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8 Statues of Courageous Women in History

Less than 10% of statues in the UK depict historical women, and most of those are royalty.

Less than 10% of statues in the UK depict women, and most of those are royalty. A number of campaign groups are working to change that.

Here are 8 statues of women who made history.

1. Violette Szabo, Albert Embankment, London

A black and white photograph of Violette Szabo.
Violette Szabo in 1944. From the Imperial War Museum record, HU 16541.

Set up in secret during the Second World War, the Special Operations Executive conducted espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe.

Recruits put themselves in grave danger in a bid to aid local resistance.

A statue of Violette Szabo
A memorial to the Special Operations Executive showing Violette Szabo, Albert Embankment, London. Image courtesy of Kevan via flickr.

Violette Szabo (1921 to 1945) was a French British agent who, on her second mission to France, was captured, tortured and subsequently executed at Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. She was 23 years old.

Szabo features on the Special Operations Executive memorial in London, and was posthumously awarded the George Cross by Britain, and the Croix de Guerre by France.

2. Noor Inayat Khan, Gordon Square, London

A black and white photograph of Noor Inayat Khan.
Noor Inayat Khan in 1943. From the Imperial War Museum collection record, HU 74868.

Noor Inayat Khan (1914 to 1944) became the first female radio operator to be sent from Britain into occupied France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Of Indian and American descent, she was recruited by the SOE in 1942, and in June 1943 was flown to France to work with the resistance network.

Many members of the network were arrested shortly after, but she stayed on, attempting to send messages back to London while avoiding capture. In October 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo, detained and tortured for 10 months.

She refused to reveal any information, and was executed at Dachau concentration camp in 1944.

A photograph of a statue of Noor Inayat Khan.
Noor Inayat Khan memorial, London. Image courtesy of Luke McKernan via flickr.

Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre in 1949.

The memorial to Noor Inayat Khan was unveiled by HRH The Princess Royal on 8 November 2012.

3. The Bronte Sisters, Haworth, West Yorkshire

A photograph of a statue of the Bronte sisters
A bronze sculpture of the three Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

The Bronte’s historical home of Howarth makes it a literary tourist hot spot, redolent of a quintessential English countryside that inspired so many of their novels.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte are memorialised in bronze in the gardens of their home from 1820 to 1861, now the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

4. Amy Johnson, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire

A black and white photograph of Amy Johnson.
Pilot Amy Johnson. Image via Wiki commons.

Amy Johnson was born in Hull in 1903, the daughter of a fish merchant. Her passion for flying started in 1928 when she joined the London Aeroplane club, and in 1929 became the first woman to qualify as a ground engineer, licensed to certify aircraft safe for flying.

In May 1930 she became the first woman to fly solo to Australia, a 19 day feat. In 1931 she became the first pilot to fly from London to Moscow in one day. Amy was a star as it was unheard of for a woman to fly, let alone fly solo.

During the Second World War, Amy delivered Royal Air Force planes around the country as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary.

A photograph of a statue of Amy Johnson
Amy Johnson statue in Hull. Photo via Paul Harrop / Wiki commons.

On 5 January 1941, Amy got into trouble while flying an aircraft from Prestwick to Oxford, and went drastically of course. Out of fuel, she bailed out as her aircraft crashed into the Thames Estuary.

Unfortunately, Amy drowned before she could be rescued from the water. Her body was never recovered.

A memorial statue to Amy was unveiled in her home town of Hull in 2016, on the site of a former primary School named after the aviator.

5. Cilla Black, Liverpool

A black and white photograph of Cilla Black
Cilla Black, image via the Nationaal Archief.

Born Priscilla White, singer and entertainer Cilla Black (1943 to 2015) started out as a cloakroom attendant at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. The club was at the centre of Liverpool’s swinging 60s rock and roll scene, seeing early performances from The Beatles. Cilla became a regular feature on the stage, guest singing with local bands.

Black had a string of pop hits, including ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, which was the biggest selling single in the UK by a female artist in the 1960s. Black went on to have a successful TV career, presenting her own variety show ‘Cilla’ between 1968 and 1976, and household favourites ‘Blind Date’ and ‘Surprise Surprise’ from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s.

A photograph of a statue of Cilla Black
Cilla Black statue, image via SteHLiverpool / flickr.

A bronze statue of Cilla, unveiled on 16 January 2017, was gifted by her sons to her home town of Liverpool, standing outside the original entrance to the Cavern Club.

6. Mary Seacole, London

A black and white photograph of Mary Seacole
The only known photograph of Mary Seacole (1805 to 1881), taken around 1873 by Maull and Company in London by an unknown photographer. Image in the public Domain.

Once named the ‘Greatest Black Briton’, Mary Seacole is remembered for her selfless work in caring for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Crimean War (1853 to 1856).

Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805, the daughter of a Scottish soldier, Seacole developed her interest in medicine from her mother, who was a traditional healer. When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, Seacole travelled at her own expense, setting up a field hospital to treat the wounded.

A photograph of a statue of Mary Seacole outside St Thomas' Hospital
Mary Seacole memorial statue, St Thomas Hospital, Lambeth, London. Image via Wiki commons.

Seacole’s memorial statue, believed to be the UK’s first in honour of a named Black woman, was unveiled in June 2016 in the garden of St Thomas Hospital in London.

7. Edith Cavell, Norfolk and London

Born in Norfolk in 1865, Edith Cavell was matron of a nursing school in Brussels when the First World War broke out. When Germany invaded Belgium in 1914, Brussels was under very strict German military rule.

A black and white photograph of Edith Cavell sitting in a garden with two dogs.
Cavell in a garden in Brussells with her two dogs. Image via Imperial War Museums, Q 32930.

Cavell used her place in the hospital to aid British servicemen who were left behind by the Allied forces in Brussels, hiding them in safe houses around Belgium.

With her help, some 200 British servicemen were able to escape to Holland. At the same time, Cavell continued to treat wounded soldiers from both sides, despite threat from the German army for ‘aiding and abetting the enemy’.

A photograph of a memorial statue to Edith Cavell
Memorial to Edith Cavell outside Norwich Cathedral. © Historic England.

In 1915, Cavell was arrested under suspicion of helping allied servicemen escape. She was found guilty of treason and was executed by firing squad.

Her last words were ‘Patriotism is not enough’.

A photograph of people gathering around a statue to Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell Memorial in London, at the service to commemorate 100 years since she had been killed, 2015. © Historic England.

Further reading

16 comments on “8 Statues of Courageous Women in History

  1. Mike Franklin

    A valuable posting. but not a word about the sculptors, such as Karen Newman: http://rbs.org.uk/artists/karen-newman

  2. A great post. My suggestions would be Elizabeth Fry and Ada Lovelace. Both ladies whose impact on society is still being felt today, in prison reform and computing respectively.

  3. Elizabeth Fry and Octavia Hill

  4. lizelmore

    Olive Edis! She was Britain’s first official female war photographer, and went out to Europe on a commission from the Imperial War Museum to photograph the work of the women’s services in action. She was also a pioneer of new photographic techniques, patenting her own ‘diascope’ (a device for viewing early colour photos which she specialised in), and a supremely talented portrait photographer whose sitters included King George VI, Thomas Hardy and Emmeline Pankhurst. A statue in her adopted home town of Sheringham, Norfolk, would be wonderful!

  5. There’s an older (and nicer) statue of Amy Johnson in Hull, in Prospect Street. Google it.

  6. Reblogged this on ravenhawks' magazine and commented:
    Thanks for sharing..

  7. I concur, not just because my grandmother-in-law was Alice Stewart, who connected radioactivity and cancer. As a new memorial mason, I would be keen and feel privileged to create memorials to raise awareness of women (‘exceptional’ or otherwise) or men.

  8. Dominic Newbould

    We ought to celebrate many of our sports stars – women such as Mary Peters. Their achievements have been inspirational ..

  9. Check out the campaign for a full size statue of Virginia Woolf here – to be designed by Laury Dizengremel https://www.aurorametro.org/virginia-woolf-statue

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