The original design for the statue (New-York Historical Society), and Sojourner Truth.
Last year the non-profit Monumental Women Statue Fund announced that they would be bringing the first statue portraying real women to Central Park, featuring two pivotal players in the women’s suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The group’s decision to pick two white women to represent what was a sprawling, diverse movement was immediately criticized.
The original statue features Stanton and Anthony holding a scroll, which listed 22 more women who had important roles in the movement, three of these 22 women were African-American activists: Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Mary Church Terrell. In January, Gloria Steinem told the NY Times, “It is not only that it is not enough, [it’s that it looks as if Anthony and Stanton] are standing on the names of these other women.”
Pam Elam, President of Monumental Women, released a statement this morning saying, “Our goal has always been to honor the diverse women in history who fought for equality and justice and who dedicated their lives to the fight for Women’s Rights … When the Public Design Commission unanimously approved our previous design with Anthony and Stanton, but required that a scroll with names and quotes of 22 diverse women’s suffrage leaders be removed, we knew we needed to go back to the drawing board and create a new design.”
The redesigned statue, they announced this morning, will include Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and major presence in the women’s rights and civil rights movements (as well as photographic pioneer).
“In the amended design,” a press release states, “nationally-recognized sculptor Meredith Bergmann shows Anthony, Stanton, and Truth working together in Stanton’s home, where it is historically documented they met and spent time together.”
Truth was born into slavery in New York in 1797, and escaped slavery in 1827, living in or around New York City between 1828 and 1843. “She went on to become one of the most powerful advocates for human rights in the nation … and [in 1851] delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history, ‘Ain’t I A Woman?'” Truth was also the first black woman to go to court against a white man and win, after her son was illegally sold to a slave owner in Alabama (she got him back when she won the case). Her legacy is huge, and in 2014 Smithsonian named her on of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”
We have reached out to the Monumental Women Statue Fund to find out more about the decision-making process that went into the original statue’s design (which, scroll or not, still only featured two white women prominently), and will update when we hear back. The organization launched in 2014 (a few years before She Built NY) in hopes of bringing more female historical statues to New York City (currently there are 5 statues representing real women in NYC, and around 145 statues representing men).
The Public Design Commission will need to review the amended design of the statue, which the group hopes to unveil on The Mall in Central Park on August 26th, 2020, one hundred years after women constitutionally won the right to vote.
We’re told the winning design was selected by the Design Competition Jury which included: Pam Elam, President of The Statue Fund; Coline Jenkins, Great, great, granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (and Statue Fund Vice President); NYC Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver; Amy Freitag, Executive Director of JM Kaplan Foundation; Dr. Harriet F. Senie, Director: MA Art History, Art Museum Studies, The City College; and Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture.