Boston Harbor. The Washington Monument. The Statue of Liberty. These are the sites of American history many of us learned about in school.
But what about the old stone church in Akron, Ohio, where Sojourner Truth delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech? Or the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, where a little-known plaque honors Emily Roebling, who oversaw construction when her husband, the bridge’s architect, fell ill? (Roebling was the first person to walk across the bridge, bringing a chicken for good luck.)
Researchers estimate that women’s stories make up just 0.5 percent of recorded history. When it comes to public monuments they are largely invisible — absent from landmarks, statues and street names.
Of the country’s 5,200 historical memorials, women represent less than 8 percent of the subjects. Of New York City’s 145 historical statues, just five are of women.
Over the past few years, a small but increasingly vocal group of activists have lobbied city governments and parks departments to correct the imbalance: In November New York City announced that Shirley Chisholm would become the first female historical figure to have a public monument in Brooklyn, as part of a larger initiative to expand representation of women.
But for now, the stories of remarkable, unruly, radical and trailblazing women are often right under our feet — on the street corners and park benches we walk by every day.
Now we’re expanding our list beyond the city — and we need your help.
Is there a location in your town where some bit of remarkable women’s history took place?
It could be a bar that barred women until a groundbreaking law in 1970 (Barbara Shaum was the first to be allowed inside McSorley’s in Manhattan), a street corner where a woman was arrested for smoking in public (Katie Mulcahey, in 1908), or a nondescript office building where a group of women decided to start a feminist zine (Bust). Or something else entirely.
Email us at email@example.com and tell us about your spot. Where is it, and what happened there? Please provide as many specifics as possible — the more unexpected the better.
It was not customary for a woman to accompany a man to a construction site in the late 19th century. Petticoats tended to get in the way of physical work.
But when Washington A. Roebling, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, fell ill, his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, stepped in — managing, liaising and politicking between city officials, workers and her husband’s bedside to see the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge to completion.
Today, the plaque on the Manhattan side of the bridge reads: “Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman.”