For Three Suffragists, a Monument Well Past Due

Across the nation, monuments honoring racist figures are being defaced and toppled. In New York’s Central Park, one statue is taking form that goals to amend not solely racial but additionally gender disparities in public artwork: A 14-foot-tall bronze monument of Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, three of the extra outstanding leaders within the nationwide struggle for girls’s proper to vote.

Called the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, it’s to be unveiled Aug. 26 to commemorate the 100th anniversary this month of the constitutional modification that lastly assured ladies that proper. The sculpture depicts the three figures gathered round a desk for what appears to be a dialogue or a technique assembly. Anthony stands within the center, holding a pamphlet that reads “Votes for Women”; Stanton, seated to her left, holds a pen, presumably taking notes; and Truth seems to be in midsentence.

“I wanted to show women working together,” mentioned Meredith Bergmann, the sculptor chosen from dozens of artists to create the statue. “I kept thinking of women now, working together in some kitchen on a laptop, trying to change the world.”

It would be the park’s first — and solely — monument honoring actual ladies, positioned on Literary Walk. In its 167-year historical past, the park has been a leafy, lush house to about two dozen statues of males, principally white, and fictional or legendary feminine characters (Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare’s Juliet, and the Angel of the Waters, the winged woman atop Bethesda Fountain) but no historical women.

In 2014, a group of volunteers created Monumental Women (initially called the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund Inc.), a nonprofit with a mission of campaigning and raising funds for the suffragist statue in Central Park. Though the journey from concept to creation ended up being a long and winding one, filled with criticisms and setbacks.

Their outfits carry Easter eggs — symbols and clues that speak to the social context or their personalities, Ms. Bergmann explained. Sunflower motifs are carved into Stanton’s dress because she had used the pseudonym Sunflower when writing editorials for The Lily newspaper in Seneca Falls, N.Y., Ms. Bergmann said. Anthony has a cameo around her neck depicting Minerva — the Roman goddess of strategy and wisdom. Truth wears her signature shawl — the tassels appear to be blowing in the wind — and a striped brocade jacket with laurel wreaths woven in to symbolize victory and honor.

That they are all attired in long skirts and dresses is significant too. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women fighting for social reforms — including Stanton — adopted what came to be known as the “Bloomer costume,” knee-length dresses worn over trousers, which offered freedom and respite from the more constricting corsets and floor-length dresses that were standard at the time.

“Stanton once said how wonderful it was to be able to climb a flight of stairs holding a baby in one arm and a candle in the other without having to hold up 10 pounds of wool skirt and petticoats,” Bergmann noted.

But the outfits were such radical departures from the norm that they invited intense mockery and distracted from broader conversations about women’s rights, so the suffrage fighters gave them up. Ms. Bergmann said this informed her own choice to have the statues in voluminous skirts.

Though the campaign to install the statue took more than six years (seven if you include the months of discussions that took place before the nonprofit was formed), Monumental Women selected Ms. Bergmann’s design in 2018, giving the artist two years — a short time in the sculpting world, she noted — to bring the suffragists to life.

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