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Smithsonian exhibit brings largest collection of female statues to DC

The Smithsonian exhibit brought 120 statues to D.C. to highlight women's success in STEM fields.

WASHINGTON — Ramble around D.C. for a bit and you're highly likely to run into any number of the more than 100 statues peppered throughout the District. 

President Abraham Lincoln presides over the National Mall. A short distance away, President Thomas Jefferson keeps watch over the Tidal Basin. 

If you set out to track down any statues of women in D.C., you'd better have a good idea where you're going or it might take a while. Only a handful of statues in D.C. highlight specific women or the accomplishments of a group of women. 

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is among the small group of women immortalized in stone. So is Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights activist and founder of Bethune-Cookman University.

You can see a short description of the female statues of D.C. HERE. 

Spoiler Alert: most of them are in the Capitol's Statuary Hall collection, where they are vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts.  

The extreme lack of representation of women in statues across the country piqued the interest of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, who found that only six statues of women were present in the ten largest U.S. cities.    

Combining the need for both more women in STEM fields and more statues of women, Lyda Hill Philanthropies set out to find a group of role model women and created 120 3D-printed statues which were displayed in New York, Dallas and then along the National Mall and inside several Smithsonian museums as part of Women's History Month.  

"All of my cousins are like, girl! You're in the Smithsonian!" said Dr. Ciara Sivels, a nuclear engineer with Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory.  

Dr. Sivels's research centers around radiation detection and how it affects materials. She was the first black woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan. 

"I saw it as an opportunity to share my story and maybe change someone's trajectory in the future," said Dr. Sivels. "Having this opportunity as an ambassador was very important because as a black woman in a male-dominated field I wanted to show that representation."

Dr. Lataisia Jones nearly drove off the road when she happened to see her statue front and center on the National Mall. 

"That's the biggest part of this initiative," said Jones, who also goes by 'Dr. Tay.' "To make sure we increase that exposure to women. Especially women in STEM careers."

Dr. Jones was the first black woman to earn a doctorate from Florida State University in biomedical sciences. She does STEM consulting and founded a program called 'S.T.E.M.ING WHILE BLACK' 

"I grew up thinking Bill Nye the Science Guy and Steve Urkel (from the 1990's TV show 'Family Matters') were the only scientists and I had to look like them and I had to do things like them even socially," said Dr. Jones. "Then I realized, you know, I'm a girly-girl. I like to wear dresses. I like to wear makeup and get my hair done.

Women only make up 25% of STEM-related careers despite being 50% of those who earn a college degree.  

"The relationship between aspiration and inspiration. You have to have a little inspiration of those who look like you to even be able to aspire to be the things like Dr. Jones or Dr. Sivels," said Margaret Black with Lyda Hill Philanthropies. "We started this all for a very simple reason and that is science is the answer. It's gonna be the answer to cancer, to COVID and to climate change all around us. To build this better future we're going to need all the minds at the table."  

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