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Central Park unveils statue of women's rights pioneers — its first statue of real-life women

Celebrating 100 years of women's suffrage
August marks 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote 04:32

A new statue of women's rights champions was unveiled Wednesday in New York City's Central Park —the first statue of real-life women ever erected in the park, and the park's first new monument since 1965. The "Women's Rights Pioneers Monument" features Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth, in an effort to finally "break the bronze ceiling." 

The statue portrays the women working at a table and depicts three elements of activism — Truth is speaking, Anthony is organizing and Stanton is writing. It also features the Declaration of Sentiments, the document signed at the famous Seneca Falls convention on women's rights in 1848, which states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal."

"As we struggle towards greater justice, we need and deserve a monument commemorating some of the important work that has come before us," wrote sculptor Meredith Bergmann. "My hope is that all people, especially girls and boys, will be inspired by this scene of women of different races, different religious backgrounds and different economic status working together to change the world."

The sculpture was unveiled on Central Park's Literary Walk Wednesday morning in a ceremony that featured speeches, both in-person and virtual, from prominent women including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. 

Wednesday marks Women's Equality Day, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, which ensured women's right to vote — although many Black women were still denied the ballot until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Each of the women honored in the statue dedicated their lives to women's rights, but died before they could celebrate the amendment's historic ratification. Anthony was arrested and convicted of illegally voting in 1872; Stanton co-founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866; and Truth, who escaped slavery in 1826, was an outspoken advocate for human rights.

"There is nothing more important, however, to honor the women portrayed in this statue, than to vote," Clinton said during the unveiling. "That is the best way to lead America forward, as the suffragists used to say, 'Forward through the darkness, forward into light.'" 

Bronze statue depicting Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony is pictured in Manhattan's Central Park
A bronze statue depicting Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony is unveiled in Central Park on Women's Equality Day, August 26, 2020. CARLO ALLEGRI / REUTERS

While Central Park is home to several statues of fictional girls and women, including Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose and Juliet from "Romeo and Juliet," it has never featured a statue of real women in its 167-year history. One park-goer called that "unacceptable, but not surprising."

The park has 23 statues of historical men. 

"Every woman who votes, protests or serves in office today does so standing on the shoulders of these three giants," Senator Gillibrand said in remarks delivered remotely during the unveiling. "I can't think of a better monument to the history and spirit of New York than these fiercely determined women who fought for a better, more inclusive, more just future." 

Statues of historical women remain rare around the U.S. — accounting for about 12% of the nation's outdoor sculptures of people, according to the Smithsonian Institution

Former Secretary of State Clinton attends an unveiling of a bronze statue following the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment in Manhattan's Central Park
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and sculptor Meredith Bergmann attend the unveiling of a bronze statue featuring Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in Central Park on August 26, 2020. CARLO ALLEGRI / REUTERS

"After 7 long years of hard work, and 167 years after the founding of Central Park, we are thrilled and excited that Monumental Women has finally broken the bronze ceiling to honor real women in the Park," said Pam Elam, president of Monumental Women, which led the project to create the new statue.

The all-volunteer nonprofit has been working to add real women to Central Park since 2014, raising more than $1 million in private funding to make it a reality. The project is part of the organization's efforts to "break the bronze ceiling" through promoting women's history and advocating for women to be honored in public spaces. 

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