Underlying and encompassing the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome in Washington D. C. and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, is an earlier, statuesque figure of a woman, variously shown in graphic art and on coins, as representing the United States. Her name is unknown by many people and forgotten by most. She is the goddess-like matron, Columbia, shown elegantly gowned and coiffeured, swathed in the Stars and Stripes as an extensive shawl or cape, often windblown. She is shown often on movie screens, as the Columbia Pictures logo.
Columbia is not unique. She compares with Athena of ancient Athens, Britannia of the United Kingdom and the revolutionary French woman, Marianne. Britannia is clothed in the Union Jack and Marianne carries a flagstaff from which she waves the French Tricolor, leading a crowd along a street past the Bastille just taken by the people of Paris. The Tricolor is red, white and blue, like the British Union Jack and our own flag. From France came the meaning of those three colors: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Fraternity means not a college club but the spirit of caring brotherhood most properly shared among all citizens of a nation, and ideally across the entire world. We’ve lost it.
These figures of powerful women spiritually imbue and embody their nations. Each symbolizes the creative will and unity of her people. It is altogether fitting that such symbols be female and more womanly than amazonian. Motherly and nurturing, women seek the peaceful conditions in which they flourish. They give birth to our children and sustain homes even while employed outside them. They earn everything their men can provide them. Men must earn their love and companionship. Men and women must be worthy of each other’s trust and service.
It has long been argued that the eagle is no fit symbol for American democracy, for it is a raptor that lives by killing smaller prey. Benjamin Franklin correctly thought that the wild turkey should represent us. It puts on a domestic show but lives cautiously out of harm’s way without flying far or high, exposing itself carelessly often in an open field.
Athena was portrayed in partial armor, bearing spear and shield, symbolizing readiness to defend her attainments of learning and wisdom. Why should not these great women have been armed and armored warriors, mounted on great horses like the statues of Italian condottieri, instead of standing each on her own two feet? Riding a horse clearly demonstrates class distinctions of dominance and subordination. The rider enslaves a lesser being. This does not comport with great democracy which long ago found slavery inconsistent with its ideals. The armored warrior suggests defensive concern for self and aggressive interest in territory, status and rank. Arms and armor are not consistent with agriculture and husbandry, forestry, land management and civil engineering. Perhaps the mad antipathy felt toward Jane Fonda by militant, macho, old white men and their ignorant sons rises from the psychic discord of feeling betrayed by Columbia whom they with shameful guilt had abandoned to play John Wayne instead of George Washington and found no great, white horses waiting to be bossed around under their buttocks and between their legs. Real women don’t allow saddle and spur.