‘Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.’ – Oprah Winfrey
To commemorate International Women’s Day, here at Virago we wanted to take the time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women in the U.K . As we look through British History and see what women have been honoured via the English Heritage Blue plaque scheme, there have been many women who have shaped and changed the world we live in. Although ONLY 13% of blue plaques are about women here we list the top 5 plaque honourees that you should know about!
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson 1836-1917
Elizabeth was the first women to qualify as a doctor in Britain, she was living at 20 Upper Berkeley Street in Marylebone from 1865 to 1874 that she set up her ground breaking medical practice. She was the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first female doctor of medicine in France, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, as Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain.
The Langham Place Group (active 1857-66)
At the forefront of the women’s movement into academics and politics was the Langham Place Group. A small circle of friends whose articles called the “English Woman’s Journal”, turned female employment into a major theme. They formed the society for promoting the Employment of Women in 1859 and in 1862 formed a committee to support fellow member Elizabeth Anderson in her application to London University. Later the group would also be responsible for helping to organise the petition for women’s suffrage presented to Parliament by John Stuart Mill in 1866.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) & Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958).
Emmeline was a leading British women’s rights campaigner and suffragette who led the movement to win the right for women to vote.
In 1889, Emmeline founded the Women’s Franchise League, which fought to allow married women to vote in local elections. In October 1903, she helped found the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – an organisation that gained much notoriety for its activities and whose members were the first to be christened ‘suffragettes’. Emmeline’s daughters Christabel and Sylvia were both active in the cause. British politicians, press and public were astonished by the demonstrations, window smashing, arson and hunger strikes of the suffragettes. In 1913, WSPU member Emily Davison was killed when she threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby as a protest at the government’s continued failure to grant women the right to vote
Eleanor Marx (1853-1898)
Daughter of communist revolutionary Karl Marx, Eleanor was always fascinated with politics from an early age. In 1884, Eleanor joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) led by Henry Hyndman and was elected to its executive. During her work in the SDF, she met Edward Aveling, with whom she would spend the rest of her life. In the same year, a split of the organisation led her to leave it and found the rival Socialist League. In 1885, she helped organise the International Socialist Congress in Paris. The following year, she toured the United States along with Aveling and the German socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht, raising money for the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
Here at Virago we are all about promoting womanhood and sharing inspiring stories about ALL TYPES OF women. However we have noticed that to date only 2 blue plaques in London have been nominated for ethnic women, so in honour of today we also put together a list of inspiring Black British women who do NOT have blue plaque honours.
Fanny Eaton (1835-unknown)
Fanny Eaton was a black Victorian Londoner and a painters model. Born in former British colony Jamaica in 1835, Eaton was the daughter of an ex-slave and it is suspected a white slave owner. She came to London in the 1840’s and began modelling. She became a regular model for the Royal Academy. In a short period Eaton sat for John Millais, Joanna Boyce, Simeon and Rebecca Solomon. Her modelling career lasted for around ten years. She is later found on a census which showed her working as a domestic cook on the Isle of Wight at the age of 63, while it is believed towards the end of her life she returned to London.
Sarah Remond ( 1815-1894)
Sarah Remond was an African American who lectured on anti-slavery and women’s rights. She is thought to have been the only woman of colour to have signed the first suffrage petition which was launched in 1866. Sarah a daughter to two economically advantaged and free black parents lived a life many white or blacks couldn’t fathom at the time. Her family secured themselves financially via entrepreneurship which included hair salons, catering etc. As a result Sarah was a very educated women, so in January 1859 Sarah Parker Remond delivered her first lecture in Liverpool, England, gradually incorporating Ireland and Scotland into her itinerary. With the approach of the Civil War Remond urged Europeans to lend their support to the North and the “poor enslaved Blacks of the South.”
Olive Morris (1952-1973)
Olive Morris was an important figure in terms of civil rights.
Black people didn’t used to have the same rights as other people, simply because of the colour of their skin – and Olive was one of many people who worked tirelessly to change that. She campaigned for the rights of black people in South London and Manchester, and was a founding member of groups like the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) and the Brixton Black Women’s Group. She passed away at the age of just 27, but even by this age she had contributed an enormous amount to black communities across the country.
If you would like to propose any of the women above please send your requests to http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/propose-a-plaque/
By Azana Francis