There are many statues in and around Westminster but one in particular stands out for me. Parliament Square is a cacaphony of male statues from the distant and not so distant past which I tend to walk past and ignore. But the statue of Millicent Fawcett stands out for its simplicity and expression.
The statue was erected in 2018 after being designed by Gillian Wearing and directly faces the Houses of Parliament. The first time I saw it I spent quite some time photographing it and admiring the banner she holds. But I failed to notice the detail surrounding this work of art. And so when I visited recently and looked once more I noticed lots of small images embedded in the plinth. They represent some of the suffragettes who worked tirelessly for the rights of women. And some of these women worked in healthcare as doctors and other professionals. But who were they and why are their faces significant today?
Louisa Garrett Anderson was a medical doctor who pioneered war surgery and was the Chief Surgeon of the women’s hospital Corps. She ran hospitals in World War One in France and later in London at a time when women were disregarded by the medical profession. She was the daughter of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain.
Elsie Maud Inglis was a surgeon who was the first woman to hold the Serbian Order of the White Eagle for her work in the Balkans in World War One. She was a Scottish surgeon, working with war victims and also those in hospices where she improved care.
But health is not just about surgery. The other stand out suffragette was Rosa May Billinghurst, known as the “cripple suffragette.” She campaigned for women’s rights but did so from her tricycle, and thus highlighted the needs and abilities of the disabled.
These women are not the only suffragettes of course and many more campaigned for better working conditions. But next time I pass a statue, I’ll spend more time looking at the detail.