She Built NYC

Four more statues of pioneering New York women are coming to town

A monument dedicated to jazz singer Billie Holiday will be built in her old neighborhood in Queens through the city's She Built NYC initiative. (Via Creative Commons)

Four more legendary New York women are set to be honored with permanent statues around the city: Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, and Katherine Walker. Their likenesses will be erected as part of She Built NYC, a near-year-old campaign started by New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray and former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen to address the lack of monuments dedicated to the historic accomplishments of women in New York.

Selected through an open call that drew over 2,000 nominations, these four new statues, along with the previously-announced piece honoring Shirley Chisholm, will bring a She Built NYC monument to every borough.

Billie Holiday
Queens Borough Hall, Queens

American jazz legend Billie Holiday rose to fame in the 1930s with a powerful, soulful voice. Though she was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Baltimore, Holiday’s legacy also lives in New York where she moved in 1929 as a young girl. A theater dedicated to the prominent singer was built in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in 1972 and recently renovated by MBB Architects in 2017.

Elizabeth Jennings Graham
Vanderbilt Avenue Corridor near Grand Central Terminal, Manhattan

At just 27 years old, schoolteacher Elizabeth Jennings Graham stood up against racial segregation in the mid-19th century when she boarded a streetcar for whites only. She later wrote an account of the incident and filed a lawsuit against the Third Avenue Railroad Company and won. Because of her bravery, transit segregation was dismantled in New York and by 1860, all streetcar lines were open to African-Americans.

Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías
St. Mary’s Park, Bronx

Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías was a lifelong public servant and pediatrician dedicated to advancing reproductive rights, and HIV/AIDS care and prevention, as well as serving communities of color. Her many leadership positions, from serving as the medical director of the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute to being the first Latinx director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), allowed her to make a significant change to not only the medical landscape in New York City but across the country. In 2001, President Bill Clinton presented Rodríguez Trías with the Presidential Citizens Medal.

Katherine Walker
Staten Island Ferry Landing, Staten Island

As the keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse in New York Harbor for over three decades, Katherine Walker helped rescue about 50 sailors from shipwrecks during her tenure. She was appointed to the position in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison after her husband died. Born in Germany, she immigrated to the United States just eight years before taking on the monumental task of overseeing all maritime movements in the Kill Van Kull, a shipping channel between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey.

According to She Built NYC, the new monuments will be commissioned through the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art process, which means community input will be at the core of the artist selection and design processes. The search for the individual artists is expected to begin at the end of this year with the fully-built statues coming online between 2021 and 2022.

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