One hundred and fifty statues of historical figures currently stand in New York. Five of these depict women. By 2022, this number will have doubled thanks to the city’s She Built NYC initiative, which last Wednesday announced four new monuments that will be installed throughout the city.
Launched last June by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the initiative developed through an open call system where New Yorkers were invited to submit ideas on how to commemorate some of the women who have shaped the history of their city.
Ninety-eight percent of respondents said they would like to honour a woman who was committed to social reform or justice. The four trailblazing figures announced on Wednesday feel consistent with this aim. Jazz icon Billie Holiday (1915–59), Civil Rights leader Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1827–1901), lighthouse keeper Katherine Walker (1838–1941) and pioneer in paediatrics, public health and reproductive rights, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías (1929–2001), will be honoured with monuments in different boroughs of the city. The statues are due to be installed in 2021 and 2022, in tandem with the initiative’s first commission – a memorial to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress – which was announced last November.
Last week in London, Fearless Girl – a replica of the statue that faced down the famous Wall Street Bull for International Women’s Day 2017 – was installed in the city’s financial district. The work is part of a campaign by asset manager State Street Global Advisors to encourage businesses to make their boards more gender balanced. However, according to UK data from end of February, 40% of the private firms that have published their latest figures have reported a larger median gender pay gap than last year. Are these monuments capable of mobilizing social reform? Or are they simply stand-ins for inequalities that won’t go away?