Disgracefully, there is currently only one female immortalised in bronze upon the streets of Manchester, Queen Victoria. The achievements of Manchester’s women are highly underrepresented, and the one women honoured remains a symbol ofour patriarchal society.Looking to redress this balance, the council has asked Manchester residents to suggestanother female torchbearer for the city’s streets from March 2019. Their list includes sports stars, actresses, scientists and activists, some names are familiar and others sadly obscure but what they share are their extraordinary achievements.
Emmeline Pankhurst is one of the most well known of those proposed. Noted for her militancy and tireless leadership of the women’s suffrage campaign, Mrs Pankhurst has had arguably the most influence upon future generations. Although historians disagree as to the success of her aggressive campaigning, it was under her leadership that the WSPU gained women the vote. Yet equally or perhaps more influential was her predecessor in the campaign, Lydia Becker.Becker’s many victories for female equality paved the way for future success. Sheattained the right for women to vote in municipal and school board elections. Most radically she suggested gender-neutral education, on the basis that men and women were equal and identical, not a common proposal in a time of ‘separate spheres’.
Other famed advocators for women’s rights include Marie Stopes,the famed pioneer of birth control. Her first book, Married Love, had huge successand brought the issue of contraception to the national stage. Her advocacy for eugenics sits uneasily with modern principles yet her work was undeniably revolutionary in the freedom it allowed women. Eva Gore-Booth the poet, play-write, suffragist and labour activist,worked to free women from gender constraints, this time through questioning sexuality in her radical journal Urania. Her work for the suffrage campaign and her open lesbian relationship with Esther Roper made her a significant role model for women in the 1900s.
Annie Horniman was another advocate of women’s rights with an important cultural impact.Hornimanused her large inheritance to found the first modern reparatory theatre outside of London. Manchester’s Gaity Theatre pioneered the works of new writers who came to be known as ‘the Manchester School’ and made culture accessible in the North. She was a much-loved figure, known for Avant-Garde clothing and a disregard for traditional femininity. Her improper behaviour made her a cultural icon and anexample for women looking to flout the norms.EnriquitaRylands was also put forward for her cultural impact. The library she founded in the name of her husband owes its success to her vision and taste and like Horniman she essentially shaped the city’s cultural heritage.
There are two literary figures among the list. Both are noted for highlighting the contentious issues at play within the real lives of Manchester’s inhabitants. Manchester’s influence upon Elizabeth Gaskell led her to emphasise the affliction of its poor and female inhabitants and toimbue these traditionally oppressed groups with power and vivacity. Over a century later Shelagh Delany did the same in her debut play A Taste of Honey. Her depiction of life in Salford and her ability to tackle the problems of poverty, sexuality and race inspired both the songwriter Morrissey and the creator of Coronation Street Tony Warren-whose fictional creation, Vera Duckworth, is among the proposed. The actresses Maxine Peake, Caroline Aherne and Victoria Wood have also been includedas Northern icons symbolic of Mancunion spirit.
The two scientists in the running include our current Vice Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell; perhaps a controversial choice for those speaking out against pay inequality at the university. However,Rothwell’s work onstroke treatment and in campaigning for women in science has been hugely beneficial. Mathematician Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw is also listed. Deaf since the age of eight, mathematics appealed to her as the only subject not dependent on hearing. Ollerenshawwent on to have huge success in her study of Magic Squares and in her political career, serving as lord mayor of Manchester.
The final two proposed women are swimmers, the Olympian Rebecca Adlington and the channel swimmer Ethel ‘Sunny’ Lowry. All of these women have had a profound impact upon the cultural, political and academic landscape of Manchester and as such, all deserve to be commemorated. What is most striking is that as yet none of them have been. One hundred and fifty years after Elizabeth Gaskell’s trailblazing novels and Lydia Bennett’s successes in female emancipation one of them may now potentially be recognised for their achievement. In that time ten men have been memorialised in Manchester. The message this has sent to the young women of Manchester is one of subordination, and a lack of female achievement. Another female statue is a fantastic idea; let us just hope it has not come too late.