circa 1890

Who is Lady Liberty?

circa 1890

Columbia, also known as Lady Liberty, is the historical and poetic name attributed to the United States of America. She personifies American ideals during significant historical eras, always representing hope, freedom, and liberty.

Personified Columbia in American flag gown and Phrygian cap, which signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty, from the World War I era.
Personified Columbia in an American flag gown and Phrygian cap, which signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty, from the World War I era.

Columbia, also known as “Miss America,” or Lady Liberty, was first personified by an Indian Queen. This voluptuous Native American woman often wore little more than feathers and animal skin, rode a giant armadillo, and/or held a tomahawk. She portrayed the danger and adventure associated with 16th- and 17th-century North American explorers. She was also depicted to resemble Pocahontas, and later, a classical European figure. “By the late 1790s,” folk-art historian Nancy Jo Fox observed, “it was not clear whether a feathered Indian Princess had changed into a Greek goddess or whether a greek goddess had placed feathers or plumes in her hair.”

Miss America, Lithograph I, Columbia's Courtship: A Picture History of the United States in Twelve Emblematic Designs in Color with Accompanying Verses, 1893, by Walter Crane.
Miss America, Lithograph I, Columbia’s Courtship: A Picture History of the United States in Twelve Emblematic Designs in Color with Accompanying Verses, 1893, by Walter Crane.

 

Her bronze statue, created by Thomas Crawford, has crowned the dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. since 1863. Columbia was first named, “Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace.” Today, however, her statue “is officially known as the Statue of Freedom.”

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The Statue of Freedom, Thomas Crawford, 1863. U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

 

Throughout various national events, Columbia transformed slightly, but always represented a sovereign United States dressed in red, white, and blue, with stars and stripes, and the U.S. Seal. She sometimes held a liberty pole, a shield of the United States, stood next to George Washington and/or a bald eagle. Eventually, her plumes transformed into a “Liberty cap,” usually decorated with stars and stripes.

 

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Circa late 1790s.

 

Samuel Harris Columbia Lady Liberty 1804
Samuel Harris Columbia Lady Liberty 1804.

 

Columbia at War "Hail! Glorious Banner of Our Land" Lee & Walker, 1861. Library of Congress
Columbia at War “Hail! Glorious Banner of Our Land,”
Lee & Walker, 1861. Library of Congress.

 

"Windy Liberty" circa Civil War era.
“Windy Liberty” circa Civil War era.

 

 

Lady Columbia 1892.
Lady Columbia 1892.

 

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Remembering the Civil War, Memorial Day postcard, “When can their glory fade?” Chapman, 1909.

 

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Vintage postcard circa 1907-1915.

Columbia embodies patriotism, citizenship, equal rights, fighting for freedom, and enlisting men and women to serve their country by joining the Army or Navy and/or selling war bonds.

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“Columbia calls, Enlist now for U.S. Army,” designed by Frances Adams Halsted; painted by V. Aderente, 1916.

 

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War War I propaganda poster, James Montgomery Flagg, The H.C. Miner Litho. Co. N.Y. 1917.

 

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World War I propaganda poster designed by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917.

 

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“Fight or Buy Bonds. Third Liberty Loan.” 1917. Records of the U.S. Food Administration, National Archives.

She also memorialized the fallen during and after wartime:

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Great War Victory illustration by J. C. Leyendecker, 1918.

Woodrow Wilson’s famous propaganda announcement used Columbia as well, with a depiction of a modern female, calling Americans to get involved and support the Red Cross. Wilson declared:

“I summon you to Comradeship in the Red Cross.”

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“I summon you,” Harrison C. Fisher, 1918.

 

Columbia also accompanied national hymns. Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” in 1918, and revised it in 1938. With the introduction of his song, Columbia (Lady Liberty) could be seen everywhere.

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God Bless America circa 1918, 1938.

 

Columbia adorned baking soda products to cigar boxes. Her face, and her symbolism, could be found on store shelves nationwide, encouraging patriotism. Americans could take pride in being American.

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Circa 1880, New York.

 

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Miss Liberty spreading her arms across the Americas, American Lithographic Co. Circa 1890-1900.

 

Where is Columbia today?

She is barely recognized by most Americans. No longer a cultural icon, only a glimpse of her can still be seen at certain movies. Thanks to Columbia Pictures, she’s adorned the screen for 90 years and can still be seen for a brief moment on the big screen or on television re-runs. Columbia Pictures most always depicts Columbia forming a pyramid with the clouds. She is the light bearer, holding the eternal flame, which also Lady Liberty, the Statue of Liberty, holds.

 

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Circa 1936-1976.

 

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Circa 1961-1976.

 

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Circa 1992-1998.

What would happen if Columbia returned to remind Americans of their nation’s history? Considering America’s future, what would Columbia look like today? How could she embody the American spirit and reach generations of Americans who have forgotten her? Could she still remind Americans, as a beacon of hope, to defend the liberties protected by the Constitution?

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