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Josephine Shaw Lowell was a 19th Century Progressive Reform Leader in the United States. She was the creator of the New York Consumers League in 1890. Lowell was born in 1843 to Francis and Sarah Shaw, a wealthy New England family. Both of her parents were Unitarian Philanthropists and intellectuals. Her parents encouraged all of their children to study and become active in their communities. Lowell married Charles Russell Lowell in 1863, and he would die in battle one year later. She moved back to New York to live with her mother, and raise her daughter, and here she became a business woman and reformer.

As a progressive leader, she found it imperative to work towards the eradication of poverty. Her thoughts were that if the working class had everything they needed to begin with they would not end up in poverty, thus society would not have to save them after they go under. For her works, she was appointed to the position of Commissioner for the New York State board of Charities, becoming the first woman to hold this position. She remained in this position from 1876 to 1889. Her most notable organization was the creation of the New York Consumer’s League which worked to improve wages and working conditions. Lowell died of cancer in 1905, but left a legacy of reform behind her.

Many other states adopted the National Consumers League, which eventually became a powerful lobbying group. She was buried with her husband in Massachusetts Mount auburn Cemetery. The Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain was built to honor this powerful woman. The fountain as designed by Charles A Platt, a prominent architect and landscape gardener. He was a part of the American Renaissance Movement. The fountain is made of black granite, and is an ornamental and elegant piece, that commemorates the social and reform work of Lowell. This is the first major monument to honor a woman in New York City.

The fountain was designed by a memorial committee that wanted to place the fountain in Corlear’s Hook Park on the Lower East side of Manhattan originally, as this was near where Shaw worked. The fountain was placed near the east side of Bryant Park in 1913. The fountain features a 32 foot wide lower basin and a 13 foot upper basin. There is also a commemorative plaque in the bluestone at the base of the fountain.

The fountain was moved to the west side of the park in 1936. This is behind the New York City Public Library. In 1992, the water feature was completely refurbished by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, while they were doing a complete restoration of the entire park. The fountain is over 99 years old, and still continues to amaze and inspire!