Visual Culture

New York City only had five statues of women before the launch of a new initiative, She Built NYC.

Eli Hill
Jul 25, 2018 5:13PM, via W Magazine

New York City’s parks hold a plethora of significant artworks; the city even describes itself as “the greatest outdoor public art museum in the United States.” But unfortunately, the spectrum of statue subjects is currently quite limited. There are only five statues of women across all five boroughs of New York, and only one depicts a woman of color. On June 20, First Lady Chirlane McCray and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen announced that the city is devoting $10 million to diversifying New York’s statues.

In her speech, Glen specified that the new statues would honor women who greatly impacted New York City, and would be chosen by a panel called “She Built NYC.” Though the panel already has some ideas of people to commemorate––Shirley Chisholm, Congress’s first black representative, and writers Edith Wharton and Zora Neale Hurston—members of the public can nominate their favorite women until August 1.

This week, the first two women who will have their likenesses cast were announced: the famed suffragette duo Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the pair relentlessly campaigned for women’s right to vote, and helped pave the way for women to wield greater political power. In 2020, the year the 19th amendment turns 100, Anthony and Stanton will become the first women commemorated in Central Park, which currently has 22 statues of men and none of women—unless you count Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare’s Juliet, and Mother Goose.

The statue will be the sixth in New York City that features women, joining the ranks of Joan of Arc, Gertrude Stein, Golda Meir, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman. The proposed artwork will feature the two women working on an extremely long, flowing piece of paper. The names of other noted suffragettes—including Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, and Alice Stone Blackwell—will be embedded on the scrolling page."There are big gaps in our City’s public art, with few statues of women, trans and gender nonconforming people. The message that lack of representation sends is that these people have no value and did not make contributions to our city,” McCray said. “This first step we are taking will help us more accurately show the diversity in the people who helped make New York City so great."  

Having Stanton, Elizabeth, and the names of many great suffragettes permanently on display in Central Park is an important first step. As Glen said: “She Built NYC puts women in their rightful place—on pedestals.”

Eli Hill