In the 750 acres of Central Park, in the center of Manhattan since 1858, you can find wooded paths, a reservoir, zoo, statues of men and animals, and even a puppet theater, but no statues of real women. That is until August 26, 2020, when on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted American women the right to vote, a statue of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth will be unveiled.
“It all began with the question: where are the women?” said Coline Jenkins, great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and member of the board of directors of the entirely volunteer organization that has been working towards this goal for seven years.
The female statues in Central Park now depict Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, Juliet with Romeo, witches, nymphs, and angels. “What does it mean to you personally, your daughter, mother, boyfriend how women are viewed? Are they love objects? Witches? Where’s the true representation? We live in the twenty-first century. Where do we see strong women who have real names and real accomplishments?”
Women’s Rights Pioneers depicts its subjects speaking, organizing, and writing, “three essential elements of activism” according to its sculptor Meredith Bergmann. Anthony and Truth often visited Stanton’s home, which she called “The Center of the Rebellion.”
Clay rendering of Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, which will be unveiled in bronze as Central Park’s first statue of real women on August 26, 2020. The statue depicts left to right Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The best known of the three women is Susan B. Anthony who met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851. They created national women’s rights groups, traveled across America to speak and work with local groups, organized petitions, lobbied Congress, spoke out against slavery, and published a newspaper called The Revolution and a book History of Woman Suffrage. Stanton’s 1848 “Declaration of Sentiments” at New York State’s Seneca Falls Convention that she helped organize ignited the women’s suffrage movement in America. In 1866 Stanton was the first woman to run for Congress. Anthony was arrested for voting in 1872.
Isabella Baumfree was born into slavery in 1797 and “walked away by daylight” in 1827. She changed her name to Sojourner Truth and became a preacher and a leader in the advocacy for human rights. Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio strongly called out claims made by those opposing women's suffrage, that women are weak and in need of protection.
Now that society is scrutinising statues that have been erected, the importance of honoring these women is clear. “We need to correct the injustice done to women of all races and their invisibility in public spaces” Bergmann said.
The statue will be on The Mall, the quarter-mile straight path flanked by tall elm trees seen in countless movies. Thanks to the “Talking Statues” initiative, people will be able to scan a QR code or download the free app (the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument will be available in the app on August 26) to learn about the women in both English and Spanish. In a script that uses biographical information and the subjects’ own words, actors Jane Alexander and America Ferrera voice Susan B. Anthony, Viola Davis and Zoe Saldana play Sojourner Truth, and Meryl Streep and Rita Moreno are Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In addition, Hillary Clinton, Ken Burns, and others have taped messages about the statue’s importance that will be released on August 26.
“The statue is bronze. It will be here in my lifetime, your lifetime, and for many, many generations to come. We got three women onto one statue, breaking the bronze dome over Central Park. We want women announcing their candidacy for presidency of the United States from this statue. We stand on their shoulders” Jenkins said.
Jenkins has continued the work of her great grandmother with this project and others that illuminate the work of women’s rights pioneers. She advises: “You don’t know who your allies will be. You need money, public government support, and an unbelievable group of volunteers… Act like a suffragist: don’t let anything stand in your way.” And she, of course, strongly encourages women to exercise the long-struggled-for right to vote.
Anthony, Stanton, and Truth were all New Yorkers and none lived to legally vote in 1920. So next time you’re in New York, make a point to visit Central Park’s newcomers and thank them.
Written by Anastasia Mills Healy