NEW YORK – Across the country, monuments honoring racist figures are being defaced and toppled. In New York’s Central Park, one statue is taking shape that aims to amend not only racial but also gender disparities in public art: A 14-foot-tall bronze monument of Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, three of the more prominent leaders in the nationwide fight for women’s right to vote.
Called the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, it is to be unveiled Aug. 26 to commemorate the 100th anniversary this month of the constitutional amendment that finally guaranteed women that right.
The sculpture depicts the three figures gathered around a table for what seems to be a strategy meeting. Anthony stands in the middle, holding a pamphlet that reads “Votes for Women”; Stanton, seated to her left, holds a pen; and Truth appears to be in midsentence.
“I wanted to show women working together,” said sculptor Meredith Bergmann. “I kept thinking of women now, working together in some kitchen on a laptop, trying to change the world.”
It will be the park’s only monument honoring real women, located on Literary Walk. In its 167-year history, the park has been a leafy home to about two dozen statues of men, mostly white, and fictional or mythical female characters (Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare’s Juliet, and the Angel of the Waters, the winged woman atop Bethesda Fountain) but no historical women.
New York City as a whole hasn’t been very inclusive either: Of the 150 statues honoring historical figures, only five depict women, according to She Built NYC, the city’s official campaign to increase female representation in public art. And in 2011, just more than 7% of the nearly 5,200 public outdoor statues across the country represented women, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Art Inventories Catalog.
“The fact that nobody, for a long time, even noticed that women were missing in Central Park — what does that say about the invisibility of women?” said Pam Elam, president of Monumental Women, a nonprofit founded in 2014. “There is a responsibility to not only create a beautiful work of art but to have that art reflect the reality of the lives of all the people who see it.”
Bergmann said it was humbling to be making such a monumental work, adding that every creative decision was carefully considered. In the research phase, she read a lot and spoke to Stanton’s great-great-granddaughter, Coline Jenkins-Sahlin, for more insight.
Sunflower motifs are carved into Stanton’s dress because she had used the pseudonym Sunflower when writing editorials for the Lily newspaper in Seneca Falls, N.Y., Bergmann said. Anthony has a cameo around her neck depicting Minerva — the Roman goddess of strategy and wisdom. Truth wears her signature shawl and a striped brocade jacket with laurel wreaths woven in to symbolize victory and honor.