Did you see this? There are more Rues Victor Hugo and Places Charles de Gaulle than you can shake a (French) stick at, but whilst over 60% of the country’s road names celebrate famous French men, only 6% nationwide honor the country’s women. In Paris, the figure is even more paltry at 2%. One place where the gender imbalance is being addressed, albeit slowly, is in Lyon, France’s third-largest city in the east of the country. Leave it to the French!
We are no better here in the U.S. Nearly 5,000 streets are named Washington. I am certain it was George, not Martha, Grover, Gene, Kenny, or ?? Mayne Main, First, or A belonged to women?
Mapbox, a site that provides data mapping tools to developers, illustrated the imbalance in a blog post this month. Engineer Aruna Sankaranarayanan and a small team analyzed the genders of people with streets named after them in seven cities across the world. On average, close to three-quarters of streets that bore a person’s name were named after men, Sankaranarayanan and her team found.
From Washington, D.C., to New Mexico to Paris, people are aware of this imbalance and are working to tip the scales. These activists say the failure to honor famous women in public places undermines their achievements and hurts girls who are growing up today. I agree!
In Paris, a feminist group took a more direct approach after realizing that less than 3 percent of all the city’s streets were named for women. In August, members of Osez le Féminisme! covered dozens of street signs with makeshift new ones honoring pioneering women who often get overlooked, like lawyer Jeanne Chauvin and Madeleine Brès, the first French woman to earn a medical degree. The activists are pushing the city to change enough existing neutral street names to make the number of streets honoring women equal to the number named after men.
Your challenge, should you accept, is to tell me about a street named for a famous woman. Detroit has a Rosa Parks Boulevard.
What about in San Francisco?
Per LisaRuth Elliott: “You know those streets, the back alleys, named for ladies downtown San Francisco and in SOMA? You know they were named for prostitutes, madams maybe even, during the Gold Rush and Barbary Coast days, right?!” (Wink, wink, nod, nod)If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of SOMA alleys with the first names of women, you’ve probably heard this fancy myth, which is even part of the marketing for at least one bar along one of these streets today. There are also theories that pioneer families named them after their daughters. But, the reality is that there are very few streets named after females in San Francisco from any time period; most early streets were named after powerful men who made their mark in some way. So this is a story not only about where the street names for Jessie, Annie, Minna, Clementina, as well as their sisters Tehama and Natoma, came from, but also about the naming of things.
Local historian Angus MacFarlane went on a complicated 21st century quest to prove that Haight and Waller were named after prominent women of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, as of course these women were married to even more prominent men with the same last names. He even had written documentation in history books to contend with, almost proving the names came from these ladies’ husbands. Even so, the streets reflect the husbands’ last names, not the given names of the women they honor.
I am trying to think about streets named for women. There is Harriet Tubman Park and Street in Knoxville. There is a Susan B. Anthony School in Daly City. Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, has numerous schools and nursing programs named for her. The U.S. Tennis Association named their courts the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
I think you get the point. Naming streets, schools, and parks is going to change now. Please, let there be no Kardashian Street, or Ivanka Boulevard!!!