Columbia, also known as Lady Liberty, is the historical and poetic name attributed to the United States of America. She personifies American ideals during significant historical eras, always representing hope, freedom, and liberty.
Columbia, also known as “Miss America,” or Lady Liberty, was first personified by an Indian Queen. This voluptuous Native American woman often wore little more than feathers and animal skin, rode a giant armadillo, and/or held a tomahawk. She portrayed the danger and adventure associated with 16th- and 17th-century North American explorers. She was also depicted to resemble Pocahontas, and later, a classical European figure. “By the late 1790s,” folk-art historian Nancy Jo Fox observed, “it was not clear whether a feathered Indian Princess had changed into a Greek goddess or whether a greek goddess had placed feathers or plumes in her hair.”
Her bronze statue, created by Thomas Crawford, has crowned the dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. since 1863. Columbia was first named, “Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace.” Today, however, her statue “is officially known as the Statue of Freedom.”
Throughout various national events, Columbia transformed slightly, but always represented a sovereign United States dressed in red, white, and blue, with stars and stripes, and the U.S. Seal. She sometimes held a liberty pole, a shield of the United States, stood next to George Washington and/or a bald eagle. Eventually, her plumes transformed into a “Liberty cap,” usually decorated with stars and stripes.
Columbia embodies patriotism, citizenship, equal rights, fighting for freedom, and enlisting men and women to serve their country by joining the Army or Navy and/or selling war bonds.
She also memorialized the fallen during and after wartime:
Woodrow Wilson’s famous propaganda announcement used Columbia as well, with a depiction of a modern female, calling Americans to get involved and support the Red Cross. Wilson declared:
I summon you to Comradeship in the Red Cross.”
Columbia also accompanied national hymns. Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” in 1918, and revised it in 1938. With the introduction of his song, Columbia (Lady Liberty) could be seen everywhere.
Columbia adorned baking soda products to cigar boxes. Her face, and her symbolism, could be found on store shelves nationwide, encouraging patriotism. Americans could take pride in being American.
Where is Columbia today?
She is barely recognized by most Americans. No longer a cultural icon, only a glimpse of her can still be seen at certain movies. Thanks to Columbia Pictures, she’s adorned the screen for 90 years and can still be seen for a brief moment on the big screen or on television re-runs. Columbia Pictures most always depicts Columbia forming a pyramid with the clouds. She is the light bearer, holding the eternal flame, which also Lady Liberty, the Statue of Liberty, holds.
What would happen if Columbia returned to remind Americans of their nation’s history? Considering America’s future, what would Columbia look like today? How could she embody the American spirit and reach generations of Americans who have forgotten her? Could she still remind Americans, as a beacon of hope, to defend the liberties protected by the Constitution?