New York’s Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument has roots in La Jolla

The Women's Rights Pioneers Monument in New York's Central Park was unveiled Aug. 26.
The Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in New York’s Central Park was unveiled Aug. 26, the centennial of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees American women the right to vote.

Watching the unveiling of the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in New York’s Central Park from a small screen almost 3,000 miles away may not have been what La Jolla residents Myriam Miedzian and Gary Ferdman had in mind seven years ago when they set out to get a statue built recognizing women in history. But their pride wasn’t dampened one bit.

“We were thrilled,” Miedzian said. “We’ve gotten so many people that have expressed their elation about it. It’s unique and we’re getting a lot of visits. … We were thrilled to get it done and have it unveiled on the centennial, the exact 100th anniversary of the [certification] of the 19th Amendment [on Aug. 26].”

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees American women the right to vote.

La Jolla residents Myriam Miedzian and Gary Ferdman were keys in the creation of the Women's Rights Pioneers Monument.
La Jolla residents Myriam Miedzian and Gary Ferdman were keys in the creation of the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“One of the things that has happened because of the statue, different cities have started to raise money for statues of women,” Miedzian said.

It started with a walk in the park.

Having lived in New York and La Jolla — Miedzian’s two daughters were born here — Miedzian and Ferdman often would visit Central Park. In viewing the statues there, one of a Polish king from centuries ago caught her eye.

“I wondered, ‘What did he do to earn a statue here?’” she said. “We started looking at all the statues we would pass a lot more critically.”

Decidedly missing, she said, were statues of women.

“Women were represented through the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ statue and one of Juliet from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” Miedzian said. “But it’s really time to acknowledge that women are part of American history.”

She and Ferdman, who has given lectures at the La Jolla Woman’s Club about important women in local history, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post in 2013 arguing for the creation of statues that honor women.

“People tend to accept what situation they’ve grown up with; we grow up being used to seeing statues of men,” Miedzian said. “It doesn’t even occur to us that there are not ones of women. So there is awareness-raising happening here. Women’s history is not taught in the American schools; it’s relegated to a few paragraphs here and there. You think nothing happened, when women worked for 70 years to get the vote.”

She decided to focus on a statue of key figures who helped advance women’s suffrage. She originally centered on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Miedzian contacted Stanton’s great-great-granddaughter Coline Jenkins, who was living near New York City at the time, and they formed a committee.

A few years later, with several more members, the committee decided to add other suffragettes to the statue and funneled through a list of 22 women, deciding on Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

The Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, sculpted by Meredith Bergmann, depicts Truth and Stanton at a table with Anthony overseeing the discussion.

In her artist’s statement, Bergmann wrote: “We need statues of real women in Central Park. We need to be true to our new understanding of the historical record which does not shrink from calling out injustice and oppression or minimize the contributions of people of color or the harms done to people of color. We need to correct the injustice done to women of all races and their invisibility in public spaces. We need to commemorate an important landmark in the so-far-endless struggle for justice in America without forgetting that, had America been true to its founding principles, movements for equal rights would never have been necessary. … We need and deserve a monument commemorating some of the important work that has come before us.”

In the course of fundraising and permitting, the Monumental Women committee got the attention of a troop of New York Girl Scouts.

“They would come out with signs saying ‘Take women out of the dark and put them in the park’ and ‘End the patriarchy in the park.’ It was delightful to have them,” Miedzian said. “They drew publicity for us. They raised money for us by selling cookies and got donations.”

The statue was unveiled Aug. 26. During a livestream of the event, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said: “These three women worked ... not only on suffrage but on abolition. All three wanted universal suffrage for all Americans, and none were too happy when men of color got the vote without women. They had passionate disagreements. Sojourner Truth spoke out against the racism she experienced as a Black woman — including, too often, at the hands of white suffragists. ...

“As Sojourner, Susan and Elizabeth understood, we are all freer when every one of us is free. Our democracy belongs to all of us.”

Miedzian said she was “thrilled” that Clinton spoke at the ceremony but also was a bit sad that she couldn’t be there in person because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The first thing we are going to do when it becomes safe to fly is we are going to go to New York and see the statue ourselves,” she said. ◆