New York Is Building a New Monument to Women’s History—And It Wants the Public’s Help

A new initiative titled She Built NYC is asking New Yorkers to recommend potential subjects for the monument

The Romeo and Juliet statue in Central Park. Only a handful of statues across New York City depict real women. Flickr/Ron Cogswell

New York City is planning to build a new public monument to a woman or group of women who have made important contributions to the city’s history—and officials are asking for help choosing a potential subject.

On Wednesday, as Abigail Weinberg reports for AM New York, New York City first lady Chirlane McCray announced an initiative called She Built NYC, which will commission a public monument or artwork on city property. According to the project’s website, nominees should be a person, group or event with significant connections to New York City history.

New York residents can submit their suggestions at until August 1. After that point, reports Andy Battaglia of ArtNews, an advisory panel will review the nominations and make its decision in consultation with the Department of Cultural Affairs, which has committed up to $10 million to the project. The subject of the monument, and the artist selected to create it, will be announced in January.

“Public monuments should not make us question our worth,” McCray said while announcing the new project in Bryant Park, according to AM New York’s Weinberg. “They should accurately represent our history and inspire us to realize our potential. There are already so many forces at work in our society telling girls and women that we are not important.”

A number of suggestions have already been put forth for the new statue. Actress Condola Rashad, who attended Wednesday’s press conference, announced that she plans to nominate Audre Lorde, poet laureate of New York from 1991-1992 and a crusading feminist and civil rights activist. The Girl Scout Leadership Institute members have said that they will recommend Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in 1912.

The launch of She Built NYC falls in line with a recommendation made by the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, which was established in September 2017 to examine controversial memorials on city property. As Sarah Cascone reports for Artnet News, the commission ultimately decided to remove just one statue—of the 19th-century physician J. Marion Sims, who performed gynecological experiments on enslaved women—but it made an official recommendation to erect statues that honor “overlooked communities and histories.”

She Built NYC is, in fact, part of a broader movement to increase the number of public tributes to women in a city filled with monuments honoring men. As Jake Offenhartz reported for Gothamist in 2017, there are approximately 145 statues of historical male figures that stand in New York’s five boroughs. But “you can count on one hand the number of historical females represented—there’s Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and, most recently, Har­riet Tubman,” Offenhartz wrote.

While Central Park boasts statues of Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose, none of its monuments to non-fictional figures pay tribute to women, as Erin Blakemore reported for Smithsonian in 2015. So a woman named Coline Jenkins launched a movement to upset the park’s “bronze patriarchy” with a dual statue of pioneering women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was Jenkins' great-great-grandmother.

In November of last year, these plans were set into motion when the New York City Parks Department dedicated a site on the walkway between 66th and 72nd Streets for the “Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Woman Suffrage Movement Monument.”

New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen brought up the longstanding gender disparity among Central Park’s monuments when she joined McCray at Wednesday’s press conference.

“In Central Park, there are 22 monuments to men and one to Alice in Wonderland,” she said, according to Rebecca Liebson and Yoav Gonen of the New York Post.

“Not even a real woman, you know? Give me a break! Enough is enough!”

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