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Women play a vital role in shaping history, and celebrating female historic figures helps to promote diverse representation. Gender equality is the fifth UN Sustainable Development Goal, and creating equal representation can help to reduce gender discrimination around the world. You can help encourage women and girls to follow their dreams by taking action here.

While there are about 150 statues of historic figures scattered across New York’s outdoor public spaces, only five of them are of women.

But the city announced on Wednesday, as part of Women’s History Month, that this disparity will soon change, starting with the installment of four new female statues throughout the city.

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“We cannot tell the story of New York City without recognizing the invaluable contributions of the women who helped build and shape it,” said New York’s First Lady Chirlane McCray 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.”

The new statues will be of civil rights leader Elizabeth Jennings Graham, medical advocate Helen Rodríguez Trías, jazz singer Billie Holiday, and lighthouse keeper Katherine Walker. The city plans to commission female artists to create the statues, construction of which is set to begin in 2021.

The city also previously announced it commissioned a statue of Shirley Chisholm in Brooklyn, creating a total of five new female statues. Chisholm was the first black woman to be elected to Congress and the first to run for president in a major political party.

Over the past nine months, women.NYC has tried to combat disproportionate gender representation through She Built NYC, an initiative that pushed for the creation of the statues. The city solicited input from the public for ideas about which figures to select for the project, and received over 2,000 suggestions.

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“It's long past time we honor the great women who helped shape this city," said women.NYC Executive Director Faye Penn. "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."

The five preexisting statues, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, and Gertrude Stein, are solely in Manhattan. However, the new statues will be placed throughout the city's five boroughs. 

These are the five women who will be honored as part of the new initiative. 

Billie Holiday

Jazz singer Billie Holiday moved to Queens, New York, when she was 13, which is where her statue will be placed. She was one of the first black women to sing with a white orchestra. Her music not only amazed audiences around the world, but it also helped challenge racial discrimination and the status quo. She is best known for her song “Strange Fruit,” which protests lynching and racial injustice. The song later became a key component of the Civil Rights Movement and continues to fuel activism today.

Helen Rodríguez Trías

Helen Rodríguez Trías worked with children who survivied sexual abuse and those affected by HIV and AIDS. She also became the first Latina director of the American Public Health Association. Rodríguez Trías created programs for families affected by HIV and advocated for improved family health care. She previously worked as the head of pediatrics at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, where her statue will be located.

Elizabeth Jennings Graham

In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings Graham boarded a street car that refused service to African Americans while on her way to church. The conductor tried to remove her from the car, but she refused to leave, causing a policeman to throw her off the vehicle. She wrote about the experience in the New York Tribune, sparking protests throughout New York. She also sued the Third Avenue Railroad Company and won over $200 in damages. This paved the way for the desegregation of the American transit system. By 1860, all New York City transit lines served black passengers. Graham’s statue will be placed near Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, which is a significant area for public transportation.

Katherine Walker

Katherine Walker became a keeper for the Robbins Reef Lighthouse north of Staten Island after her husband died in 1890. For more than 30 years, she led the way for ships passing between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey.  She raised her children in the lighthouse, taking them to school on Staten Island in a rowboat. Lighthouse keepers were typically men at this time, but Walker showed that women are obviously just as capable. In her role, she helped to save the lives of more than 50 people. Walker's statue will be placed at the Staten Island Ferry landing.


Demand Equity

NYC Will Add 4 Statues of Trailblazing Women to Help Close a Little-Known Gender Gap

By Jerica Deck