The 24-ft gilded woman in Jackson Park is a small replica of the colossus statue “The Republic,” a centerpiece of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Erected in 1918, this replica, fondly nicknamed “The Golden Lady,” was re-gilded and rededicated in 1993 in remembrance of the Exposition, which took place in this area of Chicago. At the intersection of E. Hayes and S. Richards Drives.
The Exposition centered on the White City and its neo-classical Court of Honor overlooking the Grand Basin, dominated by two artistic representations of America—“The Republic” and “Columbia,” also known as the MacMonnies Fountain.
The gigantic statue of “The Republic” was the most impressive of innumerable neo-classical sculptures at the Exposition, inspiring awe and admiration in visitors. It rose out of the water, a 35-ton, 65-foot gilt plaster statue of a woman representing the United States, perhaps inspired by that New World Colossus of Rhodes, the Statue of Liberty in Chicago’s rival city. Its creator was one of the most famous American sculptors of the day, Daniel Chester French, now best known for his seated figure of the president in the Lincoln Memorial of Washington, D.C. (1914-1922). The classical models for “The Republic” were representations of the goddess of Wisdom—the great statue of Athena Parthenos by Phidias and the Greek sculpture known as the Minerva Medica, much admired by American visitors to Rome. Whereas the gigantic Ferris wheel towering over the commercial fairgrounds of the Midway Plaisance proclaimed American technological prowess, the neo-classical statues of the Court of Honor provided a visual cue that the young city represented the highest levels of Western civilization and the American republic was heir to the cultural traditions and political power of the Greco-Roman world.
Her height and gold-leaf surface made “The Republic” visible from afar, a figure of austere dignity, lifting her arms in benediction over the whole Exposition, exemplifying the majesty of a new, imperial America, united and strong after the turmoil of the Civil War. So in her left hand she held a spear crowned by the Frygian or liberty cap, symbolizing freedom and perhaps also alluding to the abolition of slavery. In her right she grasped an orb-like globe, surmounted by an American eagle, a clear sign of America’s engagement with the world. The Columbian Exposition affirmed America’s cultural aspirations and increasingly dominant global position, while also showing Chicago to the world not as a marginal frontier town, but as a major city, the Metropolis of the West.
Just as the White City offered Americans a vision of a model city and an ideal civic order, the electrically lit statue of “The Republic” symbolically suggested to visitors arriving from the “savage” villages and exotic Middle Eastern streets of the Midway Plaisance that here they had reached the pinnacle of cultured human development, both continuing and surpassing the traditions of the ancient world of Greece and Rome. (E.F-P.)