New York’s Central Park is adding its first ever monument to real women to its roster of historical figures. The addition marks a new chapter in the park’s 164-year-old history of male-only sculptures. The monument, due to be unveiled in 2020, will be a depiction of two women’s rights pioneers: the 19th-century suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
The bronze monument, due to be installed on Literary Walk, will be designed by acclaimed US sculptor Meredith Bergmann, after an open call saw 91 people submit. Commenting on the commission, Bergmann said: ‘I’m honoured to have been chosen to make this monument to a movement that transformed our democracy so profoundly from within, and without bloodshed, and that began with two women writing together.’
The park, a New York institution, is currently home to 22 sculptures of men, including Christopher Columbus and Shakespeare. It has faced criticism in recent years for the presence of various fictional women statues, most notably, Alice in Wonderland and Shakespeare’s Juliet, but no women of real world significance.
The Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund Inc has been advocating for the placement of a Stanton and Anthony statue in Central Park since 2015 – their mission statement states: ‘The absence of sculptures honouring real women reinforces the erroneous view that women have not made notable achievements nor contributed major advancements to our society.’ President of the Fund, Pam Elam, commented: ‘We’re breaking the bronze ceiling in Central Park.’
Despite the stark male to female imbalance, Central Park’s gender disparity is in fact reflective of monuments throughout the US as a whole. Of the 5,193 public sculptures in the US, only 394 (8%) depict women. New York hosts 145 statues of men but just five of women. Only one of those is a woman of colour: political activist and abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
In April this year artist Gillian Wearing’s statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett was unveiled outside the Houses of Parliament in London. It was the first statue of a woman placed in the city's Parliament Square, marking the centenary of women’s right to vote in the UK.