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  • Writer's pictureErin

Women of Westminster

Updated: Jan 18, 2018

2018 marks the centenary of the Womens' vote, so this will be the first of a series of blog posts highlighting the suffragettes and suffragists contributions to such a major event in history, important women from London and everything inbetween! This February marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, which gave some women over the age of 30 the ability to vote for the first time. December follows on with the anniversary of the first general election in which women voted in the UK too. Throughout the year a number of celebrations, exhibitions, talks, lectures and many other events will be happening all across the country. I’ll try and keep up to date with everything which is going on to keep you in the know, but if there’s anything I miss please let me know!

To kick things off, I thought where better to start than my own borough - Women in Westminster.

This year will see the first installation of a statue of a woman in Parliament square, and also one designed by one! Gillian Wearing has produced a tribute to Millicent Fawcett, showing the suffragist holding a sign that reads “Courage calls to courage everywhere” which is taken from a speech she gave after the death of her fellow campaigner Emily Wilding Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby. She also wears one of Fawcett’s brooches, from which a bronze casting was taken from the original. The notion of a female statue to be erected in the square came about from a campaign in 2016 by Caroline Criado-Perez which brought together 85,000 signatures.

Carrying on with the theme of votes for women, Emmeline Pankhurst is remembered with a memorial by Sir Arthur George Walker in Victoria Tower Gardens. It was unveiled in 1930 by the Prime Minister at the time, Stanley Baldwin - who had opposed votes for women.

A monument of Florence Nightingale can be seen at Waterloo Place, also designed by Walker, and was completed in 1910. It shows Florence holding a lamp in her right hand, and is positioned next to the Guards Crimean War Memorial.

Boudicca and her daughters make an appearance by Westminster Bridge, as do the Queens Anne, Elizabeth I and Victoria which are dotted around the borough.

An example of a monument commemorating women is the Monument to the Women of the World War II (2005) by John W. Mills at Whitehall. It shows 17 sets of clothing and uniforms which symbolise the hundreds of different jobs women undertook during the Second World War, and then gave back to the men who returned after the end of the war. The lettering on the sides replicated the typeface used on war time ration books.

The Suffragette Memorial (1970) by Lorne and Edwin Russell can be seen at Christchurch Gardens, Victoria. The statue of a bronze scroll in the shape of a letter S balancing on a conical pedestal. “Nearby Caxton Hall was historically associated with women’s suffrage meeting and deputations to Parliament".

Looking into the art which women have produced in Westminister; 28 out of more than 400 public artworks are attributed to women, with many being produced in the last 20 years! A few of my favourite examples to be found across the borough include;

A statue of Huge Downing (1988), the famed WW1 Air Chief Marshall and also the statue of Sir Arthur Harris (1992) a WW2 Marshall for the Royal Airforce, both by Faith Winter, are found on the Strand in front of the church of St Clement Danes.

A Conversation with Oscar Wilde (1998) by Maggi Hambling, on Adelaide Street near St Martins in the Field.

Of the 309 blue plaques in London, 38 of those commemorate women, and mainly comprise of ballet dancers, actresses, writers and poets (many of them suffragists), nurses and a few exceptions. Many of them live around the Marylebone area and generally lived during the 19th and early 20th century.

Some of the most interesting or well known include women such as;

Emily Davies (1830 - 1921) an English feminist and suffragist, at 17 Cunningham Place, Lisson Grove.

Nancy Astor (1879 - 1964) she was the first woman to sit in Parliament, and lived at Found at 4 St James Square, St James.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861) famous poet and wife of Robert Browning, lived at 50 Wimpole Street, Marylebone. Also lived at 99 Gloucester Place, Marylebone and also 50 Wimpole Street, Marylebone.

Violet Bonham Carter (1887 - 1969) politician and writer, lived at 43 Gloucester Square, Paddington. She was the daughter of H.H Asquith (the Prime Minister from 1908 - 1916), and was Sir Winston Churchill’s closest female friend. Her grandchildren include the actress Helena Bonham Carter!

Emma Cons (1837 - 1912) philanthropist and founder of the Old Vic (bringing plays and opera to the working class), lived and worked at 136 Seymour Place, Marylebone.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836 - 1917) a suffragist and the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain lived here at 20 Upper Berkeley Street.

Vivien Leigh (1913 - 1967) actress who is best known for her role in Gone with the Wind lived here at 54 Eaton Square, Belgravia.

Florence Nightingale (1820 - 1910) “The Lady with the Lamp” is named as the founder of modern nursing, after coming into prominence whilst serving in the Crimean War. lived and died at 60 Grosvenor Street, Mayfair.

Mary Shelley (1797 - 1851) author of Frankenstein lived at 24 Chester Square, Belgravia.

Maria Tussaud (1761 - 1850) the famous wax artist who founded Madame Tussauds wax museum in London. She lived at 24 Wellington Road, St Johns Wood.

Anything I’ve missed? Do let me know as I’m always interested to learn more!


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