Monument to Suffrage Pioneers to Break Central Park ‘Bronze Ceiling’

At the Nov. 6 site dedication ceremony, Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Coline Jenkins of the Stanton and Anthony Statue Fund and great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, East Side Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, Pam Elam, also of the Statue Fund, City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, and State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell are joined by members of Girl Scout Troop 3484. | Photo courtesy of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

BY TEQUILA MINSKY | The Nov. 6 morning gathering of nearly 150 on the northwest corner of Literary Walk on the Mall in Central Park commemorated a momentous date: the 100-year anniversary of the law that granted women in New York State the right to vote.

City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, along with a cadre of elected officials, women’s rights supporters, and members of Girl Scout Troops 3482 and 3484 dedicated the future site of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Woman Suffrage Movement Monument.

The monument — slated for a 2020 unveiling on the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution that extended the right to vote to all American women — celebrates two pioneering suffrage activists, but will honor all those who fought for the right to vote.

Performance artist Lulu Lolo, who conducts tours of statues across the city, continuously asks, “Where are the women?,” in referring to New York’s civic statuary. The number of statues that pay tribute to actual historical women number only five citywide, compared to more than 100 that commemorate men. (Alice, the fictional heroine of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, does have a statue in the park.)

Now, Stanton and Anthony will become the first women to join the ranks of 23 men honored in Central Park. And the monument will be the park’s first commemorative sculpture installed since 1965.

Stanton and Anthony met in 1851 at an anti-slavery meeting and forged a remarkable partnership that lasted for more than 50 years. Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments, in which she rewrote the Declaration of Independence to include women, was presented at the first women’s rights convention held in upstate Seneca Falls in 1848.

The Seneca Falls Convention was the beginning of a national, and later international, movement for women’s rights led by Stanton, Anthony, and others that continues to the present day around the world. Stanton and Anthony first published their newspaper, The Revolution, in New York in 1868, and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, also in the city, in 1869.

But having carried out their activism in New York City was not sufficient to justify a monument to Stanton and Anthony in the park.

“During the approval process, we had to prove that Stanton and Anthony had ties to Central Park,” explained Pam Elam, president of the Stanton and Anthony Statue Fund who has worked for years on this project. “Anthony loved walking in Central Park and Stanton took carriage rides and her children there,” she discovered in her historical research.

That research also documents that between 1862 and 1902, Stanton and her family lived at four different West Side homes, in each of which Anthony had a room — at 75 W. 45th St., 464 W. 34th St., 26 W. 61st St., and 250 W. 94th St. Stanton died in 1902, at the age of 86, in an apartment only a few blocks from Central Park.

Four years later, Anthony died, also at age 86, in upstate Rochester. Sadly neither woman lived to see their dream of women’s suffrage become a reality in either the state or the nation.

A rendering by the Stanton and Anthony Statue Fund of where on the Mall in Central Park the monument to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony will be located. | Photo by Tequila Minsky

Commissioner Silver overturned a moratorium dating to the mid-20th century on permanent installations within the park and, in May of 2015, the department granted the approval to erect statues of Stanton and Anthony.

Silver acknowledged that it is long past time to recognize the contributions New York’s women have made to the fight for gender equity. At the ceremony, he mentioned some of the other Americans the two suffrage pioneers will join in Central Park — including Frederick Douglass, Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Webster, and General William Tecumseh Sherman.

“This monument will honor these women and the movement they stood for, and remind us of our shared, lasting values — justice and equity and persistence,” Silver said.

Elam, head of the Stanton and Anthony Statue Fund, said, “We are going to break the bronze ceiling in Central Park to create the first statue of real women in its 164-year history.”

She, along with Coline Jenkins, Stanton’s great-great-granddaughter, started the non-profit to raise money for the monument. The two are looking to raise one and a half million dollars for the statue, its upkeep, and its attendant educational component.

The group is about half-way there, having received, in additional to individual donations, a capital funding grant from Borough President Gale Brewer and support from City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal. New York Life, which has close historical ties to Susan B. Anthony and her family, pledged a $500,000 challenge grant last year to the statue’s fund.

And then there are the Girl Scouts. This year, Troop 3484 donated proceeds from its cookie sales — $1,920, the number representing the year of the 19th Amendment’s adoption — and Troop 3482 donated $2,000.

At the Central Park ceremony, Elam also announced the launch of the Statue Fund’s Design Competition for sculptors, which will be managed by the architecture and planning firm Beyer Blinder Belle.

In a written statement, First Lady Chirlane McCray, co-chair of the city Commission on Gender Equity, offered her view of how the choice for these first two women to be honored with statues in Central Park was appropriate.

“Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were uncompromising women’s rights leaders who revolutionized the political and social climate for American women,” McCray said. “It is necessary that we commemorate their contribution to society.”

Borough President Brewer emphasized the importance of a central, highly visible location inside the park for the monument, explaining, “We searched Central Park and walked so many miles!”

She added that in scouting for a location she had the strong support of Commissioner Silver, who, she said, couldn’t believe there were no statues of women in Central Park. With the support of both long-time and new supporters, renewed vigor has been infused into the project, with palpable excitement about this long overdue tribute.

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