From Money to Statues to Stamps, Lynette Long Fights for More Female Symbols

Lynette Long: "We wonder why we can't elect a woman president."
Lynette Long: "We wonder why we can't elect a woman president."
Photo by Alex Markow

On a drizzly September morning, Lynette Long sits rapt in the passenger seat, looking out the window at the passing Venetian Islands. The 67-year-old with short blonde hair and a slight smile carries a pad of paper and a pencil, ready to make a list.

"See that there?" she says eagerly, pointing to the black outline of a bicycle on a crossing sign along the MacArthur Causeway. "Notice it's always a male bike."

Amid the Miami bustle of honking cars and pedestrians, Long sees signs and names and statues in bronze and stone, and notes them on paper. The vast majority represented are men.

In fact, on the stretch from South Beach to Biscayne Boulevard and then south over the Brickell Avenue Bridge, Long spots 14 sculptures. They're a cross section of celebrated explorers, politicians, and war heroes, such as Simón Bolívar, Uruguay's José Gervasio Artigas Arnal, and a Tequesta Indian leader. Of the 14, only two are women: Miami's founder Julia Tuttle, in Bayfront Park, and 19th-century businesswoman Mary Brickell, on the Brickell Avenue median.

"It's not to say those men didn't do important things," Long says. "But just two women?"

The Miami Beach resident has spent much of the past decade documenting the same problem across the nation: women grossly underrepresented in public spaces, from sculptures to stamps to Google Doodles. And lately she's making real progress to fix that fact, with her group fueling national momentum to swap out statues of Confederate generals for female pioneers and to add a woman to the $20 bill.

"Symbols matter, and it's a powerful message," says Florida Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat backing the efforts. "We are changing the conversation about how we recognize the contributions of women in our public displays."

For Long, nothing less than the future of America's women and girls is at stake. "We tell them, 'You can be anything you want,' but we're showing them they can't," she says. "We're showing them that women have done nothing."

For as far back as she can remember, Long has been fascinated with women's equality. She was born in New York to an Italian family, and her father "had very specific, traditional views about how a woman should be," she says. After earning a master of science in mathematics from the University of Illinois, Long began teaching remedial math to high-school girls. After receiving a doctorate in psychology, she worked as a professor and a school principal, researched sex-role stereotyping and gender issues, wrote numerous articles, and even coined the term "latchkey child." She later worked in private practice as a psychologist for 20 years.

Long's daughter, Sarah Tarnowsky, recalls her mom always preaching gender equality.

"She'd get annoyed if teachers more specifically focused on my handwriting instead of my brother's," Tarnowsky says. "And she'd always notice when I spoke in the passive, diminutive voice. She'd tell me to stand up for myself and believe in myself —not to be rude, but to be confident."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Long's ire hit a fever pitch when Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton battled it out among their male counterparts. "I thought sexism was gone," she says. "But then I saw the treatment Hillary got from the press, and I could not believe people would wear T-shirts that said, 'Iron my shirt, don't run my country.'"

That's when she became curious about another type of discrimination: hidden, symbolic gender disparity. While predominantly male panelists argued about the election on TV, she wondered about the damaging effect of the lack of women in public view. Long calls this a "sin of omission," which she says is "subtle, insidious, and persistent."

Ever the mathematician, she began looking and counting the quantifiable everyday symbols in society that favor men. And the numbers are startling.

Statue of Julia Tuttle in Bayfront Park.
Statue of Julia Tuttle in Bayfront Park.

According to her findings, from 2000 to 2009, the U.S. government honored 206 people with a stamp — 163 men and 43 women. From 1998 to 2010, 43 Google Doodles honored people — 42 men and one woman. In 1999, when the government issued state quarters, ten of 56 were of people (the rest were animals or places), and nine of those ten were men; the sole woman was Alabama's Helen Keller. Women haven't been seen on paper currency in more than 100 years. And in the history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began in 1924, there have been only ten female character balloons, Long found.

She also began counting statues in major U.S. metro areas, from Washington, D.C., to Chicago. Of more than 100 statues around the nation's capital, six portray women. Of the 48 statues in Chicago's parks, not one depicts a woman. Of the 22 nonallegorical statues in Central Park, 22 represent men and zero represent women.

"What is the subliminal message? 'Men are leaders. Men are presidents,'" she says. "And then we wonder why we can't elect a woman president."

She pondered how to address the disparity in a meaningful way. She called and wrote to the U.S. Postal Service and Google. But clearly, adding hundreds of new statues to Central Park would be a tough task.

In 2010, during a trip to the U.S. Capitol, she realized how. She was visiting with her son when she took note of a unique feature in the dome: a two-story, semicircular room full of statues. Since 1864, National Statuary Hall has given each state the chance to honor two deceased natives by displaying busts and statuary.

As Long wandered the room, she became dismayed. Only nine of the 100 statues depicted women. "I consider the Capitol a museum — nobody gets millions of visitors like that," she says. "And I thought, nine?"

She decided to fight, founding the group Equal Visibility Everywhere (EVE) to improve the exposure of women in daily life. EVE quickly took aim at Statuary Hall.

Her first target was the statue of John James Ingalls, a former Kansas senator. Kansas had already voted 20 years earlier to replace his statue with one of Amelia Earhart, but the state had never found money to commission it. EVE helped raise $300,000, and the statue is now ready for its bronze casing. Soon Earhart will be the tenth woman in Statuary Hall.

"She is the right person to have on your team," Tarnowsky says of her mom. "Everybody has ideas of something they can do. But when my mom has an idea, thought, or passion, you know something's actually gonna come from it."

It's not EVE's only effort that's gaining steam. Pressure on the Postal Service and Google have yielded a higher percentage of women on stamps and in Doodles. In 2010, Long wrote a Baltimore Sun op-ed piece about getting women on U.S. currency. Now the U.S. Treasury plans to put a woman on the next $10 bill (although many women are still rooting for the $20, which is more widely circulated). EVE is also spearheading efforts to get Maya Angelou to represent North Carolina in Statuary Hall, in place of white supremacist and former governor Charles Brantley Aycock.

The organization also launched a giant parade balloon of Amelia Earhart, which has been flown in parades in Indianapolis and Iowa.

In July 2013, when Long retired from her psychology practice and moved to Miami Beach, her focus turned to Florida. EVE has since led efforts to add Marjorie Stoneman Douglas — a champion for the Everglades and women's suffrage — to Statuary Hall. Douglas would replace Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who was born in Florida but didn't live for any considerable amount of time in the state.

The Miami-Dade County Commission for Women recently voted to help with the project. Last week, Long traveled to Tallahassee to address the Florida Commission on the Status of Women. Local politicians are lining up behind the move, including Rodriguez, whose district includes Coconut Grove, where Douglas lived.

"No one can dispute Marjory Stoneman Douglas' prominence or continued impact and contribution to the state of Florida," says Rodriguez, who plans to introduce a bill supporting the statue in this year's session.

Moving south on Brickell Avenue, cars inch their way on a road dwarfed by towering cranes and office buildings. Suddenly, between SE Seventh and Sixth streets, a bust of Mary Brickell appears in the median — a potent reminder of women's history in the only major American city founded by a woman.

"I want our sisters and our daughters to think they can do anything they want," Long says. "And the visual overrides the verbal. What you see matters."


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