Since International Women’s Day 2016 the campaign inVISIBLEwomen started by Terri Bell Halliwell in the UK is calling for more plinths for women in the UK. And this is not before time, given that the 85% of civic statues that are of men and arguably form the UK’s oldest subliminal ad-campaign for the patriarchy.
Terri Bell-Halliwell writes about the latest progress:
Now one and a half years later aviator Amy Johnson’s words “believe nothing to be impossible” begin to ring true; we are witnessing a change in attitudes to civic statues.
There is a quiet, persistent power in a civic statue.
Progress – the status quo is shifting
This year new statues to women have been erected around the country, honouring both historical and present day figures, beginning to rebalance who we are “looking up to” in our city squares and public places. Two statues were erected of aviator Amy Johnson, in Herne Bay and Hull. They were the result of a fast, dynamic campaign run by Jane Priston, who harnessed local interest, goodwill and funding, and even went as far as posing for the sculptor to speed the process along!
Amy on the seafront at Herne Bay (Image Ian Sutton ):
“Women of Steel” who kept the steel factories running during the war, are now commemorated in a beautiful memorial in Sheffield resulting from a campaign using “Just Giving” to raise funds; a cause so popular that it raised more than was needed for the statue:
Another route to success was taken by the sons of Cylla Black who funded this memorial to their mother. This lively likeness of the singer, entertainer and household name now stands in Liverpool where she launched her career.
A singer from another era, Gracie Fields, described as “the Madonna of her day” was honoured in Rochdale, with funds raised by the town’s Rotary Clubs.
Mary Seacole, a pioneering nurse in the Crimea, is at last commemorated outside St Thomas Hospital in London. The long campaign has been ultimately victorious despite meeting with some resistance, surprisingly from the Florence Nightingale Association, and given has us this fine memorial.
“Schoolgirls who walk around the streets of London and look up don’t see women on pedestals… and it’s time to fix that” Bee Rowlatt, Chair, Mary on the Green.
“Mary on the Green” is working for a memorial to the iconic figure and one of the country’s foremost feminist thinkers, Mary Wolstonecraft.
In Glasgow the social reformer Mary Barbour is finally to be remembered, and is to be portrayed leading some of the twenty thousand strong protest through the streets to win essential rent reforms.
“A statue is a very visible and powerful symbol … All too often, women are erased from history and their achievements never known or given the recognition they deserve.” Emma Chesworth, The Eighth Plinth Campaign, Middlesbrough
The Eighth Plinth campaign will see the first statue of a woman ever to be erected in Middlesbrough.
In Basingstoke there is finally a campaign supported by Conservative MP Maria Miller, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, for the internationally renowned novelist Jane Austen, who broke the mould in her generation and who, astonishingly, has as yet, no memorial.
In Bow, East London, plans are in place to erect a statue of the notable radical feminist and activist Sylvia Pankhurst who founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes.
Alice Hawkins was a figurehead in Leicester for the Suffragettes and was jailed five times for her part in the movement.
The great campaign “Womanchester” for a memorial to the achievements of Emmeline Pankhurst in Manchester, where she was born, is another success with her statue due to be erected in 2019. Hers will be the first statue of a woman in the city for 100 years… the only other one being ( yes, you guessed it ) Queen Victoria. Five sculptors have been shortlisted and the winner has just been announced;
Hazel Reeves’ “Rise Up, Women”
Hazel has also won the Carlisle commission to celebrate in bronze the lives of women biscuit factory workers – the ‘Cracker Packers’. A bronze statue, depicting one Cracker Packer from the past and one from the present will be unveiled in one year’s time, on International Women’s Day 2018.
There is an active and popular campaign running for a statue of Victoria Wood, the comic, writer and actor after her sadly early recent death.
A public vote has chosen her incarnation in the character of Bren, in Dinner Ladies, to be her memorial in Bury, where she went to school.
It’s time to reform that old patriarchal ‘ad-campaign’
We are not alone in wanting change; there are movements forming in other countries to address this issue – in Denmark the Fast Plass campaign has a book due out in May to be followed by an exhibition, and direct action recently occurred in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria (see Getting Attention). So whilst there is a noticeable shift in the zeitgeist, with backing from diverse supporters, we still have to ask ourselves just who is it we are ”looking up to”, surrounded overwhelmingly by men in civic statues. We deserve so much better than being represented mainly as nameless, draped – or often undraped – figures.
The achievements of real women must not be airbrushed out of history. Gender equality in civic statues is possible. It really is time for more Plinths for Women!