Woman Suffrage Movement Monument Proposal

Central Park, New York, 2018
Ann Hirsch Sculpture Studio

My proposal to the Selection Committee of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund was one of four concepts selected from among 90 entries from across the country to be considered for a new monument to be erected in Central Park in New York City, the first monument in the Park dedicated to real women. The original RFP specified that the monument was to feature only Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. My proposal, which was not selected, acknowledged the complex history and historical lack of representation of all groups involved in the Women’s Suffrage Movement by leaving a space in the center of the monument for another figure while acknowledging the women of color who fought for suffrage on both sides of the monument’s base.

In an era when women were not allowed to speak in public, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anna Julia Cooper, and many others, fought scorn and abuse to exercise the right to use their voices, to change culture and ultimately to lay the groundwork for women to have a voice in the affairs of the nation as full citizens with the right to vote. Anthony’s literal voice, Stanton’s writing and the Suffragists’ fight to have a ‘Voice’ are the central themes of this proposal.

The figures of Anthony and Stanton stand atop a pedestal similar to other statues on The Mall, but the figures directly address the viewer with their gazes. They ask us to identify with them and their ideals, reaching into the present to challenge us. An open lectern stands between the two figures who mirror each other as partners in the cause of Woman Suffrage on either side.

The center of the composition above the lectern is an open space for the viewer to imaginatively inhabit as well as a placeholder for all Suffragists who spoke out.  It is a space the women created together for themselves and for those who came after them, to have ‘a Voice’. It is also the place for all those who have used or will use their voices to speak up.

With its open space, the lectern is the composition’s ‘third figure’. The geometry of the three figures is echoed by the three divisions of the pedestal’s façade. The design of the center of the pedestal carries the form of the lectern down to the ground.

The names of forty Suffragists in chronological order by birth, including Anthony, Stanton, many women from New York and many women of color, are inscribed into the lectern and a bronze plaque affixed to the central unit of the stone pedestal. The stone pedestal’s central unit echoes the shape of the bronze lectern above; the two sections create a continuous architectural volume so that the pedestal is part of the sculpture and vice versa. Together, the pedestal and lectern suggest a rising upwards, a continuing revolution.

The quote on the back of the plinth by Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, a fierce advocate for equal rights especially for African-American women, is a call to action: “The world needs to hear her voice.” (1892). The quote is engraved beneath the open space behind the lectern; it is an invitation to stand behind the lectern and take the podium.

The Suffragist Monument in some ways appears to have always been there. It embraces the footprint, height, orientation and aesthetics of the existing statues along Literary Walk. The pedestal’s dimensions and color also are consistent with the program of statues and quadruple row of American elms lining The Mall in Central Park. But the design of the Suffragists pedestal is distinctive; rather than flaring out broadly towards the ground plane, the profile tucks in as if to lift the sculpture.

There are quotes carved into the sides of the pedestal beneath Stanton and Anthony. One quote looks to the past, honoring what Suffragists endured by speaking in public and the critical role public speech played in the achievement of woman suffrage: “No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public.” (Susan B. Anthony, 1900). The quote on the opposite side beneath Stanton looks to the future: “Let all true friends of freedom work to one and the same end.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1869).

A pedestal is often a place for a silent figure, the traditional statue, but a podium is a place for speaking out.

It was an honor to participate through the final round! I can’t wait to see the new work installed and for the movement to continue growing! To see the full proposal, click here.