One hundred years ago Britain passed the Representation of the People Act which gave certain women over the age of thirty the right to vote. Women, and some men, had fought for years for suffrage equality but it took until towards the end of World War One before this was achieved.
This week a statue was unveiled of the suffragist campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett in Parliament Square, London. This is significant because it is the the first representation of a woman in this male dominated arena, (it is surrounded by statues of male political figures including Churchill, Lloyd George, Mandela and Gandhi), and secondly because this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the first glimpse of female suffrage equality. Of course, at the time there were limitations to women voting, not least, they had to be property owing, but it paved the way for full suffrage ten years later. Millicent Fawcett lived to see this, she died one year later.
The statue, the first of a woman in Parliament Square, was designed by Turner Prize winning artist Gillian Wearing, the first woman to have a statue erected in Parliament Square. The 8 foot 4 inch bronze is one of only 3% that represent non-royal women in Britain.
Caroline Criado Perez campaigned for a statue to be erected, fittingly, her inspiration for the statue arrived after running through Parliament Square on International Women’s Day in 2016 and noticing the gender imbalance for the first time.
The statue itself is worthy of its place a stone’s throw from the Palace of Westminster and the heart of Government. I’d seen a picture from an online newspaper earlier in the week and wasn’t impressed. In ‘person’ it is outstanding. It’s life-like, the fabric of Fawcett’s costume looks real and not part of the casting and juxtaposed with the other greats of national and global politics it is a testimony to Fawcett’s quiet diplomacy and reason which contrasted sharply with the Pankhurst females’ militancy.
The statue bears the words ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’, words that Fawcett spoke about suffragette Emily Wilding Davison some time after her death reminding us that the fight for the vote was brutal.
Statuary of feminist icons are few and far between and the statue’s unveiling was attended by women from Britain’s political parties including Prime Minister Theresa May, whose speech acknowledged that without women like Fawcett there would be no women in politics today.
If you want to read my post about the death of Emily Wilding Davison click here.
Images author’s own.