New ‘She Built NYC’ Monument Honors Seven Women, Including Two Men. Curiously Missing: the Christian Woman Voters Selected
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife is spearheading a “She Built NYC” memorial featuring statues of women who made the city what it is today.
The project — which was initially intended to involve only a single sculpture — was announced in June of last year, and the public was asked to vote on which woman would be immortalized.
A committee ended up expanding the vision and picking seven.
The transgender world is also being represented, as among the chosen are two men.
The ladies are as follows, courtesy of Women.NYC:
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) — The first African-American woman elected to Congress, she represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969-1983.
Billie Holliday (1915-1959) — 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 (1929-2001) — 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 (1838-1941) — 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 (1827-1901) — 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.
One male recipient of the city’s veneration is Marsha P. Johnson ((1945-1992):
Marsha P. Johnson was an activist whose involvement in the 1969 Stonewall Riots helped pave the way toward trans acceptance. Born in Elizabeth, NJ, Johnson moved to New York City after high school with just $15 and a bag of clothes. Though she struggled with homelessness, Johnson devoted her life to advocating for gay and transgender street youth, sex workers and people with HIV/AIDS, co-founding STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with her good friend Sylvia Rivera. Towering in red plastic heels and floral wigs, Johnson was a captivating figure who caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who photographed her. She will share a monument in Greenwich Village with Sylvia Rivera.
Here’s more about Marsha, from CNN:
Johnson was a drag performer and a sex worker; she was often homeless and lived with mental illness. Her body was found in the Hudson River in 1992, and the circumstances of her death remain unclear. New York police ruled the death a suicide and didn’t investigate.
She is remembered as one of the most significant activists for transgender rights, although the term “transgender” wasn’t commonly used during her lifetime. Johnson identified as a “transvestite,” gay and a drag queen, and used she/her pronouns.
“She was the ultimate survivor,” said Elle Hearns, a human rights activist who created an institute bearing Johnson’s name.
“I don’t think Marsha has left anything behind besides the permission for us all to be free.”
Lastly, Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) will be honored:
Sylvia Rivera was a pioneering transgender advocate whose radical activism was inspired by her own life. Abandoned by her father at birth and orphaned at age 3 when her mother committed suicide, Rivera was raised in NYC by her Venezuelan grandmother. She left home at age 11 to escape criticism of her gender-defying ways and lived on the streets, surviving as a sex worker. Following her involvement in the 1969 Stonewall riots, she and her longtime friend Marsha P. Johnson cofounded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) to help homeless youth. Rivera also fought for transgender legal protections in New York City and Albany. She will share a monument in Greenwich Village with Marsha P. Johnson.
Biography.com offers this about Sylvia:
Defiant of labels, Rivera confounded many in the mainstream gay liberation movement because of her own diverse and complex background: She was poor, trans, a drag queen, a person of color, a former sex worker, and someone who also experienced drug addiction, incarceration and homelessness. For all of these reasons, Rivera fought for not only gay and trans rights but also racial, economic and criminal justice issues.
Initially in public support of the Gay Rights Bill, Rivera felt betrayed when the bill — which took 17 years to become New York law in 1986 — ultimately excluded the rights of the transgender community.
“They have a little backroom deal without inviting Miss Sylvia and some of the other trans activists to this backroom deal with these politicians. The deal was, ‘You take them out, we’ll pass the bill,’” Rivera explained at an LGBT talk in 2001.
Together, Marsha and Sylvia co-founded STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, which provided housing to homeless transvestite youth.
According to then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who announced the “She Built NYC” project last year along with First Lady Chirlaine McCray, previously there were 22 monuments to men in Central Park yet only one to a woman — Alice in Wonderland.
“Not even a real woman, you know?” she marveled. “Give me a break! Enough is enough!”
When New Yorkers voted on the one woman to honor, the overwhelming winner was Catholic Saint Frances Cabrini.
On March 31, 1889, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, a tiny, frail nun, daughter of a Lombard farmer, arrived in New York with six’ members of the order she had formed, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pope Leo XIII had sent her to work among the Italian immigrants who were finding neither a welcome nor prosperity in the New World, and worse, in the eyes of the Church, were losing their faith and piety.
Mother Cabrini and her six set to work in the New York slums. To support their first orphanage they begged their way through the squalor of Little Italy, later managed to set up a tiny, ill-equipped hospital for the Italian poor. Though funds came mostly in small change, Mother Cabrini‘s masterful will again & again overcame obstacles that seemed insuperable. For the next 28 years she traveled indefatigably, setting up schools, hospitals, orphanages and novitiates in Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver and other U.S. cities. … She was an American after America’s heart, and in 1909, in her 59th year, she became a U.S. citizen.
Those in charge declined to include her.
Frances is the patron saint of immigrants.
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