We have entered a monumental month: August 2020.
August 26, 2020, is the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote.
On May 19, 1919, the 19th amendment proposed to the Constitution extended the right of suffrage to women.
The article reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
On August 18, 1920, the needed 36th state (Thank you, Tennessee!) signed on to the amendment and it was officially certified a week later, on August 26, 1920.
100 years later, women continue to vote (Please and thank you!) and continue to chip away at the insidious oppressiveness of patriarchy.
One way this is happening is through a movement dubbed “breaking the bronze ceiling.”
The bronze ceiling refers to the gender imbalance that permeates public statues: “Unfortunately, less than 7% of the 5,193 monuments in the United State presently recognize women”( https://breakingthebronzeceiling.com/).
But change, as always, is in the works.
Let’s start in New York City where “there are 23 statues of historical figures in Central Park, but not one honors a woman”( https://monumentalwomen.org/).
Yet, thanks to the organization Monumental Women, on August 26, the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, a 14-foot statue will be unveiled in Central Park, the likeness of three women who played major roles in the fight for women’s suffrage.
This amazing sculpture titled Women’s Rights Pioneers, depicts Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony talking and working together at a table.
According to sculptor Meredith Bergmann,
“We need statues of real women in Central Park. We need to be true to our new understanding of the historical record which does not shrink from calling out injustice and oppression, or minimize the contributions of people of color or the harms done to people of color. We need to correct the injustice done to all women of all races and their invisibility in public spaces. We need to commemorate an important landmark in the so-far-endless struggle for justice in America without forgetting that had America been true to its founding principles, movements for equal rights would never have been necessary. None of the women depicted on the monument lived to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment, let alone the Voting Rights Act of 1965, whose work is still incomplete. But as we struggle towards greater justice, we need and deserve a monument commemorating some of the important work that has come before us”( https://monumentalwomen.org/sculptors-page/).
Bergmann also points out:
“The historical record is complex, as are the people I’m portraying. Professor Margaret Washington, historian and author of Sojourner Truth’s America, (University of Illinois Press, IL, 2011), summarized the complexity beautifully when she wrote to me: “There ought to be a way to depict that; to capture the sisterhood as well as differences”( https://monumentalwomen.org/sculptors-page/).
While looking into the unveiling of the Women’s Rights Pioneers statue in Central Park, I discovered another monument making its debut this month.
This sculpture is in Lexington, Kentucky where to date there are no statues depicting women. The organization backing this project is aptly named Breaking the Bronze Ceiling.
On their site it reads:
“Breaking the Bronze Ceiling Committee Co-Chair Jennifer Mossotti said Kentucky played a prominent role in the effort to give women the right to vote. “Women who were heads of households and taxpayers won the right to vote on tax and education issues in rural areas of Kentucky in 1838, ten years before the Seneca Falls Convention. That made Kentucky the first place anywhere in the country where women could participate in the electoral process”(https://www.weku.fm/post/design-sculpture-honoring-suffragettes-unveiled).
This monument of: “Five silhouette images of suffragettes standing some 20 feet tall are planned for the corner of Vine and Mill on the Lexington Financial Center Plaza. Tucson artist Barbara Grygutis was selected from a group which submitted 127 proposals.”
It’s uplifting to know that these and other public sculptures depicting real women, women who worked tirelessly for a more equitable society, are staking their ground and are visible for all to see.
In a 2017 Time magazine article Will Women Ever Break the Bronze Ceiling?, Joan Bradley Wages, president and CEO of the National Women’s History Museum is quoted as saying:
“By having women missing, it sends the message to young girls and young boys that women did not play a prominent role in the building and the growing of our nation…It’s a though women did not participate and they do not deserve the respect that men do who are portrayed across the country”(https://time.com/4913707/will-women-ever-break-the-bronze-ceiling/).
Maya Rhoden, the author of the article, echoes this sentiment:
“The movement to increase women’s representation is about more than just erecting a few statues. It’s about sending a message to young boys and girls that the other half of the population had a hand in shaping the nation’s history.”
Former US Treasurer Rosa Gumataotao Rios, who spearheaded the now-stalled effort to put Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill, makes a critical point too. Rios says:
Statues of Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Shirley Chisholm, and more have either arrived or are on their way to a public space somewhere in the U.S. The bronze ceiling is steadily and beautifully breaking.
Brenda Berkman, a retired captain of the New York City Fire Department, now involved in Monumental Women, sums it up brilliantly:
“As someone who has dedicated much of my life to breaking down sexist barriers that keep women from participating as full and equal members of society, I’m thrilled that we’re finally so close to breaking down one more…This statue isn’t just about addressing a historical inequity – it’s about helping girls and women recognize their own power so that they can continue the unfinished business of creating a fair and just society for all”( https://monumentalwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Monumental-Women-PDC-Press-Release-10.21.19.pdf).
As we celebrate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment this month, let’s continue to do what we can to combat voter suppression in all its guises.
And most importantly, each and every one of us must VOTE!
Thank you to all the #Nasty Women Activists everywhere making a difference!
© Maria Dintino 2020
Breaking the Bronze Ceiling website (https://breakingthebronzeceiling.com/)
Monumental Women website (https://monumentalwomen.org)
Rhoden, Maya. “Will Women Ever Break the Bronze Ceiling?” Time Magazine. 4 Sept 2017.