If “you can’t be what you can’t see”, as Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman so eloquently stated, then this group of Girl Scouts from New York City are making damn sure the visual representations of women are not being excluded from public spaces.
A campaign started by the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund Inc., called ‘Central Park Where Are The Women’ is advocating for a bronze statue of the two women’s rights pioneers alongside the numerous statues of men in the iconic park, which attracts 40 million visitors to its grounds each year.
The Fund “advocates placing a statue of the two women’s rights pioneers in New York City’s Central Park where there are 22 statues honoring men and none honoring real women. The statue will celebrate the largest nonviolent revolution in our nation’s history — the movement for women’s right to vote.”
The group does point out and acknowledge the female statues that currently exist, but which are fictional representations of women – Mother Goose, Juliet from ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Alice from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, as well as nymphs, angels and similar characters. They say the absence of historical women in the park serves to reinforce the message that women’s achievements are not worth talking about, and therefore misses the opportunity to inspire young girls and women with female role models who have helped changed the course of history.
They say NYC should follow in the footsteps of European nations who are making a conscious effort to correct the invisibility of women in public spaces.
“Germany has passed a law requiring that every new street be named after a woman. Advocates explain that the predominance of male names on city streets hampers the recognition of women in all levels of society, from politics to classrooms to boardrooms. In Paris, stops on the newly completed tramway which circles the city are all named after women; they include aviator Adrienne Bolland, social welfare and public health advocate Marie de Miribel, and also America’s Rosa Parks,” a mission description on the website states.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were specifically chosen for their contribution and leadership in the fight for women’s rights. Elizabeth is the author of the ‘Declaration of Sentiments’, where she re-wrote the ‘Declaration of Independence’ to include equal rights for women. This was then presented at the First Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848.
Elizabeth and Susan met at an anti-slavery meeting in 1851 and forged a lasting friendship that would come to symbolize the women’s suffrage movement that eventually led to women earning the right to vote in the US in 1920. Together they organized rallies, marches and protests, and published information about the movement in the newspaper they started, appropriately titled ‘The Revolution’.
And it is entirely fitting that with their intention to inspire especially younger generations of women, the Girl Scouts are helping to raise awareness and lend their support to this campaign. Manhattan’s Girl Scout Troop 3484 has teamed up with the Fund to also help raise money for the statues, which they hope will be erected by 2020, the centennial of women’s right to vote in the United States.
“There are no statues of women, and there’s tons of men. We really need a woman’s statue for girls to look up to, not just Mother Goose or Alice in Wonderland. They don’t count,” 10 year-old Pippa Lee from the troop told CBS News.
“We just want to help other girls have an idol who they can look up to in Central Park,” said 10 year-old troop-member Phoebe.
According to CBS News, it will cost $500,000 in private donations to erect the bronze statue, and roughly the same amount to cover landscaping and upkeep, as well as educational costs. So far they have managed to raise over $150,000 and they are asking more people to contribute via the Fund website (all donations are fully tax deductible).
The campaign has so far managed to attract the support of the Central Park Conservancy, a private nonprofit whose millions of dollars help beautify the urban oasis. Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver has also given his approval for the statue and told local news that even he was surprised to learn there were no statues of notable women in the park.
The plan is to designate West 77th Street and Central Park West for the first statue as it is historically significant. It is the place where statues honoring the people who battled over the 13th (abolished slavery), 14th (citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws), 15th (granted African American men the right to vote) and 19th (granted women the right to vote) amendments can be found.
“A statue of President Abraham Lincoln stands on the New-York Historical Society’s front steps and a statue of Frederick Douglass stands on the steps at the 77th Street entrance. A statue of President Theodore Roosevelt, on horseback, stands high on the entrance stairs to the American Museum of Natural History,” says the Central Park Where Are The Women Fund’s website.
One woman who recognizes the importance of these statues more than anyone is Coline Jenkins, the great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She is helping to spearhead the campaign, which the Fund hopes will include a list of names around the base of the Stanton and Anthony statues honoring many other important women’s rights figures.
The list includes Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Mary Church Terrell, Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Alva Belmont, Abigail Scott Duniway, Frances Willard, Adelina Otero-Warren, Rose Schneiderman, Inez Milholland, Esther Hobart Morris, Harriot Stanton Blatch, and Alice Stone Blackwell.
This campaign could be a game-changer in New York City. Imagine the numerous amounts of young girls, and Girl Scout troops, who will get to explore Central Park and learn about the women who fought for equal rights and who are responsible for the freedoms and opportunities they have today.
It’s not enough to just learn about the historical men who built up this country. Women and minorities need to be a equal part of historical education. With the threat of certain education systems trying to erase important parts of US history, this effort by the Central Park Where Are The Women Fund, and the support of the Girl Scouts and private donors, will ensure the contributions of women who put their lives on the line for future generations will no longer be ignored in public spaces.
To find out more about the campaign and get involved, visit the website here.