Female figures from history are virtually invisible. Think of the statues in London alone — where are the women? Not in Trafalgar Square, nor in Parliament Square. In fact, of the 640 listed statues in Britain, only 15 per cent are of women. In London it’s a measly 7 per cent.
One such “un-statued” woman is radical 18th-century thinker Mary Wollstonecraft (pictured). She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and pioneered education for girls.
The absence of a statue commemorating her is not an oversight — it’s a denial of her fight for equality, her influence on Thomas Paine, her work reporting from the French revolution, the inspiration she gave to the suffrage movement a century later.
Today the Mary on the Green campaign is setting out to raise funds for a commemoration on Newington Green, where Mary lived and started her school for girls.
In Glasgow there is a quest to celebrate another Mary. One hundred years ago this year, Mary Barbour led the rent strike against that city’s rapacious landlords. From a single end in Govan she commanded a grassroots revolt, spotlighting the hideous poverty amid the “second city” of the empire and in so doing inspiring the impoverished to become a labour movement.
The two Marys may be absent from national commemoration but their spirit is alive in the women fighting for justice today. When we hear Malala speak, who faced death to defend the education of girls, or admire Jade, the young mum fighting for decent homes for her community in east London, we are witnessing today’s Marys.
Build these women their statues, honour them and the hunger for justice and humanity that coursed through their veins. Let there be no more delay — in every square in every town in the land, let’s move over some of our marble men and make room for our Marys.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star, March 7
- To find out more about the Mary on the Green campaign, visit http://maryonthegreen.org/ and watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueedNz08qiU