I saw this article on Facebook:

Smithsonian: Statue of Liberty was originally a Muslim woman

By Bradford Richardson
November 25, 2015, 03:19 pm

An article on the government-administered museum’s blog, Smart News, claims one of the designers of Lady Liberty drew inspiration from monuments in Egypt and originally intended to construct a veiled female peasant on the Suez Canal.

The article cites historian Barry Moreno, author of multiple books about the statue, whose Islamic origins were also reported last week by The Daily Beast.

“Taking the form of a veiled peasant woman, the statue was to stand 86 feet high, and its pedestal was to rise to a height of 48 feet,” Moreno writes in “The Statue of Liberty.”

The design of the project was eventually altered to the Roman colossus who shines the light of liberty from New York harbor today.


Are there other historians that can support Barry Moreno's (no condemnation or disrespect intended) claim?

Personal Note: I have personally never heard of this before. While I find it to be nice trivia, I would like some reassurance that it is accurate. I know whenever I get to my place of employment, several people are going to be up in arms and screaming of propaganda about this article. I would like to be a voice of reason in that regard.

Related: Was the original version of the Statue of Liberty a Black slave?

  • Huh… That is an interesting one. I tried to check a couple sites and haven't seen anything on it.
    – user29977
    Nov 26, 2015 at 1:39
  • 7
    It's a huge step from "the design of the statue drew inspiration from an earlier design featuring a Muslim woman" to "the statue was originally a Muslim woman". Nov 26, 2015 at 14:50
  • Where does the original source (i.e. Barry Moreno) say the woman was Muslim? Is Erin Blakemore misrepresenting the original?
    – gerrit
    Nov 26, 2015 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


According to the artist's own 1885 words in a footnote of his own book The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World:

At this period I was expecting to execute a statue of Egypt for the Suez Lighthouse. I even laid before Ismail Pasha a project. It was this that made an evil-disposed newspaper say, and others repeat, that I had executed a colossal statue for Egypt, which had not been used, and that I had resold it to the Society of the French-American Union in order that from it might be made the Statue of Liberty.

Now, I never executed anything for the Khedive except a little sketch which has remained in his palace, and represents Egypt under the features of a female Fellah. Besides every one has seen the model of the Statue of Liberty made at Paris, and only evilly disposed persons are ignorant of what it has cost me. I have never answered these small cavilings, but I think that I ought to notice them on this occasion.

(alternative link to reference)

So he had planned a different statue of a female Fellah. The term Fellah applied to Christians, Jews, Druze and Muslims.

So a conceived different work of art was a "female Fellah".

Additionally, according to Lady Liberty: The Ancient Goddess of America :

In 1884, at a banquet held in honor of Bartholdi, the French Senator Jules Francois Jennotte—Bezerian, in his after dinner speech, recalled an experience he had shared with the sculptor, saying: “Several days after having met Monsieur for the first time, he invited me to the Opera. In entering the stage box, I noticed an aged woman sitting in a corner, and when the light fell on her face, I turned to Bartholdi and said to him, 'Why, that's your model for the Statue of Liberty!' 'Yes,' he answered calmly. 'It's my mother.'”

The story about the artist's mother is further substantiated by the 28 October 1886 story "Liberty Enlightening the World": A Visit to M. Bartholdi at pages 11-12 of the Pall Mall Budget.


The Statue of Liberty known to be a symbol of American freedom against monarchy and slavery was erected in the New York Harbor in 1886. The design concept 'Liberty Enlightening the World' for the statue was patented (US Patent # D11,023) by a French artist named Auguste Bartholdi.

Laboulaye (1811-1883), an ''Americanist'' like Alexis de Tocqueville, hired Bartholdi to sculpture the monument. Scholars say he approved Bartholdi's clay models, and gave him introductions to Americans ranging from President Ulysses S. Grant to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to win acceptance for the statue.

There is no documentation regarding the models Bartholdi used for the face and the body of the Statue of Liberty whether they were black, Muslim, Hindu or Roman.

  1. Unsubstantiated sources cite different models such as Isabella Eugenie Boyer, Charlotte Bartholdi his mother and Jeanne-Emillie Baheux de Piyeux his mistress who were my emphasis : neither black nor Muslim. Also Regis Huber, the curator of the Bartholdi Museum is on record as saying that speculations or rumors have no basis.

  2. In fact, Bartholdi was noted to be inspired by a representation of Liberty, derived from Libertas, the goddess of freedom widely worshipped in ancient Rome (my emphasis: Not Muslim) which was found in American coins of the same time.

In 1880, the American Catholic Quarterly printed a denunciation of the goddess and her torch, contending they received light ''not from Christ and Christianity, but from heathenism and her gods.'' This objection surfaced because ''ultimately the statue can be traced to Roman antiquity, there is no question about it,'' Dr. Boime said. Mr. Moreno's book presents evidence that an inspiration for the statue was the Roman goddess Libertas, the personification of liberty and personal freedom ordained by the Roman state.

  1. It is also reported that a Hindu philosopher Babu Mohini Chattergee declared that the Statue of Liberty reminded him of the Hindu idols of India soon after the Liberty statue's dedication in 1886.

Design inspirations for colossality of the Statue of Liberty:

Historians John Bodnar et.al. in 2005 mentions that Auguste Bartholdi in the 1860s had traveled to Egypt for gaining support for an idea of building a huge lighthouse at the entrance to the Suez Canal, a French enterprise supervised by Ferdinand de Lesseps.

But it was a trip to Egypt that shifted Bartholdi's artistic perspective from simply grand to colossal. The overwhelming size and mysterious majesty of the Pyramids and the Sphinx were awesome to the enthusiastic young Bartholdi. He wrote, "Their kindly and impassive glance seems to ignore the present and to be fixed upon an unlimited future."

The excerpt taken from the book 'The Statue of Liberty' by Marvin Trachtenberg, Viking Press, 1976 regarding the previous colossal design concept of Bartholdi to be built in Egypt states,

In form a colossal fallah (fallah, in Arabic, means farmer) many times life-size and holding aloft a torch, the theme being ‘Progress’ or ‘Egypt carrying the Light to Asia’, it was to be the embodiment of Ismail’s efforts at Europeanization and referred particularly to the great new canal itself. It was to serve as a lighthouse, thus recalling the Pharaohs of Alexandria.

The Suez colossal sculpture project was dropped since Khedewi Ismail Pasha, the then-viceroy of Egypt did not finance Bartholdi's project due to bankruptcy and Bartholdi traveled to America the next summer.

An inquiry report into the history and meaning of Bartholdi’s Liberté éclairant le Monde by Rebecca M. Joseph, Ph.D. in 2000 showed that the statue of Liberty's design evolved from an earlier concept Bartholdi proposed for a monument in Egypt, for which he used drawings of Egyptian women as models.

The temporal proximity and aesthetic overlap between Bartholdi’s Egyptian proposal and the Statue of Liberty project, and the preliminary nature of the statue's study models, makes it impossible to rule out an 1870-71 Liberty model that has design origins in Bartholdi’s drawings of black Egyptian women in 1856.

Historian Michael B. Oren, in his book “Power, Faith, and Fantasy,” states

Bartholdi would carve the likeness of an Egyptian peasant woman holding aloft a torch of freedom. The monument, twice as high as the Sphinx, would guard the waterway’s entrance and perhaps double as a lighthouse. Its name would be Egypt (or Progress) Bringing Light to Asia.

  • 2
    So is the farmer or Egyptian peasant woman the model for the statue of liberty, or were they just potential models for previous mega structures this guy was going to build. Because last I heard the statue of liberty is not called "Egypt Bringing Light to Asia"
    – Jonathon
    Nov 26, 2015 at 12:45
  • Referring to Rebecca M. Joseph, "The statue's design almost certainly evolved from an earlier concept Bartholdi proposed for a colossal monument in Egypt, for which the artist used his drawings of Egyptian women as models." Nov 26, 2015 at 13:07
  • 2
    That is incredibly ambiguous. And goes not in anyway state that the SoL used Egyptian women as models, but that a previous statue that shares some undisclosed similarities did.
    – Jonathon
    Nov 26, 2015 at 14:05
  • 6
    This does not address the titular claim that those drawings were of Muslim women.
    – gerrit
    Nov 26, 2015 at 14:56
  • 1
    Also, not all Egyptians are Muslim
    – RedSonja
    Dec 3, 2015 at 9:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .