It seems that Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary and Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary plans to back a proposal from the Common Sense Group of Conservative M.P.s that local authorities erect (and fund) civic statues to all holders of the Victoria Cross and George Cross (Daily Telegraph 24th January 2021). Admirable and worthy as these individuals are, they are almost exclusively male and in the main already well commemorated.
Jean Calder, Chair of Trustees for the Mary Clarke Statue Appeal, wrote on 6th February 2021 to Sally-Ann Hart M.P. for Hastings and Rye, expressing concern at the exclusion of worthy women from public memorials. As well as being one of our Sussex M.P.s, Sally-Ann is also a member of the Common Sense Group.
Jean Calder wrote, in almost identical terms, on 9th February 2021 to Oliver Dowden M.P., copying that letter to Robert Jenrick M.P..
Jean has not yet had a response from Oliver Dowden or Robert Jenrick, but heard very promptly from Sally-Ann Hart, who wrote on 9th February 2021: “I am grateful that you contacted me about the Mary Clarke Statue Appeal and I wholly sympathise with your
endeavours.“. She added “I will raise the issue with the Common Sense group. I am aware of the need to commemorate women who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much for our country.” She later copied Jean’s letter to Sir John Hayes M.P., who chairs the Common Sense Group.
Jean Calder’s Letter on behalf of the Appeal to Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE, MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, dated 10th February 2021 (copied to Robert Jenrick M.P. the Communities Secretary)
Dear Mr Dowden,
I write in my capacity as Chair of Trustees of the Mary Clarke Statue Appeal, to make
you aware of this Brighton-based charity which campaigns for a statue in Brighton of Mary Clarke, the first suffragette to die for women’s right to vote.
Mary, who was Emmeline Pankhurst’s younger sister, died of a brain haemorrhage on Christmas Day 1910, following the notorious police excesses of ‘Black Friday’ on 18th November 1910 and subsequent imprisonment and forcible feeding.
Based in Brighton from 1909 – 1910 as a paid Organiser for the Women’s Social and Political Union, she was the leader of the suffrage movement in the South East area. She had escaped an abusive marriage and thereafter dedicated herself to the struggle for female suffrage.
Mary was a remarkable woman, calm, gentle and good humoured in the face of aggression, committed to non-violence, an inspirational leader and formidably brave. She was greatly loved and admired in her lifetime and, following her death, acknowledged nationally as the “first woman martyr to have gone to death for this cause”, but there is no public memorial to her anywhere in the country.
We think it important to alert you to this campaign, in the light of current controversy about the removal, retention or erection of public statues. We are aware that you have been approached by the Common Sense Group of parliamentarians, who have proposed that local authorities be required to fund memorials such as statues for those who have received Victoria Crosses and George medals.
We fully support memorials to these brave individuals, but respectfully submit that most were men, usually under arms, and therefore tend to already be well memorialised. We wish you, and indeed the Common Sense group, to consider our view that, by and large, it is women whose lives and sacrifices have been forgotten, despite many acts of extraordinary self-sacrifice and heroism, almost all performed as voluntary public service, generally in civilian life and sometimes in domestic settings.
We think particularly of Sandra Seagrave in Crawley Down, an elderly, frail woman less than five feet tall who bravely intervened to protect a neighbour she saw subjected to brutal domestic violence and threats to kill. The 17 stone attacker (now convicted of murder) turned Sandra Seagrave’s own walking stick against her, using it to beat her and his wife Amy Appleton, to death. Surely Sandra’s intervention was an act of bravery equal to any on a bloody battlefield.
The Mary Clarke Statue Appeal asserts that frail Mary Clarke, who gave her life for equal suffrage, facing harassment, beatings, imprisonment and death with calm determination, courage and good humour, is the equal of any brave soldier under arms. She was the first to die so that the women of this country could vote and we believe deserves a statue.
We intend this statue to be a symbol of courage in the face of injustice, demonstrating to children and adults alike the importance of equality and women’s rights – and the right of all people to exercise democratic choice without fear of violence.
Our Appeal enjoys all-party local support and has the backing of Brighton & Hove City Council. Your Conservative colleague Maria Caulfield M.P. is one of our Patrons, as are Labour’s Peter Kyle M.P. and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas M.P..
It is our sincere hope that when these matters are discussed at government and parliamentary level, politicians will recognise the lack of memorials, plaques, statues and street names honouring women and act to redress this balance. Certainly, if there is public funding available we would hope that projects such as ours, and other similar schemes elsewhere in the country, might be able to benefit from it.
I do hope you will feel able to support our Appeal and to make your colleagues aware of the need to commemorate women who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make this country a better place to live.
I have attached an article and photograph which provide more information about Mary and the proposed statue, including its design. You may also wish to visit our website maryclarkestatue.com.
Should you need further information please do not hesitate to contact me.
Chair of Trustees Mary Clarke Statue Appeal.