Plenty of men are memorialized in stone and bronze in Chicago’s parks: Explorer Leif Ericson, president George Washington, former Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld, even Greene Vardiman Black. Not familiar with him? He’s the “father of modern dentistry.” Chicago’s public spaces do have statues of female figures — nymphs, goddesses, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz to name a few — but you won’t find a single statue or bust of a historically significant woman in any of the city’s 580 parks.
“It’s really time to honor more females,” said Asya Akca, a University of Chicago political science major who is pushing for a statue of a notable woman on her campus in Hyde Park. “It’s a huge oversight that they’re not being honored.”
According to the Chicago Park District, there are no statues of women in our city’s parks because the heyday of public figurative sculpture in the United States took place at a time before women had earned the right to vote.
To rectify that lack of representation, the district has named and renamed more than 40 parks to honor the legacies of notable women over the last 11 years. There are now 66 parks named after women in Chicago, according to the park district. Yet, during that same period, figurative statues and busts of men have continued to be erected around the city.
In 2004, a tribute featuring several figurative bas-relief sculptures of George Halas , founder of the Chicago Bears, went up near Gate 15 of Soldier Field in Burnham Park. That same year, Martin Luther King Park on West 76th Street in Auburn Gresham got a bust of the civil rights leader .
And in 2006, the Park District installed a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of Charles Gustavus Wicker , an early Chicago settler and politician, in Wicker Park.
Chicago is not unique in its lack of statues honoring famous women. As the Washington Pos t has pointed out, less than eight percent of the public outdoor sculptures of individuals in the United States are of women. Central Park in New York City — perhaps the most well-known green space in the nation — has 22 statues of men like Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare and Hans Christian Andersen, but none of women.
“When you have a public forum — Central Park — where 40 million people visit every year, to have zero real women symbolically represented in a statue, this does not support the concept of equality,” said Coline Jenkins, vice president of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund, a group pushing for statues of those two trailblazing women in New York’s signature park.
By comparison, more than 50 million people visited Chicago in 2014, according to Choose Chicago, the city’s not-for-profit tourism arm. And Jenkins said Chicago should highlight its great women in statue form for all to see.
“You have one of the most famous American citizens, and that is Oprah Winfrey. You also have the first female who got the Nobel Prize, Jane Addams. Go for it,” she said.
Jenkins is the great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragist and women’s rights advocate. Her organization has hashed out a preliminary plan with the New York City Parks Department to bring statues of her forbear and Susan B. Anthony to the 77th Street entrance of Central Park.
It won’t be the only statue of a female historical figure in Manhattan. Riverside Park has a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt and another of Joan of Arc.
Back home, the Chicago Park District says it supports the installation of statues of women in parks, but it has yet to take any steps to make that a reality. Of course, that’s not to say no women are honored here.
The Cheney-Goode Memorial was erected in 1932 in the center of the Midway Plaisance on Chicago’s South Side. It’s dedicated to Flora Sylvester Cheney and Katherine Hancock Goode, two female legislators from the turn of the century. Another example, in Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens, honors social worker and activist Jane Addams.
“The Jane Addams Memorial ‘ Helping Hands ’ sculpture, done by famous sculptor Louise Bourgeois in 1993, should not be overlooked or minimized just because it’s not a figurative sculpture,” said a Chicago Park District spokesperson.
University of Chicago student Asya Akca would like to see more statues and busts of women around the city, and she’s pushing for a statue of Marion Talbot, dean of women at the school from 1895 to 1925, somewhere on campus. For the political science major, it’s clear what’s at stake.
“There is an unmistakable correlation between the lack of female symbols of leadership in our society (i.e. statues, monuments, memorials) and the lack of female representation in leadership positions,” she wrote in her piece “ Monumental Women” in the Chicago Maroon. “In front of us is a tremendous opportunity to address this broader issue right here, right now.”