Four portraits added to City Hall tribute to influential New York women

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Pura Belpré, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY. (Courtesy of New-York Historical Society). Edie Windsor, Alamy Photos. (Courtesy of New-York Historical Society)

To coincide with the start of Women’s History Month during March, the City Council will announce Monday four additions to a City Hall exhibition honoring female activists in New York City’s history.

The exhibition, called “Women’s Voices: Shaping the City,” was created last year with the goal of addressing the under-representation of women in the city’s public art and monuments. Last year unveiled photo portraits of eight women at the City Hall display, along with biographical information and quotes.

This year’s four additions will be Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in the city and a celebrated storyteller and folklorist; Elizabeth Jennings Graham, an African American civil rights activist who founded the city’s first kindergarten for African American children; Edie Windsor, an LGBTQ activist who was lead plaintiff of the landmark 2013 Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage, United States v. Windsor; and Chien-Shiung Wu, a Chinese American math and physics scholar at Columbia University.

Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Kansas Historical Society. (Courtesy of New-York Historical Society). Chien-Shiung Wu, Smithsonian Inst. Archives. (Courtesy of New-York Historical Society)


Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Council’s Women & Gender Equity Committee, said ahead of the announcement that she was “delighted and deeply moved” by the four additions to the show, and called the women “iconic (but perhaps under-appreciated).”

Rosenthal added, “This exhibition is a wonderful start to our celebration of Women’s History Month, and begins to address the pervasive absence of women from what is considered ‘official’ history… In unique ways, these women changed New York, and the world, for the better.”

The announcement will be made by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History. There is also an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society called “Women March,” which commemorates the centennial of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920, and looks at the history of women’s activism throughout the nation’s history. That exhibition will run until Aug. 30.

“Our young women and girls cannot become what they cannot see – bold leaders, activists, innovators, and scholars,” said Council Member Farah N. Louis, Co-Chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus. “It is paramount that we continue to share HERstory, illustrating what women can achieve and exceed through the examples set by trailblazers.”

“As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we must make sure that women who shaped New York City get the recognition they deserve,” said Speaker Johnson in a statement. “For too long, portraits and statues of men dominated City Hall but that changed last year through our partnership with the New-York Historical Society.”

The first eight women honored in the exhibition included Shirley Chisholm, the nation’s first African American Congresswoman; Frances Perkins, the first female U.S. cabinet member; writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston; LGBTQ photographer Alice Austen; Antonia Pantoja, a Puerto Rican educator and community activist; Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and newspaper; Beverly Sills, an opera soprano; and Dorothy Lee, a Chinese American woman who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during WWII, the only Asian American person to work there at that time.  

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