As women’s numbers increased in potentially history-making arenas such as politics and the military, however, their marble and bronze representations did not reflect that change. Between 1960 and today, the Smithsonian records show, 184 public statues of individual women were installed in the United States, and 1,440 male statues were erected during the same period.
Michele H. Bogart, an American visual culture studies professor at Stony Brook University, calls the number “surprising.” But, she adds, “by looking at what was produced each decade, we can see a moment where there was a change, where there were more women in statuary.” After 1991, she says, there was a jump in the installation of statues representing women, such as a 1996 New York City monument to Eleanor Roosevelt and a 2003 memorial in Boston honoring Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley.
Another monument to women established during that period was the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, dedicated in 1993 after a nine-year effort to bring it to fruition. But it didn’t happen easily, according to its founder.
“It was incredible how hard we had to work not only to get a sculpture, but one that looked like women,” says Diane Evans, who had been an Army first lieutenant and head nurse in Vietnam and spearheaded the initiative. “We were told by J. Carter Brown, the head of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., that a woman’s statue would upset the delicate balance of tension at the Vietnam Memorial.”
Change has also been slow to come to the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, which some historians consider a microcosm of the U.S. statuary landscape. Designated by Congress in 1864, it showcases statues of two distinguished individuals from each state, chosen by the legislatures. Before 2000, only six of the 100 statues were female.
In 2000, Congress voted to allow states to replace one or both of their statues. According to Alan Hantman, who was the architect of the Capitol from 1997 to 2007, the law was spurred by “a change in the philosophies of individual states” wanting to remove statues of “forgotten legislators and battle heroes.”
Although not aimed at women, the new law opens the door for more women in Statuary Hall, he says. “Personally, it’s long overdue. There are very powerful people who have impacted the history of our nation, the history of states, who have been women. They haven’t gotten the recognition before, and I am personally pleased that each individual state is reevaluating who represents them in the Statuary Hall collection.”