University of London

Small Navigation Menu

Primary Menu

Millicent Fawcett statue unveiled in Parliament Square

Campaigner who fought tirelessly for women's rights commemorated with statue by Gillian Wearing.

Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square, with Theresa May
Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett statue by artist Gillian Wearing

Whilst running between meetings through Parliament Square on International Women's Day 2016, Caroline Criado Perez suddenly realised that amongst the 11 statues of men, there was not one of a woman.

Shocked by the reality of having no female representation in this historic public square, she knew immediate action had to be taken. Having successfully campaigned to get Jane Austin on UK banknotes in 2017, Criado Perez knew where to start and began with an online petition and an open letter in the Telegraph to newly appointed Mayor of London and self-proclaimed proud feminist, Sadiq Khan.

Eighty-five thousand people signed the petition, Khan called the decision a 'no brainer', and yesterday a statue of suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett was unveiled in the square, before a crowd of party leaders, politicians, campaigners and the public.

 

Fawcett, who died 89 years ago, was a major force behind the campaign for women's right to vote, favouring non-violent protest, and was president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.

The unveiling also makes history for a second reason in that it is also the first statue in the square created by a woman. The sculptor being University of London Leading Woman and Goldsmiths alumnus Gillian Wearing.

Wearing's bronze casting of Fawcett depicts the campaigner at 50 years old, holding a banner that reads "Courage calls to courage everywhere". The statue is adorned with portraits of 59 other men and women who also supported the fight for women's right to vote, including Leading Women Louisa Garrett Anderson and Emily Wilding Davidson.

Suffrage coloured flags on parliament square
Suffrage colours festoon Parliament Square

The statue provides a leap forward but by no means a resting point. Addressing the hundreds who had come to pay tribute, Criado Perez spoke of the lack of female representation in public commemoration.

"Women are still woefully underrepresented in all areas of British cultural and political life, not least in its statues. When I counted all the statues in the UK's public monuments and statues database I found that there were more statues of men called John than there were of historical women….less than 3% of British statues feature a woman who actually existed."

Prime Minister Theresa May told the audience that she wouldn’t have been standing there as prime minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in parliament and none of us would have the rights and protections we now enjoy "…were it not for one truly great woman, Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett…it is right and proper that today she takes her place at the heart of our democracy."

"She was a tireless advocate for equal access to education, pressuring universities to admit women on equal terms and establishing her own Cambridge college. The struggle to achieve votes for women was strong and arduous. Dame Millicent was there from the beginning and devoted her life to the cause."

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said that it was an historic day, and, "A moment only tempered by the fact that it really should have happened many decades ago. It's simply not right that this historic square has been a male-only zone for statues, because statues matter, they're a symbol of our values, a demonstration of the importance we place on hard battles won, both in peace and in war and an expression of who and what we choose to celebrate, so it's vital that we fix the imbalance and ensure more women are celebrated in our public spaces."

Fawcett's legacy now stands proudly in its right place, reminding all those who look on, of the struggle for equality, progress made and all that is left to be done.

A poem read at the ceremony, by award-winning poet Theresa Lola captured the gravity of the moment. "Millicent Fawcett will stand, poised, watching the world from Parliament Square, because a woman is powerful even in stillness, because a young girl will point at her and ask for a story to conjure up, because visibility is a portal for another woman to see and enter."

Book your place for 'Public commemoration and women's history' panel discussion featuring Caroline Criado Perez, May 1, 6pm