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She bears no visible load upon her head, as is only appropriate for an image of freedom, and she recalls the caryatids of antiquity only superficially, in her appearance of strength and gravity and the classical folds of her dress. The burden she bears consists of America's dreams.And like female allegorical figures in general, she is the captive of a meaning that rarely connects with women themselves.
Like France's Marianne, Columbia came to designate the political body of the nation.
In the political cartoons and propaganda of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Columbia's comrade-in-arms, champion, daddy and - it must be said - jester became the ubiquitous symbol of the United States, Uncle Sam.
The convention is ubiquitous in New York as elsewhere, because most of the monumental sculptors of the 19th century in America went to school in Paris and absorbed that city's profusion of allegorical sylphs and maidens, angels and dryads.
Because allegory is an integral part of our common language, nobody has ever had difficulty reading the Statue of Liberty's meaning, regardless of the relationship between women and freedom.
But it was not always so, and the process of her establishment as the major symbol of the nation has been gradual.
The earliest images of the New World show a goddess in the dress, or rather the undress, of an American Indian.Liberty is embodied as a woman, but this statue does not refer to the history or conditions of women's lives, let alone to an individual woman.Woman in her case represents the generic sublime, the face of the ideal, timeless, abstract and Other.This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996.To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.In this guise, sometimes accompanied by her pets -bison, buffalo, parrots and a crocodile or two - she appears in the imagery of American Independence; Paul Revere, in his Republican cartoons of the 1770's, adapted an Amazonian Mohawk, complete with calumet and feather skirt, to personify the new America.At the same time, the figure of Columbia entered the repertory, clad in stars and stripes, sometimes draped plaid-style like a Scottish chieftain, and a Phrygian cap of liberty with a garland of stars around its edge.This is how America looks.'' This is still how America looks.America's identity is bound up with the statue.Indeed, France was one of the last European nations to give women the vote.Similarly, the statue of Justice over the New York County Courthouse in Foley Square does not declare that women are just, or that women administer justice; the figure of Civic Fame by Adolph Weinman that alights on the pinnacle of the Municipal Building and glows softly above Wall Street at night does not promise that the city's fame rests with women.