Buffalo boasts 106 public statues and only two are women. Two trailblazing women will soon become numbers three and four.
Louise Bethune was the first American woman to become a professional architect, back in the 19th century, and designed one of Buffalo’s most renowned buildings, the Hotel @ The Lafayette, which still operates as a hotel and banquet hall downtown.
Mary Talbert was a suffragist and civil rights activist and one of the founders of Niagara Movement, a civil rights organization that would eventually become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Those resumes sound impressive enough to warrant a statue, if you ask the Monumental Women of WNY.
“Imagine, for a moment, what it would look like, what it would feel like, to see women or a group of women immortalized in our public spaces, not just during a designated month but permanently,” said Karen King, the executive director of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The Monumental Women of WNY committee is aiming to shine a light on the “hidden history” of trailblazing women by commissioning three statues, depicting three different, influential women from, or with strong ties to, Buffalo.
The idea struck at an economic conference held by the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women back in December 2016 and grew over the next year-and-a-half.
They commission still needs to meet its $500,000 fundraising goal before they start commissioning the work, then the next step will be finding artists. They anticipate a “robust and competitive” process of choosing the ones to sculpt their creative dreams into reality.
While the first two statues are chosen, the committee is seeking the public’s input for the third. They say they know “the obvious choices,” but history has overlooked many pioneering women.
“We must unearth the hidden history and the great legacy of trailblazing women of our region,” King said. “Women represent half of our population, yet, our contributions to our community have been woefully underrepresented in our public spaces.”
The commission plans to have public meetings to discuss suggestions, which can be submitted on their website. King says they hope to have the first three monuments completed by 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement.
Statue placement will be based on the significance of the area to the woman honored. Bethune’s statue will reside outside the Buffalo Public Library, in the plaza, with a sweeping view of the Hotel @ the Lafayette. Talbert’s location has not yet been decided.