John Gast's *American Progress*
In the 1872 painting American Progress, by John Gast, is the gigantic female figure in the center supposed to be Liberty or Columbia?

If it is Columbia, were other Columbias of the age dressed so provocatively?

If it is Liberty, why are some Liberties dressed to cover up so much while others are so revealing?

Columbia Flanked by Washington & Lincoln
Bottom line: I'm wondering why Gast didn't clearly make his central figure a Columbia, then dress her (modestly) like all of the other Columbias that I see online (such as in the example above).

  • 1
    Welcome to Mythology&Folklore, Peter :) I took the liberty (no pun intended ;-P ) of tweaking your Question a bit, doing my best not to alter your intent on any points. I thought it might go over better if it was easier for those unfamiliar with your query's subject matter to see at a glance (i.e. in picture format) what you're referring to.
    – Adinkra
    Oct 29, 2018 at 18:42
  • You are not obligated to keep the Columbia image that I input (it's merely the coolest high-resolution 1 I could find), & you are free to Roll Back the changes that I've made to your Question if you find they don't suit you.
    – Adinkra
    Oct 29, 2018 at 18:43
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    @Gibet , from what I can see in my brief search on the characters from the Question, (Lady) Liberty is literally an Ancient Roman goddess whose veneration has somehow trickled down to the present day, albeit in a different form, finding its most forceful modern expression during the French Revolution. Columbia is a fairly blatant representation of the worship of the state as a powerful colonial & imperial institution, many calling her simply "the Goddess of America" in exactly the same way that, e.g., the Roman state was personified as the goddess Roma.
    – Adinkra
    Oct 29, 2018 at 18:54
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    If Peter's Question isn't about mythology it is at least about modern American folklore, & the most pervasive medium in any folklore anywhere has generally tended to be the visual arts. Obviously this may be just my own limited analysis thereof. I'm curious about what the rest of the community thinks.
    – Adinkra
    Oct 29, 2018 at 18:56

1 Answer 1


It's Columbia. I can't tell you why she's dressed like that but Columbia was the symbol of the USA until after the Statue of Liberty was completed in the mid 1880s.

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