BY TEQUILA MINSKY | On the evening of Nov. 6, just hours after the dedication of a site in Central Park for a planned Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Woman Suffrage Movement Monument, supporters of the project held a celebratory reception at the New-York Historical Society on Central Park West and 77th St.
Those attending represented a Who’s Who of women’s rights activists, whose accomplishments go back decades: Carol Bellamy, a former state senator who was the first woman elected president of the New York City Council, the first woman to get one million votes in the US, and a former head of the Peace Corps; former Borough President Ruth Messinger, who had earlier served on the City Council; Elizabeth Holtzman, a former member of Congress who served as Brooklyn district attorney and city comptroller; East Side Congressmember Carolyn Maloney; Lynn Sherr, a former ABC news correspondent who in 1992 wrote an op-ed arguing that statues should honor Stanton and Anthony; Rosie Rios, who served as treasurer of the US for seven years during the Obama administration; and Marisa Lago, director of the city’s Department of City Planning.
Borough President Gale Brewer got the program going with a brief history of the effort to honor two pioneering suffrage activists and the movement their lives symbolized.
“This is a really big day for New York,” Brewer said. “I want to thank everyone in this room because one way or another you have been involved.”
She elaborated, “We started meeting with the [Central] Park Conservancy and Pam Elam and Coline Jenkins,” pointing to the two women who head up the Stanton and Anthony Statue Fund to raise money for the project. “Putting a new statue [in Central Park] has all of its challenges.”
Jenkins is the great-great-granddaughter of Stanton.
The borough president continued, “We sat in so many conference room and walked so many miles of that friggin’ park. What was the right location?… The Mall is the right place to be. It came with a lot of heart, soul, discussions, and meetings.”
Brewer noted the way in which civic statues educate the public and celebrate past historical achievements.
“To have this statue, men and women, young and old, can go to this statue as we often go to Harriet Tubman [on W. 122nd St. in Harlem] on her birthday, Eleanor Roosevelt [in Riverside Park] on her birthday, now even more we can learn about a movement. It has all the educational aspects that are not discussed, unfortunately, in the public schools.”
Congresswoman Maloney talked about how the first demand that women be given the right to vote came out of the 1948 Seneca Falls Convention with Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments that incorporated women into the promise of the Declaration of Independence. She described the fight for women’s right to vote as the largest non-violent revolution in history.
Inspired by the monument site’s dedication on the centennial of women winning the vote in New York State, Maloney said she is organizing a rally in support of her effort to revive the push for a federal Equal Rights Amendment for November 17 at 10:30 a.m. in front of the Fearless Girl statue at Bowling Green downtown.
“Many think she’s standing up to discrimination and trying to do something about it,” the congressmember said of Fearless Girl.
Maloney added, “We see all this sexual violence against women. One way to deal with this is to put women in the Constitution, so you can sue. With the ERA, we will put the force of law behind issues like equal pay for equal work. I spend a lot of time in Congress fighting for what we already have.”
She specifically mentioned the constant efforts by conservatives to chip away at a woman’s right to choose as well as the federal Title IX guarantee of equality for girls in school sports.
The Statue Fund’s president, Elam, a long-time activist for recognizing the history of women’s achievements, said, “Tonight we celebrate the power of moving history forward. The fighting against misogyny never ends, and the battle for equality goes on. We honor the women who came before us. Two figures and many others names will be incorporated in the design. With the unveiling of the monument in August 2020, an educational campaign will begin to tell the compelling, complex, and complete women’s suffrage story.”
Jenkins held a picture of her great-great-grandmother, Stanton, at age 32.
“You can be young and do great things,” Jenkins said. “A handful of women got together to tweak the Declaration of Independence to read, ‘All men and women are created equal.’”
Then pointing to the young man videotaping the event, Jenkins added, “He’s the great-great-great-grandson of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and he’s a women’s rights man.”
At that point in the evening, women began coming forward to make donations to the Statue Fund, with Brenda Berkman, who became the city’s first woman firefighter in 1982, donating $10,000 targeted for the educational component of the Statue Fund. Jenkins herself pledged $30,000 for the cost of the sculptors’ maquettes, which will lay out their vision for the monument in preliminary fashion.
The last to speak was one of the Girl Scouts.
“I’m Pipa with Troop 3484,” the girl said. “Last year, we were educated about how there were no statues of women in Central Park. We were very surprised. It’s sad when you think about it.”
Then, grappling with her words, Pipa added, “Women are not only half the population, we did make the men” — a comment met with a lot of laughter and applause — “and we need role models.”