Ever Wonder Why There Are So Few Public Statues of Women? This Funder Did

Ever stroll through Central Park and wonder: Where are all the statues of women? Well, probably not, since we have been conditioned by centuries of patriarchy to expect only men’s visages and names in public, on every street sign, town square, building, monument and business. But the times, they are a-changin’, and the New York Life Foundation is on top of the change.

This funder recently announced a donation $500,000 in a Challenge Grant toward the creation of Central Park’s first statue of real women. The statue will depict Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement.

In its 163-year history, Central Park has erected 22 statues honoring men, and zero statues honoring real women. The park does feature imaginary women including Mother Goose, Alice in Wonderland, Juliet (with her Romeo), and various feminine angels and nymphs. But real women have been sculpturally invisible and the same pattern holds in many public spaces throughout the United States. That's not OK. 

New York Life Foundation will be giving this grant to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund, which will raise another $1 million to carry out the project of erecting the statue at Central Park West and West 77th Street. Currently, the foundation is the only sponsor of the project.

“We are pleased to support the effort of the Statue Fund to honor Anthony and all those who battled to achieve Votes for Women, the largest non-violent revolution in this Nation's history,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation. “We hope that every cent of the $500,000 New York Life Challenge Grant will be matched by donations from supporters of women's equality to help The Statue Fund meet its total budget target of $1.5 million dollars."

We hope so, too, and we can think of a number of funders that could easily afford to make the match, starting with the Manhattan-based NoVo Foundation which has deep pockets and a commitment to gender equity. 

In taking a strong public stance in support of gender equality with this grant, the New York Life Foundation is veering a bit off its usual track. The majority of its grantmaking tends to be focused on children, and it's best known for its backing grief support services for young people nationwide, as we've reported.

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But the roots of this grant for New York Life are actually very old, and, in fact, date back to some of the early history of the life insurance company and its connection to the Anthony family. “Susan B. Anthony used money from her New York Life insurance policy to guarantee that women students would be admitted to the University of Rochester,” said Nesle in a press release about the grant.  In addition, Susan B. Anthony’s father was a New York Life insurance agent back in his day, as were several other male relatives of the famous suffragette.  

The donation is being hailed as “breaking the bronze ceiling” in the arena of public statues commemorating historic figures. (Some might say it’s small consolation for Hillary’s not breaking the glass ceiling, but it is something.)

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