More input needed on suffragettes statue: Commission

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | The city’s Public Design Commission voted to table until October its decision on whether to approve the current design of a Central Park Statue honoring women’s-rights activists Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The decision came hours after images of the redesigned statue were released and hours after an op-ed penned by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer calling on the speedy approval of the design was published in the Daily News. 

A rendering of Meredith Bergmann’s redesigned statue. It originally just featured Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony working side by side, but now also includes Sojourner Truth. (Courtesy of Monumental Women).

In the op-ed, entitled, “Build this monument already: Central Park awaits a beautiful statue honoring women’s rights pioneers,” Brewer calls on the commission to “do the right thing, approve the design and move the years-long project forward, so that the park can finally have a bronze representation of real women.

Her piece was also a call to meet an important deadline.

“It is the perfect occasion to celebrate them,” Brewer wrote about the 100th anniversary, next Aug. 26, of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. According to a spokesperson from the nonprofit group Monumental Women, the group is planning a whole day’s worth of events for the unveiling. “In order to do that,” Brewer stressed, “Bergmann must get to work creating the 14-foot-tall bronze statue, which will take nearly a year to complete.”

Before the commission’s hearing, copies of the Daily News print issue feature Brewer’s op-ed were passed around amid those testifying in favor of O.K.’ing the statue’s current design.

After hearing testimony, the commissioners commended Monumental Women for pushing for more public representations of great female historical figures. But the P.D.C. decided that more time was needed in order to address issues of aesthetics and give the public the opportunity to respond to the redesign.

Commissioners mentioned that they specifically wanted community board input and were open to hearing input from historians.

“I’m disappointed,” said statue designer Bergmann.

The original 2017 design featured suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony working side by side over a lengthy scroll that curled down to an old-fashioned ballot box at their feet. The scroll listed the names of leaders in the fight for women’s equality, including Sojourner Truth, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Lucretia Mott.

The design received criticism, though, for “whitewashing” the woman’s suffrage movement and because of Stanton’s and Anthony’s complicated history with race and its role in the women’s suffrage movement — things that the borough president touched on in her op-ed.

“A few other critics have raised concerns rooted in Stanton and Anthony’s flaws,” Brewer wrote. “But we can neither define nor remember people who did great things for their worst moments. Rather, we should celebrate them for their best. Stanton and Anthony and Truth all deserve to be celebrated.”

Pushback over the original design prompted Monumental Women to go back to the drawing board and include women’s-rights activist and abolitionist Truth.

During the hearing, the only critical testimony made was by Jacob Morris, the director of the Harlem Historical Society, who slammed the statue’s original design for being an “incomplete and inaccurate depiction” of the major players in the fight for women’s equality.

But Morris’s testimony, read by Todd Fine from the Washington Street Historical Society, did not push back against the current design. Instead, it criticized the fact that the image of the redesigned statue was kept confidential until the day of the hearing. Morris, in his testimony, also added that a plaque should be placed at the bottom of the statue, “regarding the different objectives among the suffrage activists.”

What Morris was alluding to was how Anthony and Stanton were proponents of white women’s suffrage.

“We look forward to the passage of the statue in October,” Brewer said.

A spokesperson from Monumental Women said that the nonprofit organization hopes that statue’s design is approved as soon as possible.