Our Lady Liberty is one of America’s most recognizable icons. Her origins, however, are anything but domestic.

Inspiration to another nation

While war raged between the North and the South during the US Civil War, the world waited to learn the outcome. In France, the abolitionist Édouard René de Laboulaye hoped that the Union would emerge triumphant, bringing an end to domestic slavery. In 1865, when the war ended, and the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, Laboulaye mentioned to Frédéric Bartholdi, a friend and sculptor, that he wished to honor the triumph of freedom and democracy. Bartholdi, who loved the idea, felt inspired by Laboulaye’s desire and began plans to make it come true.

Repressive tensions in France under Napoleon III’s regime, as well as complications brought about by the Franco-Prussian war,  delayed Bartholdi’s work, but his plans developed over the following half-decade. He released his first model in 1870, with his sights set on what is now Liberty Island as the resting site for the statue. Bartholdi considered it to be the perfect place, as ships entering New York Harbor would have to sail past it.

Coming home

The copper statue was shipped and assembled in pieces, which were placed upon a stone pedestal built by the United States. Its dedication ceremony was held following its completion in October of 1886. Its iconic blue-green color comes from the patina on the copper. She holds a tablet inscribed with the date July 4, 1776, in Roman numerals. Until the 1930s, tourists could climb up to the viewing platform around the statue’s torch. Today, visitors can enter the statue and pedestal, as well as the new Statue Of Liberty Museum, which opened on May 16, 2019.

Just as the statue is marching forward toward new shores and welcoming visitors to the United States, the anniversary of its arrival and the grand opening of its museum remind us in these tense times what ideals this country strives for and that it is the job of all people to carry that torch.