Uncle Sam’s Sister

Garance Franke-Ruta hails Columbia, “the feminine historic personification of the United States of America, who has since the 1920s largely fallen out of view”:

[S]he was as recognizable to Americans of yesteryear as the man in the top-hat and tails remains today, and when the suffragettes donned robes and armor, they garbed themselves in her rebel warrior’s spirit. From the 18th century until the early decades of the 20th, Columbia was the gem of the ocean, a mythical and majestic personage whose corsets or breast-plates curved out of her striped or starred or swirling skirts with all the majesty of a shield. She was honored from the birth of the nation — “Hail, Columbia!”, whose score was first composed for the inauguration of President Washington, was an unofficial anthem until the “Star-Spangled Banner” displaced it as the official national one in 1931 — to the birth of the recording and film industries, which is why we have had Columbia Records and Columbia Pictures. Yes, that lady with the torch at the start of the movies isn’t just some period-costume-wearing chick — she is a relic of this earlier personification of America, immortalized forever by the most American of industries.

America was Columbia in the same way that England was Britannia and France was Marianne. America’s capital is the District of Columbia; New York City’s great early private university was Columbia College (now University).

Why did her star fade? Garance’s view: “Female national personifications in general fell out of vogue as women took on a growing role as emancipated citizens.”

(Photo: A suffrage pageant in 1913 via Wikimedia Commons)