Did you know that of the 5,575 public statues depicting historic figures on display throughout the United States, only 200 - 4% - of these monuments are of women?
The most popular woman is Sacajawea – she has 16 statues – followed by Joan of Arc, affectionately referred to as “Joanie on the Pony” in Philadelphia - with nine. There are no statues of women in any Chicago parks, and New York’s Central Park has a plan for one, not yet named, for 2020.
But little old Macomb, Illinois has a statue honoring women. Members of the local chapter of the General Federation of Woman’s Clubs worked for ten years planning and raising the necessary funds. The Macomb statue, named Facing the Storm, was designed and created by sculptor Jaci Willis of Peoria and dedicated in Chandler Park in 2015. It honors eight women who were social activists in Macomb during the early 1900’s, those who helped abused women and orphans. The stories of these women - doctors, medical researchers, community organizers, journalists - are inspiring, especially considering the social and legal obstacles they faced.
Because of the efforts of the Woman’s Club members, Macomb is leading a national trend. It seems that a lot of other cities and groups are attempting to replicate Macomb’s accomplishment.
There are campaigns to raise funds for statues honoring journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells in Chicago, and suffrage giants Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in New York. In Richmond, Virginia, a group has raised enough money to build four of a planned twelve statues of historic women, including Martha Washington. San Francisco will honor poet Dr. Maya Angelou with a statue in 2020, the city’s third statue of a woman out of 87 total public statues.
In Washington, DC, the Newseum has just started displaying a statue of journalist Alice Allison Dunnigan, a Kentucky native and the first black woman journalist to cover the White House. Three groups from Utah, Florida and Kansas are trying to get statues of Amelia Earhart, civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, and first woman senator Martha Hughes Cannon, in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building. There is federal legislation to create a statue of first black woman Representative Shirley Chisolm, sponsored by Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Yvette Clarke, who currently holds Chisholm’s seat, also in Statuary Hall. If these are eventually added, there would be 13 women in the group of 100 statues.
Then there are numerous news articles questioning the lack of statues of notable women following the controversies about confederate statues, but not much has happened as a result of these articles.
I know people are going to say “But wait, how about the Statue of Liberty, Lady Justice, the Statue of Freedom on top of the US Capitol building, the Three Graces, the Fearless Girl on Wall Street?” They are not real women; they are symbols. Symbols are great, but real women inspire other women. Surely, we can all name a few famous American women that deserve public statues.
Gayle Carper is a member of the Macomb City council and she’s a retired attorney and retired Professor of Law at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.