Monument to a woman who changed history | Emmeline Pankhurst statue in Victoria Tower Gardens
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) is widely acknowledged as one of the most important, British female figures of the 20th century, if somewhat controversial. As the figurehead of the fight for women’s suffrage, she helped pave the way for future female politicians and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – who wouldn’t have been able to vote, let alone run the country. The Manchester-born campaigner ended up living most of her adult life and died here in London so it is only fitting to have such an important figure in the history of British politics commemorated in the city.
This post is not intended to give a history of women’s suffrage – because frankly I don’t have all day to write it, nor do you (I assume) have all day to read it! However, most British women – whether they perceive themselves as feminists or not – acknowledge they owe a debt of gratitude to Pankhurst and her fellow suffragettes for improving women’s rights in this country (although we all know we still have some way to go when it comes to equal pay, but I’m not going to get on my soap box so moving on…).
Victoria Tower Gardens is a small park just west of the Houses of Parliament leading down to Lambeth Bridge. It contains various monuments and a good view of the River Thames. Entering through the north-east gate, the first monument you come to is one dedicated to Pankhurst.
Emmeline died on June 14, 1928 at the age of 69 – just a few weeks before the Government passed the Representation Of The People Act which extended the vote to all women over 21 (previously it had been given to women aged 30 or over who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register in 1918). Shortly after her funeral, her former bodyguard at the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), Katherine Marshall begun fundraising for a monument to Pankhurst.
On 6 March 1930, a bronze statue of Emmeline by sculptor AG Walker was unveiled by former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947). In attendance were former suffragettes, radicals and other dignitaries, along with her daughter Sylvia (1882-1960). Her eldest daughter Christabel (1880-1958) was absent as she was touring North America, but her telegram was read out. Addressing the crowd, Baldwin said: ‘I say with no fear of contradiction, that whatever view posterity may take, Mrs. Pankhurst has won for herself a niche in the Temple of Fame which will last for all time.’ Although today, the sculpture of Emmeline stands in the centre of the two side screens, when it was first unveiled it stood alone and was situated further south. However, it was moved to its present position in 1959 with the screens, one which features a bronze medallion of Christabel (who died the previous year in Santa Monica, California) and the other a replica of the WSPU prisoners’ badge.
- Victoria Tower Gardens is accessed from Abingdon Street/Millbank on the north bank of the River Thames. Nearest station: Westminster.
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