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Who Was Columbia?

Columbia, originally known as Amérique, was the first Lady of the new world.

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Long before there was a Lady Liberty or Uncle Sam, there was Amérique, who later became known as Columbia. In the 1500s, European explorers visited the unknown that later became known as America and started sending home descriptions of what they saw. It was at this time that some European artists created a figure to stand for the New World, naming her Amérique. She was considered a queen that represented the land, just as Asia and Africa had their own characters and the U.K. had Britannia.

At that time, she was drawn to look like the indigenous peoples of the area, wearing bright feathers and carrying native weapons. Artists also drew her surrounded with exotics from the New World, including alligators, parrots, sugar, jewels, pearls, and other goodies, which intrigued the Europeans.

Lady Amérique Inspires Settlers

By the mid-1700s, Amérique’s image started to change. While she kept the feathers, she also gained other accessories, including a rattlesnake, a chain with 13 links to represent the spirit of independence for the 13 colonies, and a Liberty cap on a pole.

During the Revolutionary War, Amérique remained a symbol for the settlers, visually reminding them that they were different than those from England.

After the war, Amérique’s feathered headdress was replaced with ostrich plumes, which were popular at the time, and she was covered in Greco-Roman draperies.

Lady Amérique Becomes Lady Columbia

By the late 1700s, Amérique had completely changed to a woman with golden hair, dressed in white or wearing stars and stripes. People used the name Columbia, which came from Christopher Columbus.

Although Columbia was not intended to be about political power for women at the time, she did inspire women during World War I to join in the war efforts as nurses and in other areas, and later she inspired the movement for women’s suffrage.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified – and not long after, Lady Columbia was all but forgotten. Lady Liberty, or the Statue of Liberty, soon took her place. But Columbia’s centuries of inspiration and symbolism should never be forgotten.

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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