Who was the woman depicted on the Statue of
Liberty? As we all remember from our school days, the statue's
designer, French sculptor Frederic A. Bartholdi, patterned her after
Libertas, the Roman embodiment of freedom.
But that's really not the answer I'm looking
for. Rather, whose face is
on the Statue of Liberty? Did someone model for Bartholdi, or otherwise
serve as the inspiration for the strong countenance greeting millions
of newcomers entering New York Harbor?
One theory has it that it was Bartholdi's mother who modeled as
Libertas, but this has been largely dismissed by scholars as pure
fiction. I spent some time digging, but found nothing to reveal the
human identity of Libertas, if any. This is not to say no conclusive
evidence exists, but for all I know, it may repose out of reach in the
bowels of a centuries-old Paris library in un-digitized format. Until
reliable information surfaces, I and many others are left to speculate
on Libertas' facial origin.
I have long opined that the Statue of Liberty woman and the Lady
Liberty adorning George T. Morgan's silver dollar could have been the
person. Has anyone else ever noticed the facial similarities? Did one
artisan influence the other? The time and space
continuum of both major players, Frederic A. Bartholdi and George T.
Morgan, align perfectly to at least make this a possibility. Certainly
not compelling enough to re-write the history books, but it makes for
Consider the timeline of Bartholdi and Morgan from 1876 to 1878:
Both men were in Philadelphia in November 1876.
Bartholdi attended the
Centennial International Exhibition as a member of the official French
delegation. One of Bartholdi's objectives was to promote the Statue of
The statue's right arm and torch (little else,
anything, had been built yet) were erected and drew major attention
from fairgoers. For 50 cents, visitors could climb to the top of the 30
foot arm and stand on the balcony surrounding the torch. Money raised
was used to fund the statue's pedestal eventual construction on
Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor.
Morgan arrived in the United States from England in October 1876, at
the urging of Mint Director Henry R. Linderman, and went to work right
away on designing new silver coinage.
The following month, November, Morgan and
artist Thomas Eakins convinced a reluctant young Philadelphia woman,
Anna Willess Williams, to sit as a potential model for the
Lady Liberty obverse.
Morgan stated Miss Williams' profile was the finest
personification of liberty he had seen on either side of the Atlantic,
describing her as being fair in complexion, “with blue eyes and a
Grecian nose,” and hair that was “almost her crowning glory; golden
color, abundant, and light of texture,” and displayed in a tasteful
Williams sat for five modeling sessions during November 1876, all in
So while it is factual that both Bartholdi and
Morgan were in Philadelphia during November 1876, I have not been able
to ascertain if
they crossed paths, so what follows is merely conjecture.
Nevertheless, it is not a far fetched notion that Morgan was attracted
to the Centennial
International Exhibition and could've easily met Bartholdi at the
Statue of Liberty arm display.
As fellow artisans, perhaps they discussed their ongoing projects and
they shared the goal of finding a human characterization of liberty, at
which point it is possible Morgan confided he had found such a person,
and invited Bartholdi to attend the next modeling session with
Though it's doubtful the imaginary Morgan-Bartholdi collaboration
described above ever occurred exactly that way, it is easy to see the
similarities between the women portrayed on the Morgan Dollar and
Statue of Liberty:
In both images, the hairline, eyes, brow, jaw,
thick lower lip, nose, and cheek could've been patterned after the same
person. To be sure, there
are some dissimilarities (nostrils and chin), but those could be
explained away due to the inherent challenges of manufacturing a
The close up photo above of the statue's face was taken in 1984, as
work began on a major restoration. It is one of many fascinating photos published
by the Library
of Congress to document the 1980's restoration.
The strong similarities between renditions of liberty from Bartholdi
and Morgan have drawn some writers to (probably incorrectly) conclude
that it is indeed the Statue of Liberty displayed on the Morgan Dollar.
Do an internet search using "Statue of Liberty and George Morgan" and
it won't take long to find examples.
The Statue of Liberty (first) to Morgan Dollar (second) scenario seems
unlikely. Referring back to the timeline above, by 1877 Morgan was
already striking pattern half dollars featuring the nearly identical
obverse used later on the new silver dollar, while Bartholdi was still
in the development phase of the statue's head, so it's quite a stretch
to say the Statue of Liberty face came first. If there WAS a
connection, if any, the order would've almost certainly had to have
been Morgan Dollar first, Statue of Liberty, second.
Moving beyond November 1876, both Morgan and
completed their tasks. In March, 1878, a new silver dollar carrying
Morgan's design was
being minted by the millions. Today, the Morgan Dollar is one of the
most popularly collected coins throughout the world.
Bartholdi's journey was far more arduous. In
mid-1878, the completed
head went on display at the Paris World Fair. Construction of the
statue in Paris was slowed by fundraising woes and design challenges.
Bartholdi enlisted the aid of Gustave Eiffel to develop the
infrastructure and flexible exoskeleton of the statue. Eiffel later
went on to build the famous Parisian landmark tower bearing his name.
The Statue of Liberty was fully built in its temporary Paris home and
was presented to the American ambassador on July 4, 1884. Disassembly
and crating of the statue in preparation of its ocean voyage to the
United States began in early 1885, as the Americans were continuing
construction of Liberty's pedestal on Bedloe's Island.
An estimated 200,000 people greeted the French ship Isere, as
sailed into New York Harbor on June 17, 1885, laden with the crated
Statue of Liberty. Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World newspaper
organized a fundraiser, and on August 11, 1885, announced $102,000 had
been contributed by 120,000 donors, more than enough to complete
construction of the pedestal. The pedestal was finally ready in April
1886, whereupon assembly of the statue began immediately.
On October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated. A morning
parade through parts of New York City attracted a crowd of up to one
million. As the parade wound past the New York Stock Exchange, ticker
tape was tossed from the high rise windows, the beginning of the ticker
tape tradition in the Big Apple. In the afternoon, President Grover
Cleveland and a host of dignitaries made speeches at the base of the
Since the very first day of its
dedication in New York Harbor, the
Statue of Liberty became one of America's most cherished symbols, and a
beacon of hope and freedom throughout the world.
Millions of immigrants boarded ships bound for America, where they
heard it was possible for a
hard working commoner to own land and prosper, an impossibilty in many
of their native countries. We can only imagine the
emotional stirring felt by many of them as they were welcomed to
America by Liberty's freedom torch. Well done, Frederic A. Bartholdi!