It’s hard to believe she never gets tired of holding that 450,000 pound torch.
Maybe it’s because she’s lead a pretty monumental life for more than 130 years. But how many of us think about Lady Liberty when we turn on the barbecue and raise a glass in celebration of the Fourth of July?
The current political climate in the U.S. has prompted many of us to reexamine views about our country’s liberties and founding principles. This is a good thing, knowing how easy it is to lose focus of the road ahead in life; particularly if we forget to look in the rear view mirror from time to time. Complacency is dangerous and what we value can slip out of focus This Fourth of July is an opportune time to dust off our American ideals and revisit the history of Lady Liberty.
Lady Liberty is a Revolutionary Design
Let’s start with her design. Lady Liberty’s body language is pretty daunting when you stop and look at her pose. Without the torch, she’d doing a modern day high five or fist pump, bolstered by the important book she’s holding in her other hand.
But what also stands out is the fact that America’s greatest symbols of freedom is a woman. Sure, past civilizations often used women as muses for intellectual and creative inspiration, particularly in the arts. But why use a woman as our symbol of freedom?
For starters, you could say she’s hardly designed to look like the average woman. Lady Liberty is a female King-Kong, and her copper-based shell is made with revolutionary Wonder Woman strength. “La Liberté éclairant le monde” – the French translation for the Statue of Liberty – was the brainchild of French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel.
Together, they convinced the French government to gift Lady Liberty to America and the American government agreed to pay for her pedestal base.
The construction was unique for the 19th century, and employed a type of curtain wall design. This process meant that her interior framework and supporting body were built from the inside out. Instead of making the 305 foot tall statue into a completely rigid structure, Lady Liberty was built in a series of metal parts that were eventually attached with straps to a core center pylon.
This kept the good Lady’s skin from sagging over time and the straps joining her together provided much greater stability and flexibility for weathering storms and changing winds within the New York harbor. Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t this labor-intensive construction and design seem like an interesting metaphor for the history of America’s hard-won rights and freedoms?
Lady Liberty Couldn’t Vote
Lady Liberty’s history gets even more interesting because we have this “Liberty Enlightening the World” statue and freedom from British rule with one huge caveat: women couldn’t vote in France or America. Lady Liberty’s stands hundreds of feet above common man, with an impressive 876 shoe size, but she lacked the power to give women the same rights as men.
It’s ironic that this revolutionary design by a group of well-intentioned and enlightened French men couldn’t see this glaring flaw. It would take another revolution of sorts for suffragettes to win the right to vote in both the United States and France. Women would wait 33 more years for the right to vote in the U.S., and French would wait nearly three decades longer before they could finally vote in 1945.
This fundamental flaw in the Lady was an expensive one. At the time when she was completed in 1886, Lady Liberty cost about a quarter of a million U.S. dollars or 2.25 million Franc to build. If we were to melt her copper exterior and shape it into printed pennies, it would make the equivalent of a whopping 30 million coins.
That’s one couture, albeit classic, dress style. Even though stola and pella (Greek words for Lady Liberty’s gown and cloak) styles have changed over time, it’s unusual not to see at least one Hollywood actress donning a similar style of dress on Oscar Night each year. I think Jennifer Aniston’s classic Grecian style dress is an excellent example.
History Grounds Our Future
Understanding the history that lead to the creation of Lady Liberty is critical if we are to continue to see her as the embodiment of our nation’s power of self-government and freedom from tyranny and slavery, The French helped free us from British rule during the American Revolution of 1776-1783, and their gift of Lady Liberty binds us forever in friendship. We should never forget this generosity.
But we’d do well to remember that, while the United States gave rights to states and freedom to slaves, it was the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 that determined our conscience. This conscience is wrapped up in living, breathing principles that stemmed from belief principles about equality; principles we must continue to reinforce. Men may be created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, but equality and the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness continues to be challenging for women.
Liberty’s representation is no static if we are to forge a viable future for America. Our stalwart Lady Liberty is like a mother watching over our waters and welcoming immigrants onto her safe shores. It’s not enough for Lady Liberty to just hold the torch today – she needs to move it a little higher if the truths we hold to be self evident are manifest in real equality.
Ironically, Lady Liberty is both America’s greatest symbol for freedom and a cautionary reminder to remain ever vigilant if we are to protect this hard fought freedom. So this year, as we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, hot dogs and colorful red, white and blue festivities, remember the broken chains at Lady Liberty’s feet. They are a symbol of how far we’ve come but they are also a reminder of how much work remains.
And as our nation continues to evolve, so should our freedoms. This year, the U.S. Mint and Treasury Department announced the release of a $100 coin to mark its 225th year. This will be the first time a gold liberty coin does not illustrate a Caucasian woman’s head.
Instead, as seen above, the coin shows an African American face and future coins will represent a broader range of Asian, Hispanic and Aboriginal Americans.
Looks like a golden turning point. Happy Independence Day!
For more fun facts about the Statue of Liberty: https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/statue-statistics.htm