Visible Women

How you can join the fight to get a woman on the new £50 note

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The British public will get to have a say in whose face will grace the banknote, and we think it should be a woman.

People of Britain, it’s time to have you say.

The Bank of England has bravely opened itself up to suggestions for who should figure on the band new polymer £50 note that will enter into circulation in 2020. The parameters are thus: The person must have been a scientist and real (“no fictional characters,” the Bank of England’s website reads), have “shaped thought, innovation, leadership or values in the UK”, inspire people and have been dead for at least 20 years. (The Queen is the exception to this rule.)

The chosen person will join Winston Churchill, who appears on the £5, Jane Austen on the £10 and J.M.W Turner on the new £20, which will also debut in 2020.

“I am delighted that the new £50 will celebrate the UK’s contribution to science. There is a wealth of individuals whose work has shaped how we think about the world and who continue to inspire people today,” Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, said in a statement. 

Despite only passing away in March, Stephen Hawking is considered the favourite by many to be immortalised on the £50 note. The brilliant quantum physicist and advocate for the rights of those diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative form of motor neurone disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is already ranking highly on lists of potential British scientists who might be nominated.

British physicist Stephen Hawking

But wouldn’t it be fantastic if a female scientist was recognised and celebrated on the new £50 note?

Someone like Ada Lovelace, the 19th century mathematician who despite dying of cancer at the young age of 36 penned one of the earliest templates for what she called an ‘Analytical Engine’, or what would later go on to become the first computer. Her notes were integral to the development of modern computers in the Forties and she has since been dubbed the “first computer programmer”. (She was also the only daughter of Lord Byron, but her mother forbade her from studying the arts and humanities and instead steered her towards science and maths to distance her from her father.)

There’s also Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, a British chemist and Nobel Prize winner who was instrumental in building our modern understanding of X-ray technology and penicillin. Or what about Rosalind Franklin, another crystallogist whose work helped her peers (and competitors) James Watson and Francis Crick in the development of their model of human DNA. Like Lovelace, she died of ovarian cancer in her 30s. 

Don’t forget Anne McLaren, who passed away just over a decade ago, but without whose genetic research we would never have had the first test tube baby. It was she who, in 1958, delivered the first mice babies from embryos fertilised outside of the mother’s womb.

9 October 2018 is Ada Lovelace Day. Here, we look at her best quotes and key facts about her life.

Ada Lovelace

All these women would be stellar choices for the new £50 bank note and with the exception of McLaren fulfill all of the Bank of England’s criteria for selection. And considering that with the exception of Jane Austen on the £10, all the other British banknotes feature men with the Queen on their reverse, isn’t it only right that we acknowledge the work of Britain’s female scientific minds on the £50?

Have your say and nominate a scientist here

The Forgotten Women series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. See more Visible Women stories here.

Images: Getty

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