Breaking the Bronze Ceiling

Women's suffrage statue finally approved for Centennial unveiling

After a long approvals process, the final design for the Women's Statue in Central Park was approved this week. (Courtesy Monumental Women)

The final design has been approved for Central Park’s first statue honoring real women. A six-year effort spearheaded by the non-profit Monumental Women has resulted in a composition depicting women’s rights pioneers Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton gathered around a table drafting a document. The statue will be unveiled on August 26, 2020, celebrating the centennial of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote.

“With this statue, we are finally breaking the bronze ceiling,” said Pam Elam, president of Monumental Women in a press release. “It’s fitting that the first statue of real women in Central Park depicts three New York women who dedicated their lives to fighting for women’s rights.” 

The 166-year-old park is a tourist mecca in the center of Manhattan, attracting 42 million visitors each year. But amidst the foreign war heroes, presidents, and animals erected in marble and bronze around the park, not one has ever been a named female. Only the fictional Alice in Wonderland boasts her own statue.

Image of statue mock-up in clay

Mock-up of the statue by Meredith Bergmann (Courtesy Monumental Women)

Monumental Women began its work on securing a site and design for the women’s suffrage statue back in 2014, identifying Central Park’s Literary Walk as an ideal and fitting location for a statement on women’s contributions to New York City and the United States at large. The non-profit has collected over $1.5 million in funds for the statue and has support from local community boards, other non-profit arts commissions, and gender equality activists. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has also been an instrumental figure since the beginning, declaring this week when the final design was revealed a “monumental moment.” 

Renowned sculptor Meredith Bergmann, who will tackle the historic project, has been working with Monumental Women to edit the design over the last few months. The process of approvals has been difficult and the initial versions of the statue have drawn immense criticism. But the project has also generated discourse on the historic trends and precedents for public sculpture. Historically, only men have been granted permission to exist in the public realm, to be seen and heard. Women were relegated to the domestic sphere and left out of politics—notabley voting—which is strongly connected to the NYC Public Design Commission’s decision to unveil the statue on the centennial of this event.

Throughout the entire United States, there are fewer than 400 statues of real women, excluding representations of metaphor, myth or ‘type’ models. It’s about time that women get their spot on a pedestal to celebrate real, tangible achievements that changed the course of the country’s history. The Bergmann statue is one step closer to bridging the gap and gives the millions of girls who visit Central Park a figure to physically and figuratively look up to.

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