Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett has been immortalised by Turner Prize-winner Gillian Wearing OBE, the first statue of a woman, and by a woman, in Parliament Square.
The statue was unveiled in a ceremony attended by the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London on 24 April following a campaign by journalist and activist, Caroline Criado Perez. The unveiling ceremony included performances by poet Theresa Lola, the cast of Zoonation's upcoming Old Vic premiere Sylvia, and the Suffragist Singers, and an adaptation of Millicent Fawcett’s 1918 Victory Speech by award-winning actress, Helen McCrory OBE.
The Mayor of London commissioned the statue – with 14–18 Now, Firstsite and Iniva – to commemorate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, through the Government’s £5 million national Centenary Fund.
Prime Minister, Theresa May, said: "I would not be here today as Prime Minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in Parliament, none of us would have the rights and protections we now enjoy, were it not for Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett.
"The struggle to achieve votes for women was long and arduous and Dame Millicent was there from the beginning. For decade after decade, in the face of often fierce opposition, she travelled the country and the world, campaigning not just for the vote but on a whole range of issues.
"I want to thank Gillian Wearing for creating a beautiful and fitting tribute to Dame Millicent and to everyone involved in making this happen.
"For generations to come, this statue will serve not just as a reminder of Dame Millicent's extraordinary life and legacy, but as inspiration to all of us who wish to follow in her footsteps."
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Today is an historic day. Finally, Parliament Square is no longer a male-only zone for statues. From the very first week of my Mayoralty, I supported Caroline Criado Perez’s campaign to put up a statue of a woman in Parliament Square, and I’m so proud that the day of its unveiling is now upon us.
“This statue of Millicent Fawcett, the great suffragist leader, will stand near Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – two other heroic leaders who campaigned for change and equality. There couldn’t be a better place to mark the achievements of Millicent Fawcett, in the heart of UK democracy in Parliament Square.
“I hope this statue sparks further change across society – driving forward gender equality and inspiring women and girls across the capital and the UK. My huge thanks to Caroline, for her passionate campaigning and to Gillian Wearing – who has brought Millicent Fawcett and her legacy to life through this magnificent work.”
Artist, Gillian Wearing OBE, said: “I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has worked on this sculpture and plinth. It was so heart-warming to see the care and attention that went into the work. I can only say I am truly grateful. I hope those viewing the work will be able to appreciate this along with being able to celebrate Millicent Fawcett along with all the other suffrage supporters and activists also honoured.”
Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries and Chair of the Suffrage Statue Commission, Justine Simons OBE, said: “Gillian’s work doesn’t just celebrate the legacy of Millicent Fawcett; it recognises the whole suffrage movement around the country. It brings their stories to life and remembers their important contribution to gender equality in the UK. I’m thrilled that, 100 years after some women won the right to vote, we’re unveiling this incredibly important monument.”
Director of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, Jenny Waldman, said: “The First World War saw seismic changes to women’s roles in society, including the first UK women gaining the right to vote. We are delighted to co-commission this new work by Gillian Wearing, the first-ever statue of a woman in Parliament Square, that recognises the huge contribution of Fawcett and many other people involved in the struggle for universal suffrage.”
The statue unveiling is one of the many events taking place this year to celebrate the centenary year of suffrage. The Government Equalities Office £5 million fund will support projects that raise awareness of the centenary and educate young people about its significance. So far, over £600,000 has been awarded from the Women’s Votes Centenary Grant Scheme to standout schemes across the country, including projects that train women to become leaders in their communities, and events that celebrate the lives of prominent suffragettes.
The unveiling of the Millicent Fawcett statue is a major event in the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, which celebrates the role of women in the capital. Alongside Fawcett, the names and portraits of 59 women and men who campaigned for women’s suffrage are inscribed on the plinth.
To mark the day of the statue unveiling, Google Arts & Culture is collaborating with Gillian Wearing and the Mayor of London to show the spirit and stories of the suffrage campaigners on a new online platform at g.co/roadtoequality.