It's Time For Chicago's Parks To Have Some Statues of Women

By Margaret Paulson in Miscellaneous on Jul 24, 2015 2:19PM

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Photo via Geoff Simon

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the lack of public memorialization of women—specifically in the form of busts and statues—in New York City and Chicago parks.

Of Chicago’s 580 public parks, there is not one bust or statue of a famous, real woman of historical significance, WBEZ reported this week.

Sure, we’ve got Dorothy (complete with Toto) from The Wizard of Oz in Oz Park, and a stunning mermaid sculpture in Burnham Park. But these are fictional female characters. If Christopher Columbus—whose history is super sketch, by the way —has both a statue and a fountain in our fine city, surely we can do better than a fish-woman and a lost girl from Kansas.

Similarly, in New York City there has been a recent a push to have more historical female representation, headed off by Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s great great granddaughter, Coline Jenkins. Though there are around 100 sculptures of historical figures in New York’s park system, only a few depict women (including Eleanor Roosevelt and Joan of Arc) and none are located in Central Park.

According to WBEZ, Chicago Park District representatives contend that the overwhelming preference for male figurative sculptures is due to the time period during which a majority of the statues were erected. However, new representations of George Halas, Martin Luther King, Jr. and even Charles Gustavus Wicker (Wicker Park’s namesake and an early settler and politician) were erected in 2004 and 2006.

Though at least 40 parks have been renamed in the last decade after notable women— bringing the total to 66 Chicago parks—a statue of a specific person would literally bring visibility to important women in history. One of Chicago’s most famous and impactful women, Jane Addams, the founder of the historic social services hub Hull House, already has her own memorial. But why does it have to be in the Chicago Women’s Park?

Addams's sculpture has other issues. It is a symbolic memorial called “Helping Hands.” It’s beautiful and meaningful, with a series of granite hands to symbolize Addams’ activism and advocacy for the poor and marginalized, but Addams herself is missing, relegated to a position behind the scenes. Female representation remains inexcusably lacking.

So without further ado, we present to you a list of some of the most radical Chicago women—among many—who surely deserve to be depicted in a public place for all to admire and enjoy:

  • Jane Addams: Founder of Hull House, suffragist, social worker and first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (1931).

  • Jane Byrne: First female mayor of Chicago, supported gun control measures and lived in the Cabrini Green Public Housing projects for 4 weeks to advocate for improved housing and reform.

  • Gwendolyn Brooks: Poet, teacher, first black winner of Pulitzer Prize and Poet Laureate of Illinois.

  • Frances Xavier Cabrini: Master community organizer; founder of hospitals and organizations in Chicago, NYC and around the world.

  • Dr. Fannie Emmanuel: First black graduate of Chicago Medical School, founder of a settlement house, social activist and respected doctor.

  • Mary Jane Richardson Jones: Abolitionist; her home was one of two safe houses in Chicago as part of the Underground Railroad.

  • Lucy Parsons: Labor organizer and advocate; founder of Industrial Workers of the World.

  • To see a full list of sculptures, busts, statues, and monuments in Chicago’s public parks, look here.