The other day I got slightly irritated when I was following a Edinburgh Council meeting, and a local councillor brought up the issue of asking the council permission for a statue of a male boxer. My immediate response was the following:
They immediately retweeted my response, and I got a mixture of shock about my statement wanting to know if I’d made that up, and of course a man who tweeted a laughing emoji and I don’t think he used the term feminist in a complimentary manner.
The person tweeting at the Edinburgh Reporter however, agreed with me when I replied that I thought it was shocking that we have no statues of Edinburgh women who have literally saved lives. And Mr Tweeter had no response to that.
Last year, I had to do a 4 month placement with a community education organisation. I chose to go into one that specialised in adult education, because it was the branch of community learning and development I had the least amount of experience in. While there I worked with a women’s history group. Hilarious, as I had no interest in History at school because what they taught and the way they taught it was dull, dull, dull. It was this group that enlightened me to the real stories of women’s suffrage and the campaign to abolish the slave trade and emanicipate slaves. I began to discover what the men that have had monuments and statues built in their honour stood for. It made me feel sick.
Our city values animals more than women when it comes to public statues.
One of the women’s history group made me pose next to this statue as we were walking into town one day. It is the only statue of a woman in Edinburgh’s city centre. She isn’t named, she is more symbolic. A woman and child to remember the women and children who suffered during apartheid in South Africa.
5 minutes away, you can go into Princes Street Gardens and you’ll find a statue of Bum the dog – apparently needed because he is so important to remember Edinburgh’s connections with San Diego. You’ll now find a bear called Wotjek too. He was a mascot adopted by the Polish troops during the war. And of course, walk in another direction through the Old Town to George IV Bridge and you’ll find a statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby.
To find an individual named woman who has been commemorated with a statue in her honour like Bum, Wotjek and Bobby? You’ll need to go down to Leith to find a statue of Queen Victoria, then further out to the suburb of Craigmillar to find a statue of Helen Crummy.
Why was it as a girl that I felt that there were certain careers that I should shy away from? Why was it that when I came top in the year for Maths, I spent the next year trying not to be good at it (and succeeded). Why did I fear public speaking or debating even though I had plenty of opinions and information to share? Why was it that the only careers that ever came to mind as options growing up were nursing or teaching?
And then I began to look around. There were no women to look up to. The boys had footballers and rugby players that 1000s followed daily in the sports news. They had textbooks full of political leaders, history makers, scientists.
Go into museums…men. Look around at the commemorative statues in our city…men. On our TV shows…male superheroes. In our films…leading men outnumber the leading women.
It isn’t that there are no women who have lived in Edinburgh worth honouring in this way. Elsie Inglis has two statues in Serbia, but none in the city where she opened the first nursing home and maternity hospital for working class women and started the medical college for women since the University of Edinburgh refused to teach women medicine for so long and hospitals also refused to allow women to come learn skills there. The woman who was one of the first female graduates of medicine at Edinburgh University who helped her found the maternity hospital and nursing home. Her name is Jessie Macgregor. There was the woman who climbed Arthur Seat with Frederick Douglass and wrote to the Free Church Assembly asking them to send back the money they got from slave plantation owners to start their church. She helped fund the underground railroad and with other women tireleslly campaigned for the emancipation of slaves. Once that was done, she began the women’s suffrage movement in Edinburgh. Her name was Eliza Wigham. Her friend who became the first president of the women’s suffrage society in Edinburgh, her name was Priscilla Bright Maclaren. There was Flora Stevenson, and her sister Louisa campaigned for the education of women. Flora was also one of the first women to be elected to a school board (after women were finally allowed to do that). Flora has a school named after her in Edinburgh. Thomas Guthrie was honoured for his work in providing education for the poor with a statue in Edinburgh. Flora hasn’t been. Louisa was one of the first women to be elected to a nursing board. Both ladies were involved in campaigning for women’s suffrage. And there was Sophia Jex Blake. Sophia campaigned for many years for women to be allowed to study medicine. When the University of Edinburgh refused to let her in because she wasn’t allowed to be in classes with men, she found six other women to study medicine with her so the university were forced to provide classes and lectures for them. Sophia and the other six ladies became known as ‘The Edinburgh Seven‘. After years of campaigning to the university, a plaque was finally placed in their honour late last year.
And of course there are our famous female writers. Helen Cruickshank and Muriel Spark to name two. Given that Walter Scott (a very good writer, but someone who openly campaigned for the continuation of the slave trade!!) has a big frickin’ tower monument, and Henry Dundas – another pro-slavery Scotsman – has a column with his statue on top paid for by Navy personnel (the money was taken straight out of their wages). Surely a wee statue for one of these women wouldn’t go amiss.
Heck, if we can celebrate an American dog, a Polish bear and a fabled Scottish dog…surely we can honour a few of these remarkable local women with statues as well.
And then maybe kids will see that your achievements are valued no matter what your gender. And that women are worth more than animals. Or at least equal to them.