What's So Secret About the Statue of Liberty?

By Robert R. Hieronimus, PhD and Laura E. Cortner

One of the things that surprised us the most as we researched the history of the Statue of Liberty was when we tackled the question, “Why is Liberty depicted as a woman in a land where women had no liberty?” The history of the Statue of Liberty, it turns out, is bookended by the histories of a lot of intelligent and creative activist women who literally changed the world. Especially the women of the early 20th century who pushed through the passage of the 19th Amendment; they literally changed centuries of social conditioning and created a new status level for women.

With Bob’s background in symbols and archetypes, we thought we would write a simple book analyzing the Statue of Liberty from a symbolic perspective. We’ve long been interested in symbols because they speak to our subconscious, and thus are far more effective at motivating people’s emotions than words alone.. Symbols are a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind; they cultivate wholeness and can lead to self-realization. As thinkers from Joseph Campbell to Stephen Dinan have noted, our failure to create meaningful myths and symbols in today’s society has led to our disintegrative state.

Learning to appreciate the Statue of Liberty as a powerful GODDESS, and then learning the personal histories of the brave women and men who fought for women’s rights, led us to the surprising conclusion that liberty for the female — in other words, real women — is a key to humanity’s survival on this planet.

What enticed us to study the suffragists of the early 20th century was their successful use of symbolism. They chose symbols for themselves that fit right into the American tradition, thus subconsciously comforting their opposition. Since the founding of our Republic, Americans have used the allegorical female to convey messages of so-called women’s strengths: caregiving, caution, protection of the young, and enlightenment.

The Statue of Liberty is an energizing symbol, and has been used by cartoonists since her birth to give an immediate sense of America — usually the part of America that is disappointed in the course the current government is trending. Recent depictions showing the Statue of Liberty being violated by the president or otherwise in distress clearly show how she stands for “us”; we feel violated when we see these images. Hollywood filmmakers, who also recognize Lady Liberty’s emotional impact on viewers, have long tried to outdo one another in thinking up creative ways to destroy her in one disaster film after another. She’s frozen over in The Day After Tomorrow, decapitated in Cloverfield, and destroyed by aliens in Independence Day, just to name a few.

Another secret about Lady Liberty is that she has Native American ancestors. From the earliest days of the European exploration, European artists created a female allegorical figure to represent this continent and called her “America.” Lady America, otherwise known as the Indian Queen, is allegedly a Native American woman, but there was no attempt at authenticity. Distinguishing her from the other three allegorical females already representing Europe, Asia and Africa, this Lady America is always partially or entirely naked — vulnerable to the Euro-American paradigm of domination that would be unleashed on both nature and women.

Studying both the Indian Queen and the later version known as the Indian Princess as forms of propaganda opened up the door for us to examine the relationship between the Euro-Americans and the Indigenous people of this continent. As soon as the Revolutionary War was won, the trend to use the Indian Princess as the mascot of the new United States waned as the exploding population pushed settlers to break every treaty designed to protect Native American lands. Identifying themselves as an Indian Princess had rallied them to rebellion, but once achieved, suddenly reminded them of the hypocrisy of their claim for “liberty for all.” This period is when you begin to see the Indian princess donning Roman Robes and transforming more into the Euro-American concept of Lady Liberty with which we are more familiar.

The vast difference between the Native American and European appreciation of both liberty and powerful women can be summed up in a quote from a Cherokee leader to his European counterparts over a council fire: “Where are your women?” It all starts with what kind of creation stories you are told growing up. When you believe your creator gods are in gender partnership, and the Earth is made out of the very body of your creator goddess, you tend to structure your society around gender partnership and see your women as equally powerful as your men. Women among the Iroquois, for example, are highly valued participants in their government. Their strengths are seen as different from men, but they are equally powerful. The Council of the Clan Mothers was on par with our Supreme Court, and in our book we talk about why the Revolutionary generation was willing to copy so much of the Iroquois governing structure, but not the status of women. One revolution at a time.

After reading our book, The Secret Life of Lady Liberty: Goddess in the New World, we hope you’ll never look at the Statue of Liberty in quite the same way again. And we hope you start noticing the American goddess all around you. You’ll see her all over Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York and in state capitols in government artwork and coinage. More than a dozen state seals and flags include the Liberty goddess or other frequently depicted goddesses like Minerva or Ceres.

You may also start noticing the goddess in the cycles of nature and in your personal life, as seen in the nurturing qualities of the people you meet — especially your mothers, sisters, and daughters. And men, too, who are beginning to embrace caregiving as a symbol of strength. We’d like to see more individuals mentor young girls to become leaders, mentor young boys to be compassionate caregivers, and support policy shifts toward valuing caring and compassion in politics and business and all realms of life. It’s all about balance.

The sacred feminine is at the very foundation of this nation, an important concept to remember as the new administration begins to roll back advances in gender equality made in the last few decades. Whenever you see the Statue of Liberty, remember the strength of the goddess energy which impels us toward cooperation and partnership. The goddess energy inside the Statue of Liberty is definitely one of her “secrets.” When you rebrand the Statue of Liberty as our American Goddess — when you acknowledge the divine female as part of the American tradition — it will remind you that life is sacred, and that we all have a responsibility to each other to keep it that way.

Robert Hieronimus, Ph.D., is an internationally known historian, visual artist and radio host. His weekly program, 21st Century Radio®, has broadcast New Paradigm topics across the U.S. since 1988. Robert, who has appeared on The History Channel, Discovery, the BBC, and in National Geographic, lives in Maryland.

Laura E. Cortner has co-authored previous titles with Robert Hieronimus, including Founding Fathers, Secret Societies and The United Symbolism of America. Her work appears regularly in periodicals like UFO magazine, FATE magazine, and several Beatles publications. Laura, who is the director of the Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, lives in Maryland.

Follow Robert and Laura on Facebook or Twitter or read more about their book at SecretLifeofLadyLiberty.com.

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This article appears in: 2017 Catalyst, Issue 5: Transforming Aging