Carl Schurz (1829-1906) was born in Liblar, Prussia (near what is now Cologne, Germany). In 1848, while a doctoral candidate at the University of Bonn, he joined the democratic revolt opposing the autocratic German government. After participating in rebellions in the Rhineland, the Palatinate, and in Baden, Schurz was imprisoned, escaped, and fled to Switzerland. After a short stay in Switzerland he resided in France and England before immigrating to the United States in 1852. Schurz eventually settled in New York City in 1881.
Shurz was a prodigious learner and mastered the English language, while earning a law degree, within three years of settling in America. He soon established a reputation as a skilled orator and proved to be instrumental in the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Schurz was appointed Minister to Spain in 1861. He was a staunch abolitionist and when he returned to the United States in 1862 Schurz was appointed as a Major General in the Union army.
After commanding troops in Virginia, Schurz returned North in 1864 making numerous campaign speeches on behalf of Lincoln and was General Slouch's chief of staff before reentering civilian life. He prepared a report on post-war racial integration in the Southern states for President Andrew Johnson and then served as the Washington correspondent for
Horace Greeley's New York Tribune.
Admired for his eloquence and political acumen, Schurz was elected United States Senator from Missouri in 1869 and served until 1875. He was appointed Secretary of the Interior in 1877 by Rutherford B. Hayes, where he was a strong proponent of civil service reform. He worked for improvements in the treatment of Native Americans in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In his later years, Schurz was editor of the New York Tribune and an editorial writer for Harper's Weekly. Upon his death in 1906, prominent lawyer Joseph H. Choate formed a memorial committee and raised $93,000 in donations towards a monument for Schurz.
This impressive monument to Schurz is the result of a collaboration between the distinguished Austrian sculptor Karl Bitter (1867-1915) and renowned architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924). In 1908, Bitter was selected to create the sculpture after already having received many public commissions including the Franz Sigel statue (1907) on Riverside Drive. He also modeled the maquette for the figure of Pomona atop the Pulitzer Fountain in Manhattan's Grand Army Plaza. Bitter selected the site of the Schurz Monument for its advantageous position and enlisted Bacon to assist in the designs. Bacon later designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Pool in Brooklyn, and early electrical lamp-posts
for Central Park
Built in 1913 within a large brick-paved plaza projecting from the promontory at Morningside Drive and 116th Street, the monument consists of a full standing bronze portrait of Schurz in the center of a granite exedra (curved bench) with carved reliefs framed by two ornamental bronze luminaires. Other studio assistants and associates of Bitter may have worked on the side and central stone relief carvings which relate to Schurz's social concerns about African-American slaves and Native Americans. The low relief carvings in granite were made by the Bronx-based Piccirilli studios after clay and plaster models by Bitter. Set at the center and silhouetted against the sky, is the imposing figure of Carl Schurz.
The monument underwent extensive conservation in the late 1930s, at which time incised inscriptions replaced bronze lettering and less distinctive light poles were substituted for the originals. Following renovations to historic Morningside Park, Parks' Citywide Monuments Conservation Program conserved the main statue and the flanking reliefs in 2003.