Statue honouring suffragettes redesigned to include Sojourner Truth

Statue honouring suffragettes redesigned to include Sojourner Truth
Plans for the original design (left) and Sojourner Truth (right). Courtesy the New York Historical Society.
Leading lights

Last month, the Monumental Women Statue Fund proposed a sculpture created by Meredith Bergmann that was to become the first statue in New York City’s Central Park that would honour members of the American suffragette movement. Featuring Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the statue was approved and it seemed the statue was set to pave the way for a new era of monumental representation. However, a lot of people recognized a flaw in the overall story of the statue and called for it to be rethought.

Though the statue was a step in the right direction in representing women who have helped shaped the US, it was criticized for excluding the women of colour who were instrumental in the development of the country. Women including Mary Church-Terrell, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells were among the many women of colour who promoted rights for women even though people of colour would be lawfully discriminated against for decades to come.

After calls were made to the organization to reconsider the history told by the statue, they have decided to amend the statue to tell a more holistic story. On August 12th, the Monumental Women Statue Fund announced that Truth would join Stanton and Anthony in the statue to better represent the truth of the American suffragette movement. Bergmann’s original design did feature the names of more than 20 women instrumental in the fight for women’s rights, seven of which were African American women, but the organization’s Public Design Committee ultimately decided to revisit the design. ‘We knew we needed to go back to the drawing board to create a new design,’ said Pam Elam, president of the Monumental Women Statue Fund. ‘Our goal has always been to honor the diverse women in history who fought for equality and justice.’

Of her altered sculpture, Bergmann said:

‘The three figures each represent an essential aspect of activism. Sojourner Truth is speaking, Susan B. Anthony is bringing documentation of injustice, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton is poised to write. Girls and boys who encounter this monument will see a positive image of diverse women working together to change the world.’

The statue’s redesign comes at a time in the US when monuments have been under fire, particularly those representing a narrower view of American history that doesn’t reflect the entire truth. While museums, cities, and campuses grapple with what to do with their public statues, Bergmann’s design follows in the vein of an initiative in New York seeking to honour the women who have influenced the city. Currently there are only five statues of women in the city, including fictional characters Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose, compared to the 145 statues of men around the city, a number of which are in Central Park. Earlier in the year, She Built NYC announced their plans for statues honouring Representative Shirley Chisholm, Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías, Katherine Walker, Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera that will be erected in the coming years.

‘It is fitting,’ continued Elam, ‘that Anthony, Stanton, and Truth stand together in this statue as they often did in life.’