Not one woman gets her own pedestal among Central Park’s statues

By Chloe Angyal
September 5, 2014

The Central Park statue of Dr. James Marion Sims is pictured along 5th Ave in the Manhattan borough of New York

There are 50 statues in New York’s Central Park, one of the world’s most visited spots. Not one of them is of a woman who exists outside of fiction.

There are marble monuments to dozens of men, most of them real, but not a single statue commemorating the life or contributions of a real-life woman. Even the fictional female characters – Alice in Wonderland, Juliet Capulet and Mother Goose – were created by men.

Among the marble and bronze population of Central Park, you’ll find Shakespeare and Beethoven, Simón Bolívar and Alexander Hamilton. You’ll even find Balto, the hero sled dog who delivered diphtheria medicine to the town of Nome, Alaska, in 1925.

To be clear: you can find a statue of a real-life dog, but no statues of real-life women.

This is not simply a Central Park problem, nor is it a New York City problem. Across the United States, women are staggeringly underrepresented in our tangible and visible efforts to mark significant moments and people in American history. Nationwide, fewer than 8 percent  of the public outdoor statues commemorating individuals are of women. Of the 100 outstanding citizens memorialized in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, only nine are women.

Central Park, however, stands out above the rest. It sits at the center of the city that considers itself the center of the world and that attracts 40 million tourists every year. The absence of women is glaring and, frankly, embarrassing.

Efforts are underway to rectify the situation. Coline Jenkins is the great-great-granddaughter of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the president of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Fund. With the support of women’s rights advocates like Gloria Steinem and Lily Ledbetter, the foundation is launching a campaign this month to erect statues of Stanton and her fellow women’s rights trailblazer Susan B. Anthony in Central Park.

“This is a public forum, and in a public forum, everybody’s voice should be heard,” says Jenkins, of the park. “These women had real voices. These women talked about very important things, about women’s inclusion. They represent a very large movement in the U.S., which resulted in the inclusion of women in new areas of American life.”

Jenkins is not alone in her efforts to increase the number of stone and metal women in public spaces. Lynette Long is the founder of Equal Visibility Everywhere, an organization dedicated to solving the statue problem. She sees it more than a matter of how we tell our history but also how we shape generations of future leaders. The invisibility of women – the overrepresentation of men – Long argues, “inflates male entitlement and diminishes the confidence of women. When girls and women don’t see themselves on our currency or our stamps, or memorialized in our statuary, the message is clear: You are invisible. You don’t matter.”

When we whitewash the story of America, telling a sanitized version of how our country came to be what it is, we don’t simply do a disservice to students. We don’t only limit their abilities to make better choices, to avoid repeating the mistakes of history. We also deny and dishonor the real struggles, sacrifices and contributions of the people whose stories we ignore.

Hundreds of women deserve to be celebrated in stone and metal in Central Park. There are thousands of women whose contributions to their country and to the world merit permanent memorialization in cities and towns all over America. To pretend otherwise is to repeat a mistake that has been made throughout history — to claim that women’s stories and experiences, their abilities and achievements, are insignificant.

As Virginia Woolf famously mused, there was no woman equivalent to Shakespeare because women in Shakespeare’s time were not given the same education and artistic opportunities as men were. Similarly, there was no female Beethoven – that we know of – because while there were certainly girl musical prodigies in Germany in the 1700s, their preternatural talents were not nurtured and cultivated, simply because they were girls. The loss to theater and to music, to history, is surely a huge one.

This is not Elizabethan England or 18th century Germany. We know better. We know that women’s contributions to history matter, and that in carving our national history in stone, we ought to include those contributions. It’s time that Central Park – and other public spaces all over the country – reflect that knowledge.

At the very least, we ought have more human women than male dogs in Central Park.

PHOTO: The statue of Dr. James Marion Sims, revered as the father of modern gynecology, stands on the 5th Avenue side of New York’s Central Park, March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri 

19 comments

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sorry: “in U.S.”

Posted by songster | Report as abusive

put one up for Hilary.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

This article is excellent. You’ve found an superb teaching moment here. I don’t want to hijack your story, but underscore the problem by acknowledging too that minorities also suffer from the lace of public plaudits.

As a white male I occasionally struggle with the arguments of women and minorities when they feel they are under represented. However, simply because I respect women and minorities, it does not mean that they feel respected. It does not mean there is no more to be done.

You’ve given me a ‘concrete’ example that reveals this pervasive psychological gemlin, which sabotages the proper development of children. Thank the stars for the efforts of people other than myself! Truly.

To look for omissions, which don’t affect us personally is often difficult, and we should have many, many more public reminders of the outstanding contributions women and minorities have made to this society.

I think the Congress should seriously review their budget so as to include a major effort such as you suggested. Right on!

And, there are plenty of male statues that should be torn down. Some are just offensive in their own right.

Posted by blogoleum | Report as abusive

Angyal, stop bitching about the lack of female statues and build some. How many of the statues of men were built by women?

Posted by JRTerrance | Report as abusive

Where are the women sculptors?

Posted by songster | Report as abusive

Where are the statues masterpiece? (women can be happy that there are no bad woman statues)

Posted by songster | Report as abusive

SHOULD public sculpture be a monument to patriotism, to good artistic taste, or humbly aim to keep the public happy? The famed Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor, who is visiting Sydney soon, says he ”hates” public sculpture.

Works by British sculptor Henry Moore, for example, while ”very, very good”, have come ”to be almost the turd on the lawn outside your iconic public building”, says Kapoor, whose exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art opens on December 20.

”If you’re going to make a public object you need to engage public
space,” Kapoor says. ”It cannot just be an emblem on the lawn. It cannot be just a fat turd on the lawn.”

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art- and-design/public-sculpture-the-good-the -bad–and-the-downright-ugly-20121207-2b0 zy.html

Posted by songster | Report as abusive

“At the very least, we ought have more human women than male dogs in Central Park”

male dogs in central park? Seriously? I would also like to see more women statues, but your comment is disrespectful to the reader.. so boorish. I expected more from a Reuters freelance journalist.

Posted by CommanderOtto | Report as abusive

Do the distant individual stars, scattered across the Constellation, vainly complain that the Earth’s Sun gets too much press? Often, the best in life simply go about sharing their talents with little fanfare. Fortunately, the Sun doesn’t demand vain worship before rising with light, heat and the gravity to quietly hold humanity’s attention.

Women and men alike; the living and the dead might be better served as in depth topics exchanged in history classes were each might come alive as fixed lessons impressed in the student’s mind.

So, if women want numerical equality in statuesque proportion; then perhaps all people should have a marble or bronze likeness struck before their death and placed in public view. Then again, someone would complain that the birth-rate favors one gender over another and there begins another “me…me…me” debate. Has Western Society’s advancing age surrendered to dementia prematurely? Crazy is crazy, but the West has become insane!

Posted by NPeril | Report as abusive

Who cares and I am a woman!

I am so sick and tired of all this stupid feminism that I could scream.

Posted by Daleville | Report as abusive

How many statues of Asians are there in Central Park? Why so few? Doesn’t that say to Asians, you are invisible/you don’t matter? It’s frankly embarrassing.

Posted by slauterhaus | Report as abusive

We have forgotten this :: http: //www.zastavki.com/eng/World/USA/New_Yor k/wallpaper-10828.htm (symbol of freedom)

of course, a joke

Posted by songster | Report as abusive

“…we ought have more human women than male dogs…”

Within the bounds of polite humor, Ms. Angyal; are there other kinds of women besides ‘human’ women? lol Or does the use of “human women” denote a mixture of strength and weakness?

Given that you are self-described as a “doctoral candidate”,”Senior Editor” and a professional “facilitator” perhaps such a well-educated person might consider using language that conforms more to her topic (unless writing science-fiction) and engaging spell-check (ought have – ought to have) (unless writing for effect). I have no professional titles and must exercise greater review when writing, so please overlook my grammatical or literary mistakes.

Let us pretend that you wish to erect statues to “human women” and not animal women (specie) or super women (fictional), etc…which women statues would you nominate to be placed in Central Park and Why?

Post-Script: Best of luck with the Doctoral Thesis.

Posted by NPeril | Report as abusive

On Commonwealth Avenue in the City of Boston – the Women’s Commission hired Sculptor Meredith Gang Bergmann to create The Women’s Memorial. The memorial incorporates three bronze sculptures of important women in history. The first, Abigail Adams, served as confidant and advisor to her husband, President John Adams, and was a strong advocate of women’s rights. The second, poet Phillis Wheatley, became the first published African- American after being kidnapped from her family and enslaved as a child in Senegal and then sold as property to a couple in Massachusetts. The final figure is abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone, known for being the first woman to keep her own last name after marriage and one of the first American women to earn a college degree – which she personally funded.

Posted by CLCinterests | Report as abusive

More hyper-sensitive victim-centric activist “journalism” that serves no purpose beyond page clicks and flaming.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

The basic problem with making real woman statues has a great concern of objectification of woman…

In how a sculpture chose to depict a woman, and what she will wear is very important to not persist gender stereotypes moving forward…

We not only need real woman statues, we need dignified woman statues…We’ll probably have some super genius suggest busts of woman instead of full forms because some of the greatest woman of the US dressed in very provincial styles…

Posted by kristinagadfly | Report as abusive

Hillsdale College in Michigan has a lovely statue of Margaret Thatcher, a woman who deserves all the kudos she has gotten and far more besides. Due to an excess of backwards leftists in the world, really deserving and brave women are often smeared rather than placed on pedestals.

Left-”thinking” persons are more likely to elevate a woman for a political point than for true achievement much like Barack Hussein Obama received the “Nobel Prize for Peace” not too many days after ascending to the US presidency. Do we all remember that charade? BHO’s blessings of peace seem to be falling all around us these days (sarcasm).

Posted by sothoughtful | Report as abusive

Go found a country, you’ll get a statue.

Posted by AdamMickiewicz | Report as abusive

The responses here underscore the author’s point – women are still marginalized.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive