How many of you know – and have been to look at – this Memorial?
It is sited in Christchurch Gardens, a paved turning running from Victoria Street, Westminster, towards Caxton Hall and was commissioned by the Suffragette Fellowship to commemorate ‘ the courage and perseverance of all those men and women who in the long struggle for votes for women selflessly braved derision, opposition and ostracism, many enduring physical violence and suffering.’ The Memorial was unveiled in 1970, on 14 July, Emmeline Pankhurst’s official birthday .
I find it interesting that it took nearly 60 years from the time that the WSPU had, to all intents and purposes, disbanded for the survivors to commemorate with a piece of public art (rather than a plaque, of which there are several related to the suffrage movement) any others than the Pankhursts (that is, Emmeline and Christabel).
I am not aware of any documentation associated with the decision to commission Lorne McKean and Edwin Russell, the young (husband and wife) couple who designed the memorial, although I have noticed that in most citations it is Russell alone who is usually named as its sculptor. I have been in touch with Lorne McKean (Edwin Russell died in 2013) and she comments:
‘Edwin (my husband) and I worked on many of our sculptures together. Usually one of us took the leadership on a particular sculpture and in the case of the Suffragette memorial this was Edwin. I do recall that the actual idea that developed from just the idea of a shape more like a memorial grave stone to the S shaped scroll that you now see developed organically between us. We have always been really bad at signing things as it always seems to us the least relevant part of the work. But have grown to appreciate that it is interesting to others’.
I like the hint that the scroll design may have evolved from first equating ‘memorial’ with ‘gravestone’.
However, the only other primary evidence I can show you of the event – and the thinking behind it -comes from the pages of the 1971 edition of Calling All Women, the Suffragette Fellowship Newsletter.
And yet…and yet….While the inside pages of the 1971 edition of Calling All Women were given over to reports of the unveiling of this new memorial – one intended to commemorate the involvement of all suffragettes – what was the image chosen for the cover? Yes, of course, Mrs Pankhurst. Once again, the power of her image – set so splendidly against the Palace of Westminster – had trumped that of the newcomer.
It is as though, even at this late stage in the history of the suffragette movement, there was a force at work intent on proving that maxim put forward by Thomas Carlyle (incidentally one of Mrs Pankhurst’s favourite writers – and she wasn’t a great reader) that ‘the history of the world is but the biography of great men’ or, of course, women. This is not a sentiment that appeals to me and may explain why I have devoted so many years to uncovering the lives of those suffrage campaigners who were by no means great. It is just these women – and men – that the Suffragette Fellowship Memorial is there to commemorate.
So -pay a visit to Christchurch Gardens, think of your favourite non-famous suffragette – and contemplate.
See also this Parliament and Women in the 20th Century blog post.
#1 by Jo-Ann Wallace on January 7, 2015 - 8:41 pm
Elizabeth, thank you for this post. It reminded me of the statue on Parliament Hill in Ottawa of the “Famous Five” — five Province of Alberta feminists who, in 1929, secured “personhood” status for women in Canada. This meant that women — who secured the right to vote federally in 1918, and who were already serving in provincial and federal parliaments — were finally eligible for appointment as Senators (the Canadian Senate being somewhat equivalent to the House of Lords). In 2000 the achievement of the Famous Five was recognized by a monument on Parliament Hill, still the only monument to include women (except, of course, for a statue of Queen Victoria) and almost the only monument to include more than a single “great man.” The Famous Five monument was designed by Alberta artist Barbara Paterson and it alludes to the subversive “pink teas” organized by Canadian suffrage campaigners. An empty chair invites the viewer to sit down and participate. A description and a couple of photos (unfortunately none of the them show the installation in its entirety) is available here: http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/collineduparlement-parliamenthill/batir-building/terrains-grounds/statues-eng.html.
I’ve only recently discovered your website and am grateful for it. My own research focuses on Edith Lees Ellis who was a sometime supporter of suffrage, working more often on related issues.
#2 by womanandhersphere on January 8, 2015 - 2:30 pm
Many thanks for this. I love the idea of the ‘viewer’s’ chair. Elizabeth
#3 by artandarchitecturemainly on January 8, 2015 - 4:51 am
You ask how many of your readers have visited this monument. Fair enough too! I was always a suffragette and I lived in London or the Home Counties in the early 1970s, yet I don’t remember it being mentioned at all. I suppose we have to ask who was formally invited to the memorial’s unveiling in 1970? And what about the coverage in newspapers, radio and TV?
Or was it all a bit quiet?
#4 by womanandhersphere on January 8, 2015 - 11:48 am
Well, there certainly was coverage of the unveiling of the memorial at the time – including a v upbeat interview with Lilian Lenton in The Guardian on 15 July 1970 – and pic of her standing looking up at the memorial. ‘Whenever I saw an empty house I burnt it down’ etc. But it’s only word of mouth that gets such sites known. After all, this one is positioned right in the heart of Westminster and any visitor to the House of Commons/Lords or Westminster Abbey (in which there is a plaque to the work of Millicent Fawcett) would only have to stroll a few hundred yards to find it. So…spread the word Down Under and ensure that visitors to London know that they can pay their respects (should they so choose) at a memorial to the work of all suffragettes as well as to the statue to Mrs P (with Christabel commemorated in an associated plaque).