Women on a Pedestal

Obviously statues have been in the news of late, so I thought I would tap into the national (and international) focus by looking at some of our country’s more notable monuments to women, either striving for the franchise or striving in general, for this week’s #salemsuffragesaturday post. It doesn’t matter what your political inclination is, everyone seems to agree that there are not enough statues of women anywhere and everywhere, and corrective measures are being taken, along with initiatives associated with this Suffrage Centennial year. The husband and wife team who constitute Statues for Equality have established that statues of women represent less than 10% of public monuments in several American cities, and far less in most. In Salem we have only one statue to a woman: Samantha Stevens from Bewitched, situated in our city’s most historic square. She never accomplished anything (because she never actually existed) and her prominent situation and whimsical depiction mocks the real victims of the 1692 trials who were falsely branded “witches”, but nonetheless she is deemed worthy of monumental representation in Witch City. There are so many more women (real women) that deserve to be put a pedestal in Salem—that’s what this year has been all about for me.

pixlrSamantha is currently wearing an ensemble by local artist Jacob Belair, which I think is lovely on its own but also because it covers part of her up! I wish it extended to her unfortunate pedestal. I’m not in Salem now, so I asked my stepson ©Allen Seger to take the photos of Samantha in crochet.

Let’s turn to some more serious representations. Ever since it’s installation 15 years or so ago, the Boston Women’s Memorial has been one of my favorite monuments: not only is it aesthetically pleasing and immediately engaging, but it represents a spectrum of women who shaped Boston’s history (as well as that of Massachusetts and the nation): Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Lucy Stone. These women are not just on pedestals (actually they have come off their pedestals) but depicted by sculptor Meredith Bergmann in the process of thought and activity, with their words accompanying them. Monumental women are in large part, active women, the feminine counterpart of all those masculine equestrian statues.



Screenshot_20200612-082234_ChromeThe Boston Women’s Memorial by Meredith Bergmann; photographs from her website.

Meredith Bergmann was also commissioned to create the most anticipated installation of this Suffrage Centennial Year: the Women’s Rights Pioneers Statue in Central Park in New York City, which will be unveiled on August 26, the date on which the ratification of the 19th Amendment was certified in 1920. This will be the park’s first statue honoring real women, and it also focuses on their activity: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are gathered around a table, intently focused on drafting a document. The statue had a controversial conception in that Truth was originally excluded, but public discussion and debate resulted in a more inclusive—and representative—monument.


Screenshot_20200612-082623_ChromeModel and Mock-up of the first and final monument to the Women’s Rights Pioneers by Sculptor Meredith Bergmann, to be unveiled in Central Park on August 26, 2020.

As the state which ultimately ratified the 19th Amendment in August of 1920, Tennessee takes its suffragist history very seriously and has produced two notable monuments to the women who worked so hard to make it happen (because it’s really not all about a wavering state senator is it?) There is the Tennessee Woman’s Suffrage Memorial (2006) in Knoxville, depicting Lizzie Crozier French, Anne Dallas Dudley, and Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, and the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument (2016) in Nashville’s Centennial Park, featuring Dudley along with Abby Crawford Milton, J. Frankie Pierce, Sue Shelton White and Carrie Chapman Catt. Even more recently, the Commonwealth of Virginia—always the site of so much statue furor—dramatically increased its commemorative depictions of accomplished women with its Virginia Women’s Monument: Voices from the Garden initiative, honoring the “full scope” of women’s achievements with twelve representative statues.




Screenshot_20200612-072336_ChromeThe Knoxville and Nashville Suffrage statues—both by Tennessee sculptor Alan LeQuire—and the unveiling of seven statues of prominent Virginia women last fall: former Virginia First Lady Susan Allen points to a statue of Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln, and suffragist Adele Clark among the crowds (Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch).

I like the fact that so many of these monuments are collective, featuring women engaged with each other. Sometimes they are working, sometimes they are simply “conversing”—or meeting for the first time like one of the most famous Suffragist monuments, the “When (Susan B.) Anthony met (Elizabeth Cady) Stanton” statue in Seneca Falls, New York, portraying the moment when these two icons were introduced by Amelia Jenks Bloomer in 1851. My very favorite “conversation piece” is the lovely statue of two prominent Rochester, New York suffragists, Anthony and Frederick Douglass, having a cup of tea: I would love to have been a fly on the wall (or the bench) for that conversation!


Screenshot_20200613-080112_ChromeThe Anthony-Stanton-Bloomer statue (1998) by Ted Aub in Seneca Falls; Ira Srole’s “Let’s Have Tea” (2009) in Rochester.

The most official Suffrage statue of all, Adelaide Johnson’s “Portrait” monument to Anthony, Stanton, and Lucretia Mott completed (and dedicated) in 1921, is also a collective representation but the women don’t seem particularly engaged with each other: it’s not my favorite statue but that doesn’t mean I think it should have been hidden away for most of the twentieth century! The “unfinished” appearance of the work also engulfs the women in their “pedestal” rather than placing them on it, but rumor has it that Johnson was making room for at least one more prominent woman—perhaps the first female president—to be carved out of that raw marble in the back at some point in time. Clearly not 2020.

Capitol StatueOffice of the Architect of the Capitol.

14 responses to “Women on a Pedestal

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Thank you for showcasing the many important, historical statues of women throughout the US. We certainly could use a few more in our neighborhood. I particularly liked the Anthony/Stanton/Bloomer monument in Seneca Falls.

    Then, of course, we have Samantha from BEWITCHED, “a whimsical depiction [that] mocks the real victim of the 1692 trials.” Some might compare its vibe to that of the Molly Malone statue (featuring her ample décolletage) in the heart of Dublin. Sponsored by the Jury’s Hotel Group and originally installed on Grafton Street, it now stands in front to the Tourist Office. Appropriate, eh?

    • daseger

      You know, Helen, I detest that statue more than I can say but over the years I have come to understand just how much many people in Salem love it. I wish we could move her though, like Molly, as that location is so important in Salem’s political, religious, and social history.

  • Carol J. Perry

    Don’t forget to acknowledge Gloucester’s “Women who Wait.” alongside the iconic Fisherman. on the boulevard. Gloucester also has Joan of Arc–irreverently tagged “Joanie on a pony” by local folk.

  • dccarletonjr

    I think the best of these monuments is Boston’s. The two versions of Bergmann’s “Women’s Rights Pioneers” recall a Victorian “Rogers Group” genre sculpture, but maybe that’s the point? The problem is I think the original Rogers Group pieces were a bit on the treacly side…

    It would be really interesting to see what an abstract artist might do with the subject, but I totally get the desire to even out the public sculpture scene in face of all those “men on horseback,” and I suppose that can only be achieved is with figurative pieces…

  • variety.spice.life

    Thanks for this excellent post. One quick typo-fix, Wheatley’s first name is spelled Phillis. Chillingly, she was named for the slave ship on which she arrived in Boston harbor.

    [I wrote the biographical texts on each pedestal.]

  • Eilene Lyon

    Seriously? Bewitched? I loved the show, but that is just lame. If there were some serious statuary around that would be different.

    I love the Boston piece! Your explanation is so appropriate. Women are doers, not posers and posturers.

    I should do a little inventory of statuary here in Durango. There are females, but they are representative and not commemorative. The first newspaper here was run by a woman, Caroline Romney. I think she’d be a good candidate. And Olga Little, the mule packer. She saved many lives. Why we don’t have monuments…?

  • Emily

    Douglass was probably explaining to Anthony how her, Stanton, and Catt’s exclusion of African-American women from the National Woman Suffrage Association caused lasting damage to African-American women’s civil rights.

  • Emily

    And let’s not forget that Elizabeth Avery Meriwether was a slaveowner and one of the major authors in the Lost Cause mythology, including her book “the Ku Klux Klan, or the Carpetbagger in New Orleans.

  • variety.spice.life

    Did my comment on correcting the spelling of PHILLIS Wheatley’s name get posted properly? I see there are replies to all other comments.

  • Katherine Greenough

    Statues are certainly having a moment! I read that a statue of a woman representing all pioneer women was torn down in Seattle yesterday by an angry mob. They felt the statue ignored the suffering and genocide of Native Americans by the pioneers. I am in the camp of people who think we should commemorate the history of both. Don’t get me started on the proposed renaming of Faneuil Hall here in Boston….

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