City to build four new statues honoring women who have shaped NYC

March 6, 2019

New York City is commissioning four more statues of trailblazing women as part of a campaign to address the inequity of the city’s public spaces. First lady Chirlane McCray and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen announced on Wednesday plans to honor Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, and Katherine Walker with monuments. In November, the city announced it would commission a statue of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, to be built outside of the entrance to Prospect Park.

The campaign, She Built NYC!, aims to address the lack of representation of women among NYC memorials. The initiative first launched last June with the goal of making half of the city’s statues honor women. Currently, just five of the city’s 150 statues are of women.

“When we launched She Built NYC, we promised this would not be a ‘one and done,'” Glen said. “Today’s announcement marks real action by the City of New York to ensure that our public realm exemplifies the diverse and accomplished women who make this city so great.”

These first five statues will be placed throughout all five boroughs. A statue of jazz singer Billie Holiday will be placed near Queens Borough Hall. While she was born in Philadelphia, “Lady Day” moved to Harlem with her mother and started singing in nightclubs as a teenager. Many say her 1939 performance of the protest song “Strange Fruit” at Greenwich Village’s Cafe Society kicked off the Civil Rights Movement.

Activist Elizabeth Jennings Graham will be honored with a memorial next to Grand Central Terminal. A trailblazer of the Civil Rights Movement, Graham refused to leave a streetcar that denied black passengers and later successfully sued the Third Avenue Railroad Company. The case eventually led to the desegregation of the city’s transit systems by 1865.

A statue of Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías to reproductive rights and HIV/AIDS care, will be erected at St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx. Rodríguez Trías fought to end enforced sterilization, supported abortion rights, and became the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association. She was awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal by President Clinton shortly before her death in 2001.

And near the Staten Island Ferry Landing, Katherine Walker will be honored with a memorial. Walker served as the keeper of Robbins Reef Lighthouse for more than 30 years after her husband’s death. She is credited with rescuing over 50 people from shipwrecks.

The city said future monuments will be selected from the list of women nominated by the public. As amNY reported, artists will be finalized by the end of the year with the monuments to be completed by 2021 and 2022.


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