'Breaking the bronze ceiling': Statue of iconic suffragists in New York's Central Park makes history on 19th Amendment anniversary

Elise Solé
·4 mins read
A 3-foot clay model of the Women's Rights Pioneers Monument, a statue of suffragists Sojourner Truth (L) Susan B. Anthony (M), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (R). The statue will be unveiled in New York City's Central Park on August 26, 2020. (Photo: Michael Bergmann)
A 3-foot clay model of the Women's Rights Pioneers Monument, a statue of suffragists Sojourner Truth (L) Susan B. Anthony (M), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (R). The statue will be unveiled in New York City's Central Park on August 26, 2020. (Photo: Michael Bergmann)

Three iconic suffragists will be immortalized with a bronze statue in New York City’s Central Park to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment ratification, which gave women the right to vote.

The 14-foot statue titled the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument will be unveiled on Aug. 26, to honor the 19th Amendment, which Congress passed on June 4, 1919, and ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, after mass protests and “civil disobedience” during the women’s suffrage movement, according to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Artist Meredith Bergmann sculpted feminist pioneers Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The monument will live on the park’s “Literary Walk” with depictions of famous writers.

We've recreated the clay sculpture in augmented reality so that you can explore the details of Bergmann’s work in 3D. Launch the experience below (best viewed on mobile) to learn more.

Use the icon in upper right hand corner to hear Viola Davis as Sojourner Truth, Meryl Streep as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Jane Alexander as Susan B. Anthony. (Courtesy of Monumental Women and Talking Statues)

“Sojourner Truth is speaking, Susan B. Anthony is organizing, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton is writing, three essential elements of activism,” Bergmann said in a statement published by Monumental Women, a nonprofit formed in 2014 “with the initial goal of breaking the bronze ceiling” through the Central Park statue. Having accomplished that, the organization’s Women's History Education Campaign will encourage other cities and towns to acknowledge historical women and people of color.

Truth, whose real name was Isabella Baumfree, was a former slave turned activist who in 1851, made the famous women’s rights speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Anthony, a former teacher, and Stanton, a writer, co-founded the Women's Loyal National League for the freedom of all slaves in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which was restrictive in its reach. The pair also led the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

The monument’s location is special, too — Central Park houses 26 statues (inside and on the perimeter) of men like Alexander Hamilton, Christopher Columbus and Duke Ellington, and female-inspired spaces such as Rumsey Playfield, a recreational area dedicated to social reformer Mary Harriman Rumsey. However, the only female depictions in the park are fictional, such as Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Juliet of William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet and Mother Goose from the classic nursery rhyme.

A spokesperson from the Central Park Conservatory tells Yahoo Life that statues of men “made their way into the Park...during the heyday of figurative sculpture as the preferred form of commemoration, between 1870-1920. That these statues all commemorate men reflects the prevailing social order of the period when they were conceived.” The Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument is the newest statue since Central Park became a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

Due to gathering restrictions amid the pandemic, the unveiling will not be open to the public. However, it will be live-streamed on the Monumental Women website at 7:45 a.m. ET. In addition, an educational app called Talking Statues by filmmaker David Peter Fox reveals an audio “conversation” between Truth (voiced by Viola Davis and Zoe Saldana), Anthony (Jane Alexander and America Ferrera) and Stanton (Meryl Streep and Rita Moreno) using portions of speeches and writings, per a press release by Monumental Women.

“We need statues of real women in Central Park. We need to be true to our new understanding of the historical record which does not shrink from calling out injustice and oppression, or minimize the contributions of people of color or the harms done to people of color,” Bergmann said in her statement. “We need to correct the injustice done to women of all races and their invisibility in public spaces. We need to commemorate an important landmark in the so-far-endless struggle for justice in America without forgetting that had America been true to its founding principles, movements for equal rights would never have been necessary.”

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