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A New Project Seeks to Erect Statues of Historic Women in Central Park

Statue of Columbus in Central Park (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
Statue of Columbus in Central Park (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Central Park was designed with just one statue commission: the 1873 “Angel of the Waters,” sculpted by Emma Stebbins for Bethesda Terrace. While this fountain was the first New York City public art commission given to a woman, the sculptures added to the park in the decades after did little to honor women’s contributions to the arts or history. Out of the 29 statues now in the park, not one is of a real woman.

"Angel of the Waters" by Emma Stebbins at Bethesda Terrace in Central Park
“Angel of the Waters” by Emma Stebbins at Bethesda Terrace in Central Park (click to enlarge)

There are allegorical women — such as Stebbins’s angel, which some believe was modeled on her lover Charlotte Cushman; and there are fictional women, all imagined by men, including Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland character Alice and Shakespeare’s Juliet. Not one among them is a historic figure, despite 22 immortalizing real men, from celebrated names like Alexander Hamilton to obscure ones such as Danish sculptor Albert Thorvaldsen. There’s even a historic dog: Balto of the famed 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska.

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund is on a mission to add the two suffragist women to the public art of Central Park. The fund got some momentum this week with a New York Times story, in which Chadwick Moore reported that in May the parks department gave its conceptual approval to the statues at the West 77th Street entrance. However, Moore added that the project’s success necessitates a $400,000 to one million endowment to cover its creation, installation, and future maintenance. Now the fund is gathering donations.

Co-vice president of the fund Myriam Miedzian and its secretary and treasurer Gary Ferdman, jointly told Hyperallergic why they selected Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony:

They were by far the most obvious and deserving choices. Stanton and Anthony were the most effective and long-lasting leaders of the largest non-violent revolution in our nation’s history. They made enormous intellectual and organizational contributions to the struggle for a wide range of women’s rights. Their achievements should inspire generations of women to come and educate generations of men.

Additionally they hope to include in a monument names for other women who were essential to the suffragist movement’s success. “We think it’s important to make the point that, while Stanton and Anthony were by far most responsible for suffrage and other women’s rights, they were the leaders of a broad and diverse movement,” they stated.

Statue of Shakespeare in Central Park
Statue of Shakespeare in Central Park

A statement from NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver given to Gothamist affirmed that their “administration is fully committed to promoting gender equity across New York City — and that includes our parks. It’s long past time for us to honor the historical contributions Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony made to the fight for women’s equality, which is why I’m thrilled to move this effort forward.”

There are only a handful of statues of real women in all of New York City’s parks, with Eleanor Roosevelt and Joan of Arc in Riverside Park, Gertrude Stein in Bryant Park, Harriet Tubman at West 122nd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, and Golda Meir at Broadway and 39th Street. And it’s only recently Central Park’s statues diversified beyond white men, with Duke Ellington unveiled in 1997 and Frederick Douglass in 2011.

According to a 2011 Washington Post story, of the 5,193 public outdoor sculptures in the United States, just 394 are of women. It’s necessary to point out that private funds, not park commissions, drove the installation of statues since Central Park’s opening. However, for the millions of people who visit Manhattan’s main green space each year, the statues affirm a collective history in bronze, and one where women have been completely left out.

Statues on either side of the Central Park Mall
Statues of Walter Scott and Robert Burns on either side of the Central Park Mall

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund has additional information and fundraising opportunities on its site

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