New York City has selected seven women to honor with statues placed around the city, two of whom were actually born male.
The statues were planned as part of the “She Built NYC” initiative spearheaded by the first lady of NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray, meant to celebrate the women who had a hand in making the city what it is today.
McCray, along with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, announced the project in June of 2018, saying that they would take nominations from the public and a committee would narrow down the suggestions to choose a winner.
“In Central Park, there are 22 monuments to men and one — to Alice in Wonderland,” Glen explained. “Not even a real woman, you know? Give me a break. Enough is enough!”
Instead of just one woman, the city now plans to honor seven:
- Shirley Chisholm — The first African-American woman elected to Congress, she represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969-1983.
- Billie Holliday — One of the most famous jazz vocalists of all time, Holliday was discovered at the age of 18 in a Harlem jazz club. She passed away in 1959 after a long battle with substance abuse.
- Helen Rodriguez-Trias — Dr. Rodriguez-Trias was a pediatrician and abortion-rights activist. She was also the first Latina woman to be elected president of the American Public Health Association.
- Katherine Walker — A diminutive German immigrant who stood just four feet and ten inches, barely tipping the scales at 100 pounds, took over running the Robbins Reef lighthouse when her second husband passed away. She continued his duties for nearly three decades, sometimes rowing out into rough water to pull shipwrecked sailors from the waves.
- Elizabeth Jennings Graham — Known to some as NYC’s Rosa Parks, Graham famously refused to get off a “whites only” streetcar in 1854. She was removed by police, but later won a lawsuit against the company along with $255 in damages. She also founded and ran the first kindergarten for black children out of her own home until she passed away in 1901.
- Sylvia Rivera — Rivera was a Latina-American drag queen and co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front. In addition to participating in the Stonewall riots in 1969, Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with fellow activist Marsha Johnson.
- Marsha Johnson — Johnson, an African-American transgender woman and LGBTQ activist, also participated in the 1969 Stonewall riots and founded STAR alongside Rivera.
Johnson and Rivera, neither of whom were born female, are set to be honored with a joint monument in Manhattan. (RELATED: ‘Extraordinarily Deceptive’ — Doctors Sound The Alarm On Puberty Blocker Study)
Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, an Italian-American woman who was the first American to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, reportedly received the most votes from New Yorkers when McCray asked for public submissions — but she was still passed over when the final selections were made.
Deacon Carlos Martinez of All Saints Parish in Brooklyn told the New York Post, “We are against the decision of the mayor and his wife to promote another person for the statue after Mother Cabrini was elected by the people of New York. They are pushing down the Italian Catholic community to lift someone else up.”
Italian American actor Chazz Palminteri called the move “racist.”
NYC’s Cultural Affairs commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl, defended McCray’s decision and explained that the call for public submissions “was never meant to be a vote. It was meant to look for good ideas.”
New Yorkers fired back at the mayor’s office by adding a last-minute float — honoring Mother Cabrini — to the city’s Columbus Day parade.
— New York Post (@nypost) October 9, 2019
Mayor de Blasio reportedly responded to the backlash by promising that he would personally advocate for Mother Cabrini’s inclusion in the next group.
Good news (sorta)- de Blasio just conceded to Chazz Palminteri today that there will be a second round of women’s statue announcements and he will make a personal push for Mother Cabrini to be on the top of the list. @BrianLehrer
— Joe Borelli (@JoeBorelliNYC) October 11, 2019