Independence Day has historically led to big box office numbers during the July 4 weekend. The “Los Angeles Times” observed in 2018 that “the national holiday is now as closely associated with superheroes and Will Smith as much as barbecues and fireworks.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the release of many movies, including, “WONDER WOMAN 1984,” the superhero sequel that was scheduled to open in June 2020. It will now hit later this year. While we can’t watch Wonder Woman lasso into a 1980s mall or battle Cold War villains on the White House’s checkerboard hallway, we can discover another goddess this Independence Day: AMERICA 1776.
America is the female Latin word for Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who determined that the new world wasn’t East Asia but a new continent. Following the tradition of using female names for land, mapmakers named this continent America while artists in the 1500s personified this paradise as a woman, often as a naked Mother Earth. By the time the United States of America was born on July 4, 1776, through the Declaration of Independence, America had changed into a resilient goddess, fully clad in Grecian robes. She was known as both America and Columbia.
Numerous poems about Columbia filled newspapers. “Celestial choir! Enthron’d in realms of light, Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write,” Phyllis Wheatley wrote in a poem that she sent to General George Washington. By this time Wheatley had become the first African-American to have a book published. “Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales, for in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.” Washington loved Wheatley’s poem so much that he arranged to publish it in newspapers in 1776.
After the United States won the Revolutionary War, a Boston almanac published a map-like drawing featuring two women: Britannia and America. Britannia was weeping next to her discarded trident and shield while trade ships from other countries sailed toward an independent America. America was pictured as a confident, resilient Greek goddess sitting under the U.S. flag. She held a staff topped by a liberty cap in one hand and an olive branch in the other. Though she didn’t wear magic bracelets, she was Wonder Woman 1776-style.
While America was depicted as a virtuous goddess from the nation’s start, the irony is that most real women — except in New Jersey — did not have the right to vote.