At a time when many statues descend, some tall women high, break the bronze ceiling
A monument to suffrage pioneers Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was recently unveiled in Central Park in New York City. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who helped commemorate the event, noted that the monument to pioneers of women’s rights is “the first statue of a real, non-fictional woman” erected in the park.
The unveiling marked the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, though it’s important to note that it would take decades for black women’s suffrage to be truly protected by law.
“I would say a huge weight was lifted – about 7,000 pounds!” said sculptor Meredith Bergmann, who spent three years bringing her creation to life.
Correspondent Faith Salie asked, “Why is it important to choose these particular pioneers?”
“Well, these are the pioneers that history has raised,” Bergmann replied. “They were the most accomplished. They were the loudest. But there are many, many more.”
And there are many other cities that put women on pedestals. Cambridge, Massachusetts, is considering designing a suffrage monument. Last year, Richmond, Virginia honored suffragist Adele Clark. And now, a statue of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is slated for in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY.
But put the first statues of real the women of Central Park didn’t really walk in the park.
Few years ago,spoke with Coline Jenkins, who happens to be Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s great-great-granddaughter, and Pam Elam, who runs the Monumental Women campaign, the statue’s sponsors.
“How can you have statues of men everywhere, and the only statues of women are Mother Goose, Alice in Wonderland?” Jenkins asked. “We needed real women.”
Elam recalled: “They immediately said, ‘No. There will be no new statues in Central Park. It is a historical collection. No. “We persisted.”
The city finally allowed Anthony and Stanton to stand among famous men, like Shakespeare and… Fitz-Greene Halleck?
But there was another problem: “Every commission I’ve worked on has sparked controversy,” Bergmann said. “And things need to be reconsidered and rethought often.”
Bergmann’s original design only featured Stanton and Anthony, as well as a scroll naming many women of color who also played a role in the suffrage movement. But when the city rejected the parchment, only Anthony and Stanton remained standing.
And this design was greeted by Gloria Steinem, among others, not only for its lack of diversity, but also because of Anthony and Stanton’s expressions of racist ideas.
“Susan B. Anthony said she would rather cut off her right arm than give the black man the right to vote for the woman,” said Salamishah Tillet, professor of African American studies at the University. Rutgers. “And so, I remember being so hurt by that feeling. Do I look at Susan B. Anthony, who was defending part of what I believed, that all women should have the right to vote? Or what should I do with that kind of racist rhetoric? “
Salie asked, “Do you think there should be Stanton and Anthony monuments?”
“It would be sexist not to include their voices and experiences,” Tillet replied. “But also it would be racist not to understand that their defense of women’s rights did not include women who fought alongside them, like Sojourner Truth.”
And it’s Sojourner Truth – a woman who escaped slavery to become one of America’s greatest orators – who now has a seat at the monument table.
“Some historians have said that adding the truth is always problematic,” said Salie, “because this representation does not accurately represent the suffrage movement?”
“Having them in that kind of interracial harmony is not only inaccurate, but it’s also a little hurtful,” Tillet said. “Having a sanitized, whitewashed version of the women’s movement doesn’t help any of us who call ourselves feminists in 2020.”
Despite the controversy, Bergmann said the statue is an artistic interpretation: “They represent different types of activism. Sojourner Truth, who was famous for speaking, speaks. Stanton, who has written wonderful speeches and books, is on the verge to write. And Susan B. Anthony shows them papers and pamphlets that she brought with all her activism. “
The struggle for rights and representation continues to unfold. As this monument shows us, part of the challenge and the beauty of America is that we have so many stories to tell.
Salie said, “Millions of people will walk by this statue every year. What do you want this monument to tell them?”
“Oh, wow! I think I want the monument to tell them, ‘Hang on!’” Bergmann replied.
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Story produced by Robbyn McFadden. Publisher: Lauren Barnello.