How New York’s new monument whitewashes the women’s rights movementRoundup
tags: racism, feminism, New York, suffrage, monuments
Martha S. Jones is the SOBA presidential professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and author of "Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America" and, in 2020, "Vanguard: A History of African American Women’s Politics."
Over the last two years, fierce debate has kept Confederate monuments in the news for weeks on end. But the lessons from that controversy have evidently already been forgotten.
This week, New York City’s Public Design Commission approved Central Park’s first monument to the struggle for women’s rights. Instead of adopting an inclusive tribute to representative women who have shaped the city and the nation, just two figures — Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony — will be memorialized in the park. Lamentably, these women stood for a narrow, often racist vision of women’s rights, and a monument lionizing them will send all the wrong messages to young women and girls.
One lesson of the debate over Confederate monuments is how the erection of statues can be an exercise in mythmaking. While purported to honor military greats and the war dead, these memorials were in fact conceived as tributes to the South’s mythical Lost Cause and white supremacy.
Unfortunately, Central Park’s women’s monument also trades in myth. Initially proposed as a way to remedy the startling absence of monuments to “real,” rather than fictional, women, proponents began with a list of some 50 women, all New Yorkers worthy of remembering. When Stanton and Anthony were singled out as the focus of a statue, monument organizers rooted their choice in Stanton’s role convening the 1848 women’s meeting at Seneca Falls, N.Y., the pair’s leadership within the early women’s suffrage movement and the way their long-term partnership shaped thinking about women’s rights
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