LONG before there was a United States, there was a Lady Liberty. In fact, there were once three female allegories for the New World. L'Amrique, an Indian princess with a crown of feathers, was the first symbol of the new continent in the 1500s. Columbia became popular after the Revolutionary War. The daughter of mother Britannia wore patriotic garb and a starry tiara. In the 18th century, Liberty also emerged, with her red Phrygian cap (the Roman symbol of a freed slave). She symbolized such values as liberty, compassion, and democracy.
In the early 19th century, Pocahontas inherited much of L'Amrique's mystique, and Liberty and Columbia became interchangeable. But by 1886, when the Statue of Liberty was erected, Liberty was the leading female icon.
An exhibition at the New York Historical Society shows how these images evolved. "The Changing Face of Liberty: Female Allegories of America" runs until Sept. 3.
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