Recently we covered the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund’s campaign to install sculptures of the suffragists in New York’s Central Park, as out of the park’s 29 statues not one is of a real woman. Setting aside the allegorical females and fictional heroines like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, who are the historic women honored in New York’s public statuary?
There aren’t many. However as NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver told Next City last week, he and Mayor Bill de Blasio are “absolutely thrilled we can address this inequity,” noting their conceptual approval for the statues of Stanton and Anthony that puts them into the fundraising stage. Meanwhile up in Queens at its Borough Hall, the former plaza of the “Triumph of Civic Virtue,” a much hated 1920s sculpture of a nearly nude man with a sword standing on two female sirens, may be remade into a place honoring prominent women from Queens. (As for “Civic Virtue,” he was exiled to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery in 2012.)
A few women are honored on the I. Miller Building at Broadway and 46th Street, restored last year, with sculptures of Mary Pickford, Ethel Barrymore, Marilyn Miller, and Rosa Ponselle. And at the Bronx Community College’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans, busts of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Lyon, Maria Mitchell, Emma Willard, Alice Freeman Palmer, and Lillian Wald are included. Then there are a few statues on churches of saints and of real women on private property that have a public presence, like the statue of Mother Clara Hale at the Hale House. There are also the faces of female models if you know where to look, like Audrey Munson, who posed for several statues including the Isador and Ida Straus Memorial. Yet none of these can really be considered as public statuary that honors individual historic women.
So let’s go chronologically through those that do. Don’t worry, this won’t take long, there are only five!
Joan of Arc (1915)
Riverside Park at West 93rd Street, Manhattan
Dedicated in 1915, Riverside Park’s triumphant Joan of Arc was not just the first public statue of a real woman, it was also sculpted by a woman: Anna Hyatt Huntington. Huntington had an impressive career in public art in the city, especially for the time, and you can also find her animal statuary at the Hispanic Society of America and a sculpture of Cuban hero José Martí on a galloping horse in Central Park.
Golda Meir (1984)
Broadway and 39th Street, Manhattan
Almost 70 years after Joan of Arc, New York got another statue honoring a woman, with Golda Meir at Broadway and 39th Street, unveiled in 1984. The bust of the fourth Prime Minister of Israel was sculpted by Beatrice Goldfine.
Gertrude Stein (1992)
Bryant Park, Manhattan
In 1992, a bronze by Jo Davidson of Gertrude Stein was installed in Bryant Park, the first public statue of an American woman in the city. The author and arts supporter sits in miniature on a pedestal, based on a 1923 model Davidson made while Stein was living in Paris. According to the New York Times, it was donated by art dealer Maury Leibovitz after he “heard Parks Commissioner Betsy Gotbaum complain about the fact that real women had yet to find an honorable place in the city’s public statuary.”
Eleanor Roosevelt (1996)
Riverside Park at West 72nd Street, Manhattan
Posed in thought and leaning on a boulder, an eight-foot-tall bronze statue of Eleanor Roosevelt joined Joan of Arc in Riverside Park in 1996. The first lady and humanitarian was sculpted by Penelope Jencks.
Harriet Tubman (2008)
St. Nicholas Avenue and West 122nd, Manhattan
Finally in 2008, a larger-than-life bronze of Harriet Tubman was unveiled at a triangle of land in Harlem where St. Nicholas Avenue and West 122nd Street meet. The abolitionist was sculpted by Alison Saar, who stated at its dedication that she “chose to depict Harriet Tubman not so much as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, but as a train itself.”