Where are the women? New effort to give them just due on monuments, street names

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund advocates placing a statue of the two women's rights pioneers in New York City's iconic Central Park

Story highlights

  • Only three national monuments are dedicated to women, and no national memorials
  • Movements across the US are trying to change that

(CNN)Lady Liberty is one of the United States' most famous symbols. But this female personification of freedom and hope stands virtually alone in a sea of male-centered monuments that dot the American landscape.

The relative lack of women represented in landmarks, public sculptures and street names has spurred a wave of efforts -- from congressional commissions to individual initiatives -- trying to bring about change.
    Of the 5,575 outdoor sculpture portraits of historical figures in the United States, 559 portray women, a mere 10% of all statues, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum's online inventories catalog.
    The National Park Service lists 152 monuments in the United States, which range from buildings to volcanoes and canyons. Only three (less than 2%) are dedicated to historic female figures: Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park in Maryland, the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in the District of Columbia, and the Rose Atoll in the US territory of American Samoa, named for a female explorer. All three have been established in the past decade.
    None of the 30 national memorials managed under the park service specifically honor women, though there's one named after a shrub, the four-wing saltbush (Chamizal).
    "It's abysmal and it is going to change, because people will gradually be encouraged to think how they want to honor women in their own community," says Pam Elam, president of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund.
    The Harriet Tubman Memorial Sculpture in Harlem, NYC
    This sentiment comes as millions observe International Women's Day on Wednesday.
    Elam's organization advocates placing a statue of the two women's rights pioneers in New York City's iconic Central Park, which in its 164 years has erected 23 statues honoring men and none honoring real women (Mother Goose and Alice in Wonderland, alas, never existed).
    Of the almost 200 full-sized figurative statues in the entire New York City area, NYC Parks says only four represent real women. In 2015, Commissioner Mitchell Silver gave both his approval and blessing for Elam's project.

    A spotlight on women achievements

    Elam is part of a larger movement aiming for change across the country.
    In Washington, the American Museum of Women's History Congressional Commission has presented a study conducted over 18 months.
    "After studying all the very rich history that women have been part of, there is just no entity out there right now that is doing a complete job," says Jane Abraham, the commission chair. "Women have played major roles in the mosaic of our country and those should be taught and illuminated."
    Aviator Amelia Earhart
    Perhaps the most successful campaign thus far belongs to Lynette Long of Miami Beach, Florida, whose nine-year effort is now bearing fruit in the form of an Amelia Earhart sculpture in the Capitol's National Statuary Hall.
    Long wrote her first op-ed on underrepresentation of women in the early 1990s, when she went to the post office and there were hardly any stamps of women. She said it was the "unbelievable sexism" of the 2008 election campaign that drove her to establish Equal Visibility Everywhere, a group dedicated to achieving gender parity in the symbols and icons of the United States.
    An educator, psychologist and author of mathematics books, Long has always been following the numbers. "Statuary Hall gets three to five million visitors a year, it's on TV all the time, it gets more visibility than any museum in Washington and it's a symbol of our nation and history," she says.
    There are currently 100 statues in Statuary Hall, two for each state, and only nine depict women. Earhart, the famous 1930s aviator, is going to be the 10th and is under construction, representing Kansas, Long said.