City Hall’s ‘Women’s Voices’ spotlights 8 influential New Yorkers

Women featured in the exhibit include, from left, Dorothy Lee, Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Austen.
Women featured in the exhibit include, from left, Dorothy Lee, Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Austen. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

A new photo exhibit of groundbreaking women will be unveiled on Friday at City Hall, where paintings of historical male figures line the walls.

“Women’s Voices: Shaping the City” highlights eight women — ranging from Brooklyn-born opera legend Beverly Sills to photographer Alice Austen to Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American congresswoman — in dramatic, poster-sized portraits that include biographical information.

“Most New Yorkers agree that the future is female, but the past was female too, and the entire city needs to do a better job of celebrating that fact and telling stories that have gone untold for far too long,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement.

Valerie Paley, chief historian and director of the Center for Women’s History at the New-York Historical Society, said she worked with the City Council to select the first group of women to be featured in the exhibit.

“We wanted not just racial and ethnic diversity but a diversity of stories,” Paley told amNewYork.

She pointed to Dorothy Lee, a Chinese-American woman who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II. Paley said Lee was the only Asian-American person who worked in the Navy Yard at that time.

“She may not be an activist, but this is in keeping with the whole idea of how important even small contributions are,” Paley said.

Other women in the exhibit are Antonia Pantoja, a Puerto Rican educator and community activist; Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and newspaper; Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet member in the United States; and writer Zora Neale Hurston, who was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance.

After taking office in 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wanted to change some of the painted portraits in City Hall, which are predominantly of white men, to be more diverse.

The exhibit is being showcased on the City Council’s side of the building, along the stairwell that leads to the council chambers. Other women may be added to the display in the coming months.

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