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Who's #1?

Who is the most represented historic woman in American public art and culture? Streets, highways, schools, an opera, dance productions, popular songs and classical music, books for all ages, a one dollar coin, paintings and murals honor her. In 1905, at an event attended by Susan B. Anthony, Alice Cooper's statue of the woman was dedicated in Oregon. Today there are at least 20 statues of her located from Washington, D.C. to Wyoming.

If you guessed Sacajawea as #1, the Lemhi Shoshone woman who helped guide the Lewis and Clark Expedition's exploration of the Louisiana Territory, you are correct.

But in 2022, the 200th centennial of Harriet Tubman's birth, I would say that she is gaining on Sacajawea.

Streets, highways, schools, a home for the aged, and parks also bear Harriet Tubman's name. An opera, theater production, books for all ages, paintings and murals honor her. There are historic plaques, markers, trails, and two National Historical Parks: Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland and the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York. Her face will soon replace Andrew Jackson's on a $10 bill.

But unlike for Sacajawea, new statues are being erected to Harriet Tubman. (Recently a memorial with a statue of Sacajawea crouching behind tall statues of Lewis and Clark was removed. Critics said her posture was disrespectful. Advocates said she was positioned as if tracking the way forward.)

In 2019, statues by Dexter Benedict of Harriet Tubman standing next to a statue of William Seward, her neighbor, abolitionist and statesman, were dedicated in Schenectady, New York. That same year, a statue by Brian Hanlon was dedicated in Auburn, New York, where Tubman lived for many years. In 2020, Ivan Schwartz's statue of Harriet Tubman was dedicated in Maryland's capitol. In 2022, a new monument to Tubman, "Shadow of a Face," designed by Nina Cooke John will be installed in Newark, New Jersey, replacing a statue of Christopher Columbus that was removed in 2020. Federal legislation has been introduced to install a statue of Harriet Tubman in the U.S. Capitol Statuary Hall.

The first statue to Harriet Tubman was dedicated in 1994 as a larger-than-life bronze figure positioned next to the larger-than-life figure of abolitionist Erastus Hussey in the multi-figure Underground Railroad Memorial by Ed Dwight, located in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The next year, 1995, Jane DeDecker sculpted a bronze statue of a Harriet Tubman, located in Las Sendas Community, a gated community in Mesa, Arizona. (Over the years, castings of this same model have been dedicated in Georgia, Arkansas, and Michigan.)

Four years later, 1999, Step on Board by Fern Cunningham was

dedicated in Boston, Massachusetts. In Bristol, Pennsylvania, in 2006, the Harriet Ross Tubman Memorial by James L. Gafgen,

was dedicated at an event attended by descendants of the brother of Benjamin Ross, Harriet Tubman's

father. (This is the only statue with

Ross in the title, and with Tubman wearing a pistol in a holster strapped around her waist.) Swing Low by Alison Saar was dedicated in New York in 2008.

In 2021 Wesley Wofford created Journey to Freedom for a private collector. This traveling

sculpture, a print of the original, is currently on display in Philadelphia.

My women's landmark road trips have include trips to Boston, Bristol, New York City, and Philadelphia where I visited and photographed the statues to Harriet Tubman. You can see from the photographs that they are as different as different can be. But taken together they represent the scope of Harriet Tubman's extraordinarily eventful, multi-faceted, heroic, and compassionate life—conductor on the Underground Railroad; Civil War nurse, cook, laundress, scout, spy, leader of a military raid that freed 700 slaves and destroyed Confederate properties; and activist suffragist and provider for indigent, elderly Black citizens.

(Images: top to bottom by date: 1995 (image from Wikipedia); 1999, 2006, 2008, 2020)






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