Visible Women

10 fascinating women engraved on the Millicent Fawcett statue

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Moya Crockett
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The plinth of the statue of Millicent Garrett Fawcett is engraved with the faces of 59 suffragettes and suffragists. Here are some of our favourites. 

Gillian Wearing’s much-anticipated statue of suffragist Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett was finally unveiled in Parliament Square on Tuesday 24 April. At an emotionally-charged ceremony, excited schoolchildren mingled with politicians, journalists and feminist activists to watch speeches by Prime Minister Theresa May, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Caroline Criado-Perez, the campaigner who started the petition to get a statue of a woman in Parliament Square.

In his speech, Khan highlighted the fact that the statue does not just depict Garrett Fawcett. Around the base of the plinth are engravings of 59 other figures in the fight for women’s suffrage, from the well-known – such as the famous Pankhurst family – to the almost-forgotten, like working-class activist Jessie Craigen.

“We were keen to make sure working-class women were involved in this statue, because obviously we all know the famous suffragettes and suffragists who were all of a certain background, but actually working-class women were involved in the campaign as well,” Khan told ahead of the statue’s unveiling. 

“Those are the stories that we’re really interested in, because they haven’t been told.”

But who were the women and men whose faces are now etched into the plinth in Parliament Square? Read on to find out about 10 of our favourites, from a free-love radical to a disabled militant and an Indian princess.

1) Louisa Garrett Anderson, 1873-1943

Louisa Garrett Anderson in 1914 

Louisa Garrett Anderson came from a family of inspiring woman. Her mother Elizabeth was the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain, and her aunt was Millicent Garrett Fawcett herself.

Garrett Anderson believed in more militant tactics than her suffragist aunt, and in 1907 joined the suffragettes in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She was imprisoned in 1912 after taking part in a protest during which shop windows were smashed, but distanced herself from the WSPU in 1913 after other members engaged in arson attacks.

As well as being a suffragette, Garrett Anderson was also a medical pioneer. She qualified as a surgeon at the age of 24, and during WW1 found the Women’s Hospital Corps and became chief surgeon at Endell Street Military Hospital.  

2) Jessie Craigen, 1835-1899

No photographs of Craigen are believed to exist (picture posed by model) 

No known photos exist of Craigen, who first began addressing suffrage meetings in the late 1860s. One of the many working-class suffrage activists, she was known for being a powerful public speaker, and travelled all over the country delivering talks on the subject of votes for women.

She is also believed to have developed a romantic relationship with the middle-class suffragist Helen Taylor, the stepdaughter of the politician John Stuart Mill. 

3) Lolita Roy, 1865-unknown 

Roy moved to London from India in 1901, apparently because she believed her children would get a better education in Britain. In 1908, she became president of Indian nationalist organisation the London Indian Union, and became active in the Indian women’s movement for female suffrage.

Three years later, she helped organise the Women’s Coronation Procession through London – a march demanding women’s suffrage in the year of King George V’s coronation. A photo from the procession, showing Roy and other women dressed in saris and carrying a banner with the emblem of an elephant (the sign of India), has been used as evidence that women of colour were involved in the fight for the right to vote. 

4) Rosa May Billinghurst, 1875-1953

Billinghurst, who founded the Greenwich branch of the WSPU in 1910, was one of the most prominent disabled suffragettes. Having lost the use of her legs after suffering from polio as a child, she often attended demonstrations in a modified tricycle (an early form of wheelchair).

Her disability made her vulnerable to abuse by police, but it also meant that this abuse was especially conspicuous – something she was prepared to exploit to help the cause. She died in 1953 at the age of 78. 

5) Henrietta Franklin, 1866-1964

Otherwise known as Netta, Franklin was born in London to an Anglo-Jewish family. She believed strongly in liberal education for children, and founded her own school in 1892. 

In 1912, she founded the Jewish League for Woman Suffrage with her relatives Laura and Leonard Franklin – the only suffrage group aimed specifically at Jewish people, and one that was open to both men and women. Four years later, she became president of the NUWSS. 

6) Sophia Duleep Singh, 1876-1948

Duleep Singh was the daughter of the last Sikh Maharajaha of India, and a goddaughter of Queen Victoria. Raised in England, she remains one of the few prominent suffragettes of colour whose efforts to secure the vote for women were recorded.

Her high-profile public protests – including leaping in front of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s car, refusing to pay her taxes and bankrolling the activities of her fellow WSPU members – caused much consternation amongst British aristocracy and royalty. 

7) Minnie Baldock, 1864-1954

Baldock photographed circa 1908 

Baldock co-founded the first branch of the WSPU in London alongside fellow working-class suffragette Annie Kenney. Born in Bromley-by-Bow, east London, she worked in a shirt factory as a young girl and became involved in the nascent labour movement for workers’ rights as she grew older.

In 1908, she spent a month in Holloway Prison after being arrested at a protest outside the House of Commons, but had to cease her suffragette activities in 1911 when she fell ill with suspected cancer. Happily, she recovered, and died in 1954 at the grand age of 90.  

8) Frances Power Cobbe, 1822-1904

Cobbe photographed circa 1860 

Born in Dublin, Cobbe moved to London in her 30s, where she earned her living writing for newspapers and journals and joined the London National Society for Womens’ Suffrage. Her writing was often influential, particularly on the subject of domestic violence: she believed assault should be considered grounds for separation, an attitude significantly ahead of its time.

In 1884, at the age of 62, she moved to Wales with her long-term partner Mary Lloyd, with whom she had lived since 1860; the two women are buried alongside each other in Llanelltyd churchyard. 

9) Edith How-Martyn, 1875-1954

How-Martyn photographed in prison clothing circa 1913 

How-Martyn is remembered for attempting one of the first acts of suffragette militancy in 1906, when she tried to make a speech in the House of Commons (she was swiftly arrested). She later became one of the first members of the WSPU to be sent to prison. However, she later became disenchanted with the undemocratic approach Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst took to running the WSPU, and co-founded the breakaway Women’s Freedom League in 1907.

After women won the vote, How-Martyn was elected to Middlesex County Council, where she turned her attention to the issues of family planning education. A staunch advocate of contraception, in 1910 she helped establish one of the first birth control clinics in the UK. 

10) Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, 1833-1918

Wolstenholme was the daughter of a Methodist minister, which made her politics as an adult all the more striking. A secularist and a committed sexual radical, she lived in a ‘free love’ union with feminist mill owner Ben Elmy for several years, only marrying him reluctantly when she became pregnant at the age of 41.

In 1866, she founded the Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women, and spent the next 50 years campaigning hard for women’s suffrage. She died on 12 March 1918, a little over a month after women were finally awarded the vote. 

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 / Wikimedia Commons