s first monument of real-life women. The new statue comes on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted some women the right to vote.
Volunteer-run nonprofit Monumental Women tapped sculptor Meredith Bergmann to create the statue, titled the “Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument.” The piece includes the three women in bronze sitting and standing on a granite pedestal. It portrays Truth speaking, Anthony organizing, and Stanton writing, all elements of activism, according to the artist.
Before the creation of the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, all historical monuments found in Central Park depicted men. The only statues of women portrayed fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose.
“We’ve been fighting to break the bronze ceiling in Central Park for over seven long years, and we celebrate achieving that goal today,” Pam Elam, president of Monumental Women, said. “It’s fitting that the first statue of real women in the park depicts women working together to fight for equality and justice, as women will continue to do until the battle is won. We are now calling on other municipalities to join us in creating monuments that honor the many diverse women who helped make those cities great.”
Artist Meredith Bergmann working on the statue; Photob by Michael Bergmann
The organization first started developing ideas for a statue in 2014 and later raised $1.5 million in private funding for the statue. The Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument stands on Central Park’s Literary Walk, joining statues of writers like Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Fitz-Greene Halleck.
The original proposal revealed in 2018 faced criticism for only featuring Stanton and Anthony, without recognizing the efforts of Black women in the movement. In response, Bergmann redesigned the statue to include Truth, an abolitionist and suffragette who delivered one of the most famous speeches in history, “Ain’t I a Woman?” in 1851.
“My challenge in creating this monument was to celebrate the lives and achievements of these three inspiring women while showing that their work, which is now our work, is unfinished and ongoing– so I portrayed them in the middle of a discussion,” Bergmann said.
“I hope the monument will challenge viewers to study the history of the struggle for women’s rights and to continue that struggle. Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not live to see the enactment of the 19th Amendment, and even 100 years later there is so much left for us to do to win equality and justice for all.”
The “Talking Statues” app will feature the voices of Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Jane Alexander, Rita Moreno, Zoe Saldana, America Ferrara voicing Anthony, Stanton, and Truth. The app also includes stories about the monument’s creation and an interview with Bergmann.
More statues of historical women are in the works for the city. First lady Chirlane McCray’s She Built NYC campaign announced last year plans to build statues of pioneers like Shirley Chisholm, Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, and Katherine Walker.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the city’s monument of Chisholm, the first in the campaign to be created, will not be installed this year as planned. As Gotham Gazette reported in June, the monument has been delayed and will likely be installed next year instead.