NYC commission gives green light to monument honoring leaders of Women’s Suffrage movement

Central Park will finally get a statue honoring historical women. 

The city’s Public Design Commission gave preliminary approval on Monday for the redesigned statue of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth.   

The decision means that the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument is set to be erected in the park’s Literary Walk next summer.  

Monumental Women, the nonprofit working to place the monument in the park, hopes to unveil the statue by August 26, 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The design currently features Stanton, Anthony and Truth working side by side in Stanton’s home. 

Of the over 800 monuments in New York City public spaces, there are just five statues which honor historical women.

“With this statue we are finally breaking the bronze ceiling,” said Pam Elam, president of Monumental Women. “This statue conveys the power of women working together to bring about revolutionary change in our society. We are pleased to have broken through every city bureaucratic barrier to make this happen.”

Monumental women has been working since 2014 to design, fund and receive public approval of the monument. 

The statue was thought to be in jeopardy last month, when the Public Design Commission voted to table its decision on whether or not to approve the statue’ redesign stating that more time was needed to address issues of aesthetics.

The statue originally depicted suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony working side-by-side at writing desk over a long scroll inscribed with the names of a dozen other women, like Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth and Lucretia Mott to represent the breadth and diversity of the movement. 

But the design received push back with critics arguing that presented a white-washed version of the struggle for women’s equality. Journalist and feminist icon Gloria Steinem told The New York Times in January that Anthony and Stanton looked as if they were standing on the names of the other women, diminishing their efforts.

Other critics took issue with Stanton herself — who, according to biographer Lori D. Ginzberg, openly used racist language and prioritized the rights of white, middle-class women over others. 

In August, Monumental Women announced that the statue would be redesigned to include women’s rights activist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth. But that decision also received criticism and almost two dozen scholars, including director of Harlem Historical Society Jacob Morris. They signed a letter stating the statue depicting the three women working as equals side-by-side “could obscure the substantial differences between white and black suffrage activists, and would be misleading.” 

But at the September hearing, Todd Fine from the Washington Street Advocacy Group read a statement from Morris who did not take issue with the statue itself but instead with Monumental Women for withholding renderings of the redesigned statue from the public. 

During Monday’s vote, six commissioners voted in favor of the redesign while three, Hank Willis Thomas, Mary Valverde and Laurie Hawkinon, abstained. None of the three commissioners gave a reason for their abstention. 

According to Keri Butler, Deputy Executive Director of the Public Design Commission, commissioners recommended that sculptor Meredith Bergmann consult a graphic designer for the plaque at the base of the 14-foot-tall statue. 

“Today is truly a monumental moment,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a long-time supporter of the statue.  “We will finally have a statue in Central Park depicting real women.”

The nonprofit is currently organizing a series of events to take place around the unveiling of the statue.

Alejandra O'Connell-Domenech