New York City will erect a statue of the Staten Island woman

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The dormant program dedicated to the women of historic New York City is back, and the iconic Staten Island lighthouse keeper will be one of five honored with a statue, Mayor Eric Adams announced Thursday.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio launched She Build NYC in 2018 as a way to honor women and women’s history in New York City with statues of five prominent women in each of the five boroughs.

The project has been on hold since 2019, in part due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but Adams announced last year that the city had received approval to erect a statue in Brooklyn of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.

Now, Adams is bringing the entire project to life with planned statues of Katherine Walker in Staten Island, Billie Holiday in Queens, Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trias in the Bronx, and Elizabeth Jennings Graham in Manhattan.

“As we close Women’s History Month, we remember that every day is an opportunity to celebrate the women who led and built New York City into the greatest city in the world,” Adams said. “These extraordinary women saved lives, defied racial and gender barriers, and overcame all odds to become leaders in every field of their specialty. Today, I am proud that their legacy will be enshrined in perpetuity through public monuments throughout the five boroughs – which are open to all New Yorkers to see, learn and understand their impact on our city.

Previous plans had located Walker’s memorial at the St. George Ferry Terminal, but it will now be included in the city’s North Shore Action Plan led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

A view of Robbins Reef Lighthouse during a boat tour around Staten Island Sunday, July 16, 2017.

Walker, a German immigrant, arrived at Robins Reef Lighthouse, officially in New Jersey but just a mile off the north shore of Staten Island, in 1885 with her husband, John Walker, who was a lighthouse keeper, according to the National Park Service.

After her husband’s death, Catherine Walker served as head lighthouse keeper at Robbins Reef from 1894 to 1919, according to the National Park Service.

Catherine Walker spent little time outside of Robins Reef, but would paddle across Staten Island to obtain supplies and teach her children.

The local honoree is credited with saving the lives of at least 50 people during her time at Robbins Reef and maintaining the light that helped guide ships to safe passage through the Kill Van Kull.

“Public art is how we show the world who we are and what we value, and I am thrilled to begin these exciting projects that honor extraordinary women from New York’s history,” said Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lori Cumbo. “As Women’s Story Month comes to a close, this is one critical way we can continue to build on the hard-won rights and recognition our ancestors fought so hard for. In every area, from pioneering doctors and artists to advocates and dedicated public servants, we We are committed to recognizing these achievements, while bringing stunning, dynamic public artworks to our city’s open spaces.

According to Adams’ office, the city will announce plans at a later date to create a monument honoring LGBTQ+ community activists and pioneers Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera in Manhattan.

A previous iteration of the statue project sparked controversy during the de Blasio administration after a period of public input saw St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, known as Mother Cabrini, excluded from the program despite receiving the largest number of public nominations.

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo eventually unveiled a statue of Ciprini in October 2020 in Battery Park City, effectively ending the controversy.

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