By Anne W. Semmes
In an elegant green glade in New York’s celebrated Central Park Mall, along Literary Walk, statues of the first two women to grace Central Park will take their place between stately surviving American elm trees. The women are renown suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
As soon as their sculptor is chosen and the money raised, the expectation is for an unveiling of the statues on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote — on Aug. 26, 2020.
Coline Jenkins presents a suffrage flag reproduction to New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. “Each star in the flag represents one of the 36 states that ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution,” said Jenkins. (Anne W. Semmes photo)
Gathered together at a press conference this week at the newly selected site was an enthusiastic crowd and primary principals responsible for the long overdue addition of women to the Park: Coline Jenkins, of Old Greenwich, the great, great granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and vice-president of the Stanton-Anthony Statue Fund, Fund President Pam Elam, and New York City Parks Commissioner, Mitchell Silver.
Jenkins is also a 20-year member of the RTM in Greenwich, in addition to being an author and television producer. She is also the daughter of the late Rhoda Jenkins of Greenwich, who supported the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
“I’m very proud to announce today,” said Elam, “We’re here to move history forward, to break the bronze ceiling for real women in Central Park’s 163-year history, to create the first statues of real women in Central Park.” Elam referred to the present non-real female statues of Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose. The two suffragists will join 23 historical male sculptures in the Park. Elam continued, “It’s about completing the journeys toward justice of the valiant women who came before us in the largest nonviolent revolution in the history of this country when over half the population was disenfranchised.”
Elam explained how both Stanton and Anthony were New Yorkers. “Stanton was the first woman to run for Congress in New York in 1866. She and Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association.” Evidence was also found, she noted, of Stanton’s and Anthony’s use of or “literal presence” in Central Park, a prerequisite for their statues to be sited in the Park.
“Our statues will depict real early history,” added Jenkins, referring to how the statues monument will also honor the memory of other women who advanced women’s rights. “Central Park is a quintessential public forum,” she noted, “where anybody can come here and have their voices heard.” With an estimated 42 million people visiting the Park each year, the Mall site for the statues was chosen over a previous site at West 77th Street and Central Park West to best engage visitors in future planned programming on the pioneering women.
“Elizabeth Cady Stanton connected women and law and what is the fundamental right, the right to vote,” said Jenkins to the crowd that included her son Eric Jenkins-Saline, the great, great, great grandson of Stanton. “All men and women are created equal,” she said with a smile, adding, “See what you can do by taking a good idea and extending it. Isn’t it fun to be we the people!”
Listening intently to Jenkins were a group of smiling Girl Scouts from Troop 3484 who have raised close to $2,000 in their cookie sales toward the cost of the statues. Also present was a representative of the New York Life Insurance Foundation that is providing a $500,000 challenge grant toward the statues’ cost of $1,500,000. Some $250,000 has thus far been raised in private donations.
Jenkins also shared the story of the great parade in 1915 of 25,000 “Suffragette Mothers on the March” that took place on Fifth Avenue.
“It was the largest march ever held in the city,” she said, “And my aunt was in it, age four. There were teachers and musicians and garment workers, and self-supporting moms. And when they’d marched up to 59th Street at the end, marchers were still entering the staging area in Washington Square.” New York State would step up two years later in 1917 as one of the first states to grant women the right to vote.
Jenkins concluded her remarks by presenting a gift to Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, she identified as “a woman’s rights man,” for his help in breaking that bronze ceiling — a suffrage flag reproduction for the Parks Department and “the people of New York City.”
“Each star in the flag represents one of the 36 states that ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution,” said Jenkins.
Silver had shared in his introductory remarks how he’d initially been approached by Coline Jenkins after hearing him say in his first public address: “I believe in equality and equity.” But sir, Jenkins alerted him, there are no female statues in Central Park. Silver promptly conferred with Jonathan Kuhn, the director of the Parks Arts and Antiquities department as to who makes the decision to allow such statues. “You do, Commissioner,” came the response.
As to who will sculpt such a monument, a competition has begun with proposals to be considered by a Design Competition Jury of Statue Fund-selected art and design professionals and representatives from the New York City Parks Department.
Helping in that process is the Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) Architects and Planners firm, reported BBB architect Susan Baggs, present at the occasion. BBB has been engaged by the Statue Fund, said Baggs, “to assist in the management of the competition, the New York City agency approvals of the proposed design and the coordination of the construction of the sculpture at its chosen site in Central Park.” She along with her BBB colleague, Richard Southwick are “very honored” to be contributing to the statue project, to finally assure the statue has “a nice, sturdy foundation!”
Those interested in contributing to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund can visit Moumentalwomen.org.