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A 14-foot-tall monument to three pioneers of women’s rights — Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth — was unveiled in New York City’s Central Park yesterday, August 26. The bronze sculptural group is the first statue in Central Park’s 167-year-history to feature historical women — previously, only sculptures of fictional female characters, like Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose, were included in the park.
A livestreamed ceremony featured addresses by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as actors Viola Davis, America Ferrera, and Meryl Streep reciting writings by Truth, Anthony, and Stanton, respectively. The occasion paralleled the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment’s signing, which gave some women the right to vote (non-white women, however, were still excluded from the polls).
“Every woman who votes, protests, or serves in office today does so standing on the shoulder of these three giants,” said Gillibrand in her address.
The sculpture was made possible through fundraising and campaigning by the nonprofit organization Monumental Women, founded by volunteers in 2014 with the goal of “breaking the bronze ceiling.” The group came together in response to the disproportionate number of statues of men in the US, where only 8% of 5,193 public outdoor sculptures in 2011 depicted women, according to research by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
But Monumental Women faced sharp criticism for the sculpture’s original design, which would have included only Stanton and Anthony, both white women. In August 2019, followings months of controversy, the group added the likeness of Truth, a Black abolitionist, to the sculptural group to acknowledge the contributions of women of color.
Meredith Bergmann, the sculptor selected to create the statue, told the New York Times that she wanted to “show women working together”; the work depicts the famous trio gathered around a table as though in a meeting. “I kept thinking of women now, working together in some kitchen on a laptop, trying to change the world,” Bergmann added. (Some might argue that such a meeting is an ahistorical imagining, particularly because Stanton and Anthony were known to hold racist views against Black Americans.)
The monument can be found along the southern end of the tree-lined Mall, in a section called the Literary Walk that also features sculptures of celebrated writers, and is receiving a lot of attention from passersby. “It’s amazing to finally see recognition for these women who paved the way,” said Joyce, who stopped to snap a photo. “We’re still fighting the fight, hundreds of years later, but every step is a step.”
The three eminent suffragists, who helped secure the passage of the 19th amendment, were also New Yorkers. Stanton was the first woman to run for Congress in 1866, and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in New York City along with Anthony in 1869. Sojourner Truth escaped from slavery in New York in 1827 and joined the abolitionist movement, becoming one of the most important human rights advocates in US history. She delivered her groundbreaking speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” at the Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio in 1851.
“This monument isn’t just here to remind us of our past,” said Marika McLiechey, a seventh generation granddaughter of Truth, in the ceremony yesterday. “It’s here to remind our future to continue to stand up for what’s right, continue to stand up for what you believe in, and continue to stand up for equality.”