For the first 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Indpendence on the 4th of July, American women would present their appreciation of the nation's hard-won liberty as handiwork in the form of banners, flags, or standards to groups of soldiers of the United States military. These Independence Day presentation ceremony would allow the women to speak about what the new nation & its defenders meant to them, even though they would not be allowed to vote until 1920. These female orators could be viewed as the embodiment of Lady Liberty herself.
Symbols, like those of Lady Liberty illustrated here, are visual shorthand. The English and the colonists had begun depicting America as a lady even before the American Revolution. Americans in the 18th & 19th centuries invented or adopted emblems (images accompanied by a motto either understood or written) and personifications (usually historical allegorical figures) to express their political needs & beliefs.
These symbols were propaganda tools to draw together the country's diverse peoples, who spoke many languages, in order to promote national political union & purpose. Lady Liberty evolved throughout the decades of the early republic to meet the propaganda needs of the current situation.
This 18th century Lady Liberty freeing a bird from its cage, giving political liberty to the United States from Britain, while holding a liberty cap hung on a pole. Lady Liberty was almost always depicted in a classical costume. Before the Roman Empire, similar felt caps were worn by liberated slaves from Troy & Asia Minor to cover their previously shorn heads, until their hair grew back. Here the cap symbolized a more intimate emancipation from personal servitude as a subject of the British Empire rather than united, national liberty. The caps were sometimes referred in Latin as pilleus liberatis. In classical literature, the cap atop a pole was a symbol of freedom evolving from the period when Salturnius conquered Rome in 263 BC; and he raised the cap on a pikestaff to show that he would free the slaves who fought with him. The cap was such a popular symbol that it was also depicted on some early US coins.
Lady Liberty is holding a musket & powder horn, ready to fight for freedom. 1779 Broadside. New York Historical Society. SY1779 No. 2.
Venerate the Plough, 1786, etching Columbian Magazine
1790 Design on an American Coverlet Winterthur Museum
1792 Genius of Lady's Magazine kneels before Columbia (Lady Liberty) with a petition for the rights of women. Lady's Magazine. Library Company of Philadelphia
Edward Savage Liberty in the Form of the Goddess of Youth Giving Support to the Bald Eagle, 1796
Liberty in the Form of the Goddess inspired by Edward Savage's print in Embroidery by a young woman.
Abijah Canfield Liberty in the Form of the Goddess of Youth Giving Support to the Bald Eagle, a painting after Edward Savage. 1800
Enoch Gridley Pater Patriae Memorial for George Washington with Lady Liberty at the base holding a spear and a sword as she weeps. 1800
Lady Liberty 1800 Brown University