30 Jan The Face of Liberty
A picture essay
In the middle of the nineteenth century, in the French town of Colmar in Alsace Lorraine, a highly respectable Protestant widow named Charlotte Bartholdi sat stone-faced in the parlor of her charming little house at 30, Rue de Marchands. Her eccentric, genealogy-loving elder son, Charles, had fallen in love with a beautiful young woman and wanted to marry her. The only problem, he explained, was that she was Jewish: but as he was convinced they would make each other happy and she would bring him the stability he so much needed, he was sure his mother would give her consent.
He was wrong. As the daughter of a local mayor and staunch Christian the Widow Bartholdi absolutely forbade the marriage – and told her son to break off all associations with the Jewess. With a heavy heart, Charles obeyed – and began a gradual descent into madness which ended with his death at the age of 32.
Charlotte’s second son, Frederic, a sculptor, did not even dare raise the subject of marriage until he visited
America at the age of 42 and fell in love with a penniless French emigrant girl named Jeanne-Emelie Baheux. But was she reliably Protestant? Madame Bartholdi was not convinced by the information given her. As Frederic would not make a move without the Widow’s permission, the marriage was delayed until it threatened to become a scandal which would derail Frederic’s career.
Only when an obliging minister certified Jeanne-Emelie to be a Unitarian did the sculptor obtain his mother’s written consent to the marriage.
What better way could a sculptor find to show how much he appreciated a woman like his mother than by using her as the model for the largest statue ever built?
As a result of her son’s devotion Madame Bartholdi’s gigantic face sat for years in a yard in Paris as Frederic traveled thousands of miles raising the money to complete the rest of her.
He did not succeed until he had enlisted not only the people of France, but the people of America, the City of New York and the U.S. Congress in his quest.
And as a result, when the sculpture was finally unveiled in October 1886, it was the stern, unyielding features of Bartholdi’s bigoted, anti-Semitic mother, standing 151 feet tall, that greeted every emigrant arriving in America through the port of New York.
In the guise of the Statue of Liberty.
Never underestimate the power of mothers.