I’m in London for a few days this week. Instead of dashing in and out for work me and MrJinHE are having a few days doing the tourist thing. Yesterday was the London Transport Museum and Covent Garden, today the National Portrait Gallery, Foyles and St George’s Bloomsbury with it’s crazy pyramid steeple with lions and unicorns crawling all over it. I always think Hawksmoor was a bit weird.
I bought a little book of London Monuments – there are hundreds of them on the streets and I do like to know who everyone is if it’s not immediately obvious. Walking around and taking note one thing became very clear very quickly – where are all the women? There are over 300 monuments to named individuals in London – and if you discount female royalty, only about a dozen of them are to women. There’s Sarah Siddons tucked away out at Paddington Green, Edith Cavell at the bottom of the Charing Cross Road, Flo Nightingale near CarltonTerrace, Virginia Woolf, Emmy Pankhurst, Violette Szabo, Margaret MacDonald, Louise Aldrich-Blake, Noor Kahn and Anne Frank. And that’s about it. There are hundreds of monuments to men.
There are statues of Shakespeare, Pepys, Dr Johnson, Keats and Dickens, but there is no dear Jane, or a Bronte sister, or George Eliot or even Agatha Christie (correction – I spotted AC just off St Martins Lane this morning). There are British Prime Ministers galore (male), plus JFK, Gandhi, Ron Reagan, Lincoln and Washington and Mr Mandela, but no Indira Gandhi or Golda Meir, not even the first female British MP Nancy Astor, let alone Margaret Thatcher (love her or hate her) – she’s away in the House. There are radicals and reformers and philanthropists – Fenner Brockway, Rowland Hill, Bertrand Russell, Quintin Hogg and Robert Raikes – but where is prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, Octavia Hill who gave us the National Trust, Mary Wollestonecroft? There are senior soldiers, sailors and airmen at every turn, named and glorifed, but the World War Two women’s monument is anonymous and collective. Outside the National is Larry Olivier and Charlie Chaplin is in Leicester Square, but there is no monument to Ellen Terry or Edith Evans, and why isn’t Maria Callas in Covent Garden piazza instead of that rather twee ballerina? There’s Shackleton and Scott, but no Amy Johnson. And not a single sportswoman. I could go on, but I’m sure you get my drift.
I have a message for the Mayor of London: Boris, if you’ve got the chance to approve the odd commemorative monument – please, let the next 20 or so be women.