New York’s Central Park is set to unveil a statue of women’s rights pioneers Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth — marking the park’s first statue of real-life women.

“You’ve heard of breaking the glass ceiling,” said Meredith Bergmann, the sculptor of the piece. “This sculpture is breaking the bronze ceiling.”

The statue will be unveiled Wednesday morning, and comes 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. It honors three key figures in the women’s rights movement with roots in New York, each of whom died before American women gained the right to vote.

Anthony, who was arrested and convicted of voting illegally in 1872, and Stanton co-founded the American Equal Rights Association and pushed for women’s suffrage. Truth, who was born into slavery in New York, escaped to freedom in 1826 and became a well-known abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
Central Park is unveiling a statue of women's rights pioneers Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Central Park is unveiling a statue of women’s rights pioneers Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Credit: CNN

“It’s wonderful that now the city of New York and Central Park are focusing on seeing women’s accomplishments as worthy of statuary,” Bergmann said.

Statues of women remain rare in New York City and across the country. Central Park currently has statues of several fictional girls and women, such as Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose, and even features a statue of a real-life dog, Balto. But the statue of the political campaigners will be the park’s first of actual flesh-and-blood women in its 167-year history.

Across New York City, only five of the city’s 145 statues of historic figures depict women, according to Pam Elam, the President of Monumental Women, the organization that has spearheaded the creation of the new statue.

And nationally, less than 10% of America’s outdoor sculptures depict historical women, according to the Smithsonian Collections Search Center.
Clay model of the women's rights pioneers monument

A clay model of the monument of women’s rights pioneers. Credit: Michael Bergmann

Historians told CNN that public statues generally reflect a society’s values, and the lack of female representation revealed a broader truth about America.

“The fact that we have so few statues of women speaks to the dominance of white male patriarchy,” said Margaret Washington, professor of American History at Cornell University. “That women are not really considered valuable to our society.”

The lack of statues of women also reflects who decides what history gets told, said Erika Doss, professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

“History is written by and about men and those are the statues and memorials and monuments that go up,” she said.

Sojourner Truth added to initial plan

Meredith Bergmann works on the monument of women's rights pioneers ahead of its coming unveiling.

Meredith Bergmann works on the monument of women’s rights pioneers ahead of its coming unveiling. Credit: Michael Bergmann

To address the ongoing issue, the non-profit group Monumental Women began pushing for a women’s rights statue in Central Park in 2014.

The initial plan was to design a statue featuring Stanton and Anthony working on a document. However, the organization received criticism for minimizing the role of non-White women in the suffrage movement.

Washington, who wrote a biography on Sojourner Truth, said Stanton and Anthony were not the only founders of women’s rights.

“The lack of statues of women of color compounds the issue of a lack of statues of women. How many women of color do we have statues of?” she said, noting how few there are.

Last year, Truth was added to the Central Park monument to better reflect that history.

Clay model of the women's rights pioneers monument

A clay model of the women’s rights pioneers monument. Credit: Megan Douglas

“They all were contemporaries. They all did share a lot of the same meetings and speech opportunities. They were on the same stages, so why not have them all on the same pedestal,” Elam said. “We have to make sure that the historical record both respects and reflects all women and people of color.”

As designed in the monument, Truth is speaking, Anthony is organizing and Stanton is writing, a representation of the three essential elements of activism, according to Bergmann.

Truth and Stanton are sitting at a small table while Anthony stands behind the table with a traveling bag. The scene depicts a moment in an indoor space because much of women’s political activism originated in the home, Bergmann explained.

The monument will be placed at Central Park’s Literary Walk, a tree-lined promenade that also features statue of Shakespeare, Scottish poet Robert Burns, Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott and American author Fitz-Greene Halleck.

“My hope for little girls who see these statues is that they will be inspired to do serious work for social change with the knowledge that women have been doing this kind of work for centuries,” Bergmann said, “and their rights descend from the work these women did.”

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