March 18, 2013
TIME TO 'REMEMBER THE LADIES'—IN CENTRAL PARK
By Myriam Miedzian
Co-authored by Gary Ferdman
What do 19th century Danish sculptor Albert Thorvald and 14th century Polish King Wlasyslaw II Jagiello have in common?
Hint: Think Central Park.
Yes, they together with other foreign luminaries such as Giuseppe Mazzini and William Thomas Stead have been honored with sculptures in Central Park.
We appreciate the ethnic pride that led their compatriots to commission sculptures which complement those honoring Americans including founding father Alexander Hamilton, architect Richard Morris Hunt and New York City Marathon founder Fred Lebow.
But, notwithstanding Mother Goose and Alice in Wonderland, absent from the park is the group that makes up a majority of Americans: there is not one sculpture of an outstanding woman!
March is women's history month, a perfect time to begin to focus on how to remedy this. We have compiled a list of over 60 contenders—a few examples follow.
Sara Cedar Miller, official historian and photographer of the Central Park Conservancy, notes that the park's designers intended that statues along the mall be placed in pairs, but 19th century American poet Fitz-Greene Halleck sits alone. We recommend pairing him with Edith Wharton, author of classics including The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome. In 1921 Wharton became the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.
The 19th century park commissioners named park entrances, with the intent that each—most named after professions—be flanked by appropriate sculptures. Samuel Morse stands at Inventor's Gate at East 72nd Street. We recommend that a statue of Gertrude Elion face him. Awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, Elion was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991. Her research led to the development of life saving drugs that facilitate the body's acceptance of transplants, and fight leukemia.
Rachel Carson, founding mother of the modern environmental movement, belongs with Alexander von Humboldt outside of Naturalists Gate at West 77th Street.
We recommend that sculptures of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony be placed at the Women's Gate at West side 72nd Street.
In a March 1776 letter, Abigail Adams urged her husband John and the Continental Congress to "remember the ladies." If this is not done, she warned "we are determined to foment a rebellion..." It was not done, and the rebellion was fomented in 1848 when Stanton helped convene the Seneca Falls Convention held in her home town, assembling hundreds of women and some men—and launching the feminist movement. Its Declaration of Rights and Sentiments was a rewrite of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence to include the rights of women. Anthony later joined Stanton, and both worked tirelessly for the rest of their long lives for women's rights including the right to own property, vote, and be awarded custody of their children.
According to Miller, sculptures have been removed from the park. If Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito succeeds in having the Dr. J Marion Sims statue removed—Sims's gynecological research included operating on slave women without anesthetic, then using his findings to operate on white women with anesthetic—African-American physician Jane Cook
Wright, born in 1919, strikes us as an appropriate replacement. Her contributions to chemotherapy research have played an important role in saving lives. On the NYU faculty, she became Director of Chemotherapy Research in 1955. In 1971 she was elected first woman president of the New York Cancer Society.
A statue of Lillian Wald would be in keeping with park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's dedication of the park to common people. After receiving her nursing degree in 1891, Wald worked with poor New Yorkers, and founded the Henry Street Settlement House which provided health care, social services and educational programs. Its nursing staff later expanded into the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. She championed public health nursing, was active in banning child labor, improving women's work conditions, and promoting racial equality; and was influential in city, state, and national politics.
Other names randomly chosen from our list: Nellie Bly, Shirley Chisholm, Christine de Pizan, Mary Ann Evans (aka George Eliot), Jane Jacobs, Frances Perkins.
Don't be surprised if you've never heard of some of them. There is a long history of not hearing about outstanding women, or forgetting them when they die. It's part and parcel of not seeing them represented in public places.
Making women visible in Central Park would be an important step in correcting this.
Former philosophy professor Myriam Miedzian , is the author of Boys Will Be Boys, and writes frequently on social and political issues. Her website is: www.myriammiedzian.com