On Sunday, Linda and I visited the first monument to real historic women in New York City's Central Park—the Women's Rights Pioneers Monument. Three pioneers are represented by bronze statues: Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are seated at a small oval table and standing between them is Susan B. Anthony. The monument by Meredith Bergmann is located on Central Park's Literary Walk, a wide, straight, paved promenade flanked by towering American Elm trees and statues of male writers, hence the name Literary Walk, such as William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott. The Women's Rights Pioneers Monument was unveiled on August 26, 2020, the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment that prohibits the states and the federal government from denying citizens the right to vote on account of sex.
Literary Walk is at the southern end of the Mall, an iconic walkway that hosts a steady stream of walkers, especially on a lovely Sunday in March. My purpose for our visit was curiosity: Two and a half years after its unveiling, was the Women's Rights Pioneers
Monument an attention-getter?
We parked on 69th Street, and walked through the park abloom with daffodils and bustling crowds. We followed the Nell Singer Lilac Walk that ended mid-park at the monument. (The not-yet-blooming lilac trees were planting in 1970 with funds provided by philanthropist Nell Singer. A plaque affixed to a boulder seemed timely with its inscription: EVEN DURING PERIODS OF/ HARSH CONFLICT AND CONFRONTATION,/ THE DELICATE BEAUTY AND FRAGRANCE OF THE LILAC HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL ANNUAL REMINDERS OF LOVELIER ASPECTS IN HUMAN RELATIONS)
As we approached the Literary Walk, we spotted The Women's Rights Pioneer Monument at the northern end on the west side of Literary Walk. Opposite on the east side is a statue representing Fitz-Greene Halleck, a once popular poet and member of the New York literary society. He is posed sitting crossed-legged, holding a pen in one hand and a pad in the other. The first statue installed on Literary Walk it was unveiled in 1877 by the President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes. More than 10,000 people attended the ceremony. One hundred and forty-six years later, a much smaller crowd attended the pandemic-curtailed unveiling ceremony for the Women's Rights Pioneers Monument that included speeches by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand. On Sunday, we spent
several hours observing a steady stream of many walkers and some bikers going in both directions. Except for me, no one paid the slightest attention to Fitz-Greene Halleck. But few people ignored Sojourner, Susan, and Elizabeth, even walkers who kept going still cast a glance. Others took photographs, sometimes posing. Two tour guides stopped
by with their groups. One woman stood for some time, appearing to be communing with the monument. I did not photograph her: It was a sacred moment. The photo of me and Linda was taken by a stranger on a bicycle, a young man, who stopped in the middle of the crowded walkway and offered to take our picture.
Note in the close-up of Sojourner Truth: She lost part of her index finger on her right hand in an accident. You can scan the QR code on the monument's descriptive sign or
download the Taking Statues app to "Hear this Monument Talk." The narration in English is by Viola Davis, Jane Alexander and Meryl Streep and in Spanish by Zoe Saldana, America Ferrera and Rita Moreno.
For more information about the Women's Rights Pioneers Monument, including a video of the unveiling ceremony, check out www.monumentalwomen.org