New York City Will Honor Five Historic Women Including Billie Holiday With Public Monuments
The statues will be funded from a $10 million pool overseen by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs.
That’s how many of the 150 statues of historical figures in New York depict important women. Now that number is set to double.
On Wednesday, the city’s She Built NYC initiative, which launched last June to commission artworks honoring women’s history, announced that four statues of groundbreaking women would be installed throughout the city’s five boroughs.
Jazz icon Billie Holiday, public health pioneer Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, Civil Rights leader Elizabeth Jennings Graham, and Katherine Walker, who saved dozens of sailors as the keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse, will be honored with monuments that will be installed in 2021 and 2022. (In November, She Built NYC announced its first commission, a memorial to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress.)
The four were chosen from a pool of more than 2,000 nominations submitted by the public through women.nyc, the umbrella organization of She Built NYC. Ninety-eight percent of voters said they preferred to honor women committed to social reform or justice.
“It’s long past time we honor the great women who helped shape this city,” Faye Penn, executive director of women.nyc, said in a statement. “We are tremendously proud to be recognizing this diverse and dynamic set of women with monuments celebrating their accomplishments and thank the public for answering the call to help make us a fairer city for all women.”
A selection process will launch this fall to name the artists behind each monument, which will be erected in 2021 and 2022. Funding for the statues will come from a $10 million fund run by the Department of Cultural Affairs for new public monuments.
Each memorial will be placed at a site relevant to the woman being honored. The statue of Holiday will be near Queens Borough Hall, not far from where she lived; Dr. Rodriguez’s monument will be installed in St. Mary’s Park in the Bronx, near Lincoln Hospital, where she was head of the pediatrics department; Graham will be honored next to Grand Central Terminal to commemorate her fight to end segregation in public transit; and Walker will be remembered in Staten Island, at the borough’s ferry station. (The statue of Chisholm, a Brooklynite, will be installed at an entrance to Prospect Park.)
She Built NYC was formed by First Lady Chirlane McCray and former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen in the wake of a 2018 report commissioned by Mayor Bill de Blasio to evaluate the city’s landmarks. The advisory group behind the report decided that none of the city’s controversial landmarks, including those dedicated to Christopher Columbus and Theodore Roosevelt, should be torn down. Instead, the commission recommended erecting additional monuments to better reflect the city’s diverse history.
“We cannot tell the story of New York City without recognizing the invaluable contributions of the women who helped build and shape it,” First Lady McCray said in a statement. “Public monuments should tell the full history and inspire us to realize our potential—not question our worth. In honoring these four trailblazers today, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to see powerful women who made history receive the recognition they deserve.”
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