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UK celebrates the centenary of women’s suffrage: first women’s statue in Parliament Square.

Tuesday 24 October 2017, by siawi3


Artist unveils design for Parliament Square suffragist statue

Gillian Wearing, first female artist to create statue for London square, granted planning approval for tribute to Millicent Fawcett

Artist Gillian Wearing with a model of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett. She is the first female artist to create a statue for Parliament Square. Photograph: Caroline Teo/GLA/PA

Press Association

Wednesday 20 September 2017 15.15 BST
First published on Wednesday 20 September 2017 08.28 BST

The first female artist to create a statue for Parliament Square in central London has unveiled the final design.
Millicent Fawcett was a heroine deserving of a statue
Letters: On her fight for suffrage it is impossible to feel anything but intense admiration

Gillian Wearing, who will produce a sculpture of Millicent Fawcett, the suffragist leader, revealed her design on Tuesday, shortly before its construction application was granted conditional approval by Westminster city council.

A detailed model of the monument shows Fawcett holding a sign that reads “Courage calls to courage everywhere”, taken from a speech she gave after the death of fellow campaigner Emily Wilding Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby.

Wearing also incorporated one of Fawcett’s brooches into the design, borrowing the original from the Fawcett Society so it could be scanned and cast into bronze.

The Turner prize-winning artist will be the first person to produce a statue of a female subject for the square.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been working closely with the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, to ensure the statue can be unveiled for the centenary of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1918 in February, which granted some women over 30 the vote for the first time.

Wearing was named as the artist behind the statue in April, after a campaign in May last year by Caroline Criado-Perez, who attracted 85,000 signatures to an online petition that called for a statue of a woman to be erected in the square.

This year, the government announced that the monument would be paid for from a £5m fund to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage.

Khan said: “As a proud feminist at City Hall, I have given Caroline’s inspired campaign my full support and am delighted that we have been given the go-ahead to bring the first ever statue of a woman to the centre of British democracy in Parliament Square – something which is long overdue.

“Next year marks a century since the start of women’s suffrage in the UK – one of our country’s most pivotal moments – and our mission now is to ensure that we can begin the centenary celebrations with the unveiling of this landmark piece.

“This will be one of the most momentous and significant statues of our time and I know that Gillian Wearing’s exceptional talent and unique insight will do great justice to the movement and Millicent Fawcett’s legacy.

“We want this statue to depict the strength and determination of the women who dedicated their lives to the fight for women’s suffrage and to inspire many generations to come - and I know Gillian’s creation will do just that.”

Wearing said: “I am really delighted that planning has been granted. Now Millicent Fawcett’s statue can stand as an equal among male statues in Parliament Square.”

Javid also welcomed the news: “Aged just 22, Millicent Fawcett gave her first speech on women’s suffrage and then campaigned relentlessly for nearly 50 years before the vote was finally given to women.

“I am proud that this beautifully designed statue of Fawcett in Parliament Square will inspire a new generation to champion her struggle for equality and women’s rights.”


This article was amended on 20 September 2017. The original referred to Millicent Fawcett as a suffragette. Although she worked alongside suffragettes, who employed different, and more militant tactics in their campaign, Fawcett herself is more accurately described as a suffragist. This has been corrected.



A suffragist statue in Parliament Square would write Emmeline Pankhurst out of history

June Purvis

Never mind Millicent Garrett Fawcett. To mark the centenary of women gaining the vote we should be honouring the radical suffragette instead
Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested in May 1914.

‘Her health was poor due to the 13 imprisonments she had endured during the suffrage campaign, when she went on hunger, thirst and sleep strike’. Pankhurst being arrested in May 1914. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images

Wednesday 27 September 2017 12.33 BST

As a historian and biographer of Emmeline Pankhurst, I receive emails each week asking me about the suffragettes from schoolgirls who know they are different to the suffragists. The suffragettes, led by the charismatic Pankhurst and her eldest daughter, Christabel, believed in direct action. They engaged in colourful, peaceful processions and ruses, as well as, from 1912, damage to property. This was in response to the refusal of the obdurate Liberal government of the day, headed by the staunch opponent of votes for women, Herbert Asquith, to enfranchise them.

The suffragists, under Millicent Garrett Fawcett, adopted constitutional, legal tactics, such as writing letters to MPs and peaceful demonstrations. Fawcett loudly condemned the actions of the militants, arguing that they were hindering the women’s cause. After Emily Wilding Davison was fatally injured at the 1913 Epsom Derby when she tried to grab the reins of the king’s horse, biographer David Rubinstein records that Fawcett made no public comment, publishing a tribute several years later in 1920. So the news that Westminster council has granted planning permission for a statue of the liberal feminist Fawcett in Parliament Square has not made me rejoice.

When the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez launched a petition to “put a statue of a suffragette in Parliament Square to mark 100 years of female suffrage”, 84,734 people signed it. An open letter to the newly elected London mayor Sadiq Khan calling for “a statue of a suffragette” was signed by prominent women including JK Rowling and Emma Watson. But then it was announced that the proposed statue would not be of a suffragette after all, but of the suffragist Fawcett.

The statue of Fawcett has the strong support of the Fawcett Society, as well as Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline, and Theresa May. But those of us who wanted to see a statue of a suffragette in Parliament Square are disappointed.

It is wonderful that there will be a woman in that honoured space, but sad that Fawcett does not represent the diversity of the women’s suffrage movement. The constant cry of Fawcett supporters is that she was there at the beginning of the campaign for votes for women, in the 1860s, and at the end in 1928 when the equal franchise was granted. It is true there is already a statue of Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens, and former Tory MP Neil Thorne is leading a campaign for a new one on Canning Green. Meanwhile another Pankhurst statue is due to be unveiled in Manchester in 2019.

But the 2018 centenary of the Representation of the People Act is a historic moment, and by erecting a statue only of Fawcett then, we are writing the radical Pankhurst out of history. Unlike Fawcett, who was comfortably off, after 1918 Pankhurst had to earn a living. The only job she was offered was lecturing for the Canadian government. When she returned to England in 1926, her health was poor due to the 13 imprisonments she had endured during the suffrage campaign, when she went on hunger, thirst and sleep strike.

She belongs in Parliament Square, and I am sorry that the idea for a statue of several figures including Fawcett and Pankhurst, intended to convey the richness of the women’s suffrage struggle, did not win more support. Instead, the public will end up with a statue of a woman few people have heard of. Some 52 names, including those of some suffragettes, are to be etched on the plinth. I hope the list will not include the name of Davison. She died after being trampled by a horse and does not belong under Fawcett’s feet.

June Purvis is emerita professor of women’s and gender history at the University of Portsmouth and a biographer of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst



A new feminist statue is a great idea. Shame they picked the wrong feminist

Rachel Holmes

Although it is right to commemorate outside Parliament the fight for women’s votes, the choice of person is an act of historical airbrushing
Millicent Fawcett, who founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, speaks at the Suffragette Pilgrimage in Hyde Park.

‘I do not wish to downplay the contribution Millicent Fawcett made to the movement, but we should be aware of history that suggests that is was... more significant that that of the suffragettes.’ Photograph: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

Friday 14 April 2017 16.19 BST
Last modified on Friday 15 September 2017 12.21 BST

There are rather too many statues in Britain, and for the most part they honour individuals more than the movements and values they were meant to represent. They can sentimentalise the past by setting it in stone, or bronze. As a biographer, I prefer to rake over the past so that we might learn from it – and be better equipped to deal with the present and future.

[( As the great Virginia Woolf once said: ’For most of history, Anonymous was a woman’)]

Yet I do worry about the predominance of “great men” as opposed to “great women and men” in our historic spaces. What does this say to visitors to our country, let alone to our children, about what and who is valued and even venerated in our society? As the great Virginia Woolf once said: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman” (no place for her in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey). Further, as with most prestigious paths in life, the visual arts are ridiculously male dominated, with women artists enjoying fewer important commissions, for less reward and recognition. So when I heard that there will be a new statue celebrating the cause of women’s suffrage in Parliament Square, even my heart of stone pulsed just a little. The centre of British democracy is currently the home of nine male statues, with even that one-time alleged revolutionary terrorist Nelson Mandela sharing the space with Winston Churchill and the South African general Jan Smuts.

And a great contemporary British woman artist is behind the new statue. Gillian Wearing’s body of work defies concerns about statues being elitist, irrelevant and anti-democratic. So much of her practice features what you might call ordinary people. Her great A Real Birmingham Family (unveiled in 2014), portraying two sisters who are single mothers and their young sons, is a testament to the way that a modern civic community – and not just an establishment – can be actively involved in commissioning public art works.

I had long watched the campaign for a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of women’s equality. Wollstonecraft was a visionary radical and risk-taker in both her personal and activist life. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, her text from 1792, still holds up as one of the seminal works arguing for equality between the sexes. Much has changed since she was first mocked and scorned for its publication, but not nearly enough. When I heard there was to be a new statue of a woman, I spent just a heartbeat of a moment thinking that the grassroots Mary on the Green campaign might have exceeded its modest ambitions for a statue of Wollstonecraft on Newington Green, and found this great feminist philosopher a spot even closer to a parliament that she could never have voted for, let alone worked in.

Gillian Wearing, the artist commissioned for the new statue. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Yet I am far from naive enough to think that the Conservative Brexit establishment would, for example, have countenanced a memorial to the subject of my own current work, Sylvia Pankhurst. Pankhurst was not a suffragist but a full-blown, red-blooded suffragette – complete with the trips to prison and forced feeding also endured by her mother, Emmeline, whose 1930 statue stands in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament: an important site but less prominent than those in Parliament Square. The Trade Union Congress and City of London Corporation are both supporting a campaign to erect a statue of Sylvia on Clerkenwell Green in north London, in time for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918. Unlike her mother and sister Christabel, commemorated with a plaque alongside Emmeline, Sylvia was a socialist and an internationalist – and no doubt far too rich for the blood of those running Britain right now.
Brexit will be disastrous for women unless we fight the rollback of our rights
Sophie Walker

And here is the hard part, for no feminist ever wants to run a sister down: the choice of Millicent Fawcett as the first woman to warrant a likeness in Parliament Square is a crashing disappointment. I do not wish to downplay the contribution that Millicent made to the suffrage movement, but we should be wary of the conservative history that suggests that it was as, or even more, significant than that of the suffragettes in the struggle to achieve the vote. This represents the kind of airbrushing of history that makes the fight for women’s suffrage palatable in a contemporary context where populism of the nationalist right is tolerated and appeased but only so-called “moderation” and “gradualism” are allowed in support of the cause of greater equality.

[( She later described the suffragettes with whom she disagreed as ’disgusting masses of people’)]

To her credit, Fawcett once wrote of the suffragettes that “far from injuring the movement, they have done more during the last 12 months to bring it within the region of practical politics than we have been able to accomplish in the same number of years”. Less to her credit, she was prepared to compromise the voting rights of the majority of working-class women in the cause of the middle-class elite. She later described the suffragettes, with whom she disagreed, as “disgusting masses of people”.

Theresa May once wore a T-shirt for the Fawcett Society, stating “This is what a feminist looks like” – but it is far from my idea of a feminist. If Parliament Square can house a Mandela, its first woman should be at least as radical as Wollstonecraft, if not one of the Pankhursts, who suffered so much for the cause of suffrage, or even Emily Davison, who in throwing herself in front of the king’s horse at Epsom gave her life for the cause.

The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, has been campaigning for a monument to Davison since 2013. In a spirit of gradualism worthy of Millicent Fawcett, that memorial will have to wait.