Visible Women

Where to see the UK’s best statues of remarkable women from history

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Moya Crockett
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There are relatively few statues of real women across the UK – but that’s slowly beginning to change. Here, we take a look at some of the best statues celebrating female trailblazers from history.

If 2018 has been “the year of the woman”, it has also proved to be the year of the female statue. A century after the first British women got the right to vote, the UK’s lack of public monuments to women has come under renewed scrutiny: while up-to-date statistics are hard to come by, it’s believed that public statues of men outnumber women by 16 to one, a ratio that would be significantly worse if you discounted statues of Queen Victoria.

In an attempt to redress this imbalance, several new statues of influential British women have been commissioned and unveiled over the last nine months. The much-anticipated monument to Millicent Fawcett took up residency in Westminster’s Parliament Square in April; a month later, it was revealed that artist Maggi Hambling is working on a sculptural tribute to the “foremother of feminism” Mary Wollstonecraft, while plans are also underway for the UK’s first full statue of Virginia Woolf. A memorial to suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was unveiled in Northumberland in September – and an Emmeline Pankhurst statue is due to be made public in Manchester by the end of the year.

The locations of existing statues of women have also been the subject of discussion and controversy. On 16 September, it was announced that a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst would not be moved from its original spot in Westminster, following a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez (who also spearheaded the campaign for a statue of suffragist Fawcett in Parliament Square).

It will take time – and the continued efforts of activists and campaign groups such as Criado-Perez, Invisible Women and Put Her Forward – for the number of female statues in the UK to match the hundreds upon hundreds of monuments to men. Until then, here are eight important statues of influential women to visit today – because you can be what you can see. 

1. Emmeline Pankhurst – London

A statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the WSPU and arguably the most famous suffragette of all, is due to be unveiled in her birthplace of Manchester in December. But there’s already a statue of Pankhurst in London – and it was recently at the centre of a firestorm over plans to move it to a less prominent location.

The memorial near the Palace of Westminster was originally installed in 1930, two years after Pankhurst’s death, after concerted campaigning and fundraising by her fellow suffragettes. Two bronze medallions were added to the sides of the statue in 1959, one depicting the badge worn by WSPU who had been to prison, and the other showing Pankhurst’s eldest daughter and right-hand woman Christabel, who died in 1958.

Members of The Pankhurst Trust – a non-profit organisation set up by former Conservative MP Sir Neil Thorne – wanted the statue to be moved from near Parliament to Regent’s Park, which they said was a more prominent location.

But many people disagreed, and felt that moving the statue would disrespect the wishes of the suffragettes who chose its original location. Following an outcry, The Pankhurst Trust has now said the statue will remain in Westminster.  

2. Emily Wilding Davison – Morpeth

The statue of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who gained international notoriety in 1913 when she threw herself in front of the King’s horse at Epsom Derby, was unveiled in Morpeth on 11 September.

Davison moved to the Northumberland market town in her early 20s after the death of her father, and later became renowned for her daring and steely approach to winning the vote. She engaged in militant tactics including setting fire to post boxes, smashing windows and hiding in the Palace of Westminster, was reportedly arrested 10 times, and was force-fed on no less than 49 occasions during her many spells in prison. 

3. Amy Johnson – Hull and Herne Bay 

You’ll find two tributes to pioneering pilot Amy Johnson in the UK: one in the town where she was born, and another near the place where she died. The first woman to fly solo from the UK to Australia in 1930, Johnson died during World War Two when the RAF plane she was transporting crashed into the Thames Estuary.

Her body was never found, but a statue commemorates her in Herne Bay in Kent, close to where her plane went down (above). The second can be found in Hull, close to her childhood home. 

4. Mary Seacole – London 

If women in general are underrepresented in the UK’s statues, the situation is even direr for women of colour. England didn’t get its first public statue of a black woman (The Bronze Woman in Stockwell, south London) until 2008 – and that monument is a tribute to the contributions of Caribbean women to British society, rather than to any one specific woman. 

Even more disturbingly, there don’t seem to be any public statues of real Asian women or women from other ethnic minority backgrounds in either England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

There is one notable statue of a named black woman in the UK: the memorial to Mary Seacole, the Jamaican-born nurse who tended to British soldiers in the Crimean War. The statue, which was unveiled in 2016 after a 12-year campaign, stands in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital on London’s South Bank.

5. Alice Hawkins – Leicester 

Hundreds of people gathered in central Leicester in February this year for the unveiling of a statue of Alice Hawkins, one of the city’s most famous suffragettes.

A working-class socialist who died in 1946, Hawkins rallied Leicester’s boot and shoe machinists to campaign for women’s suffrage, and went to prison five times as a result of her activism with the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). 

The seven-foot, 800lb bronze in Leicester Market Square shows her in oratory mode, with one hand raised as though summoning other women to the fight. 

6. Cilla Black – Liverpool 

The beloved entertainer is memorialised in a life-size bronze statue outside the city’s famous Cavern Club. Black worked in the cloakroom at the music venue – credited with launching the career of The Beatles – as a teenager, and went on to become one of the UK’s most popular singers and TV presenters. 

7. Millicent Fawcett – London 

The statue of leading suffragist Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the first monument to a woman in London’s Parliament Square, was unveiled to much fanfare earlier this year.

Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, it shows Fawcett holding a sign bearing a phrase written by Emmeline Pankhurst about the death of Emily Wilding Davison: “Courage calls to courage everywhere.” Portraits of 59 other activists who contributed to the campaign for women’s suffrage are engraved around the statue’s plinth. 

8. Violette Szabo – London

This monument on London’s South Bank was designed to honour all of the secret agents who worked for the Allies during World War Two. However, it bears the bust of just one woman: Violette Szabo, an extraordinary London-born spy who was captured by the Nazis shortly after D-Day. Despite being tortured, Szabo refused to give away any British military secrets, and was executed at the age of just 23 in 1945.

“When we hear about terrible things like [what happened in WWII], we think: ‘Ah, it will never happen again,’” Szabo’s daughter, Tania, told Stylist last year. “But we shouldn’t forget Violette and other women like her: women who stood up and were very definitely counted.”

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who’ve made a difference, celebrating their success, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.  

Images: Getty Images