A Woman Hidden from History – The Statue for Mary Clarke
In recent times people have had to re-evaluate the political and cultural significance of statues. There is disquiet about some of the individuals and events that have been commemorated. There is also a recognition, one that has been growing since 2018 (the centenary of the first women getting the Vote) that, despite women’s many achievements, hardly any named statues across Britain commemorate them. Women have literally been hidden from history.
Our city of Brighton & Hove is typical. Only one woman has a statue and she is Queen Victoria, commemorated less because of her achievements, than because she was the monarch.
This is why, in 2018, the Mary Clarke Statue Appeal was set up to fund a statue of a woman whose extraordinary life and sacrifice had been almost entirely forgotten. Mary was the first suffragette to die for women’s right to vote, yet there is no public memorial for her anywhere in the country. Despite her sacrifice – and the fact she was Emmeline Pankhurst’s sister – she is not even one of the fiftynine suffrage campaigners commemorated on the plinth of the 2018 statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square.
Mary Clarke was born Mary Goulden in 1861 in Salford to a radical family and became a decorative artist. She was a co-founder of the National Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) with her older sister Emmeline and its paid Organiser for Brighton from 1909 to 1910.
During her time as WSPU Organiser in Brighton, Mary lodged with local suffragette Minnie Turner, in her boarding house ‘Sea View’ at 13 Victoria Road. From this address and the WSPU office at the Quadrant near Brighton’s Clock Tower, she helped build the WSPU operation in the South East of England and in 1910 organised the General Election campaigns.
Though Mary was known for her gentleness and was not physically robust, she was extraordinarily brave. She had escaped an abusive marriage, during which she experienced destitution and homelessness. Thereafter she dedicated her life to the struggle for women’s suffrage. She had no children of her own, but was a loving aunt to her nieces and nephews.
A formidable organiser, Mary often worked in the background, but would take centre stage when required. We know that on 5th May 1910, she chaired and spoke at a major public meeting in the Dome, alongside Lady Emily Lutyens and the Reverend Chapman. The Argus quoted Mary’s wry comment that “she hoped that as comets were supposed to synchronise with great events, Halley’s comet this year would accompany emancipation of women”.
On 23rd October 1909, Mary chaired a meeting at Hove Town Hall at which Lady Constance Lytton spoke. She also addressed at least one Hyde Park rally and led a delegation to Parliament in January 1909, which led to her arrest and imprisonment. This was one of two periods of imprisonment for nothing more than attempting to petition the Prime Minister, an ‘offence’ for which a man would not have been arrested.
Mary spoke to crowds on the Brighton seafront on an almost daily basis and was reported to handle what Sylvia Pankhurst called “Brighton rowdies” with calm good humour and wit. Suffragette Joan Dugdale recalled how each evening she would address several hundred members of the public, whom she said “admired her pluck”. A local solicitor, who opposed female suffrage, would turn up each evening to heckle her. Joan recalled “Mrs Clarke never got impatient or angry and managed to silence him by turning his own words against him in a very clever manner.” She spoke admiringly of Mary’s “superhuman” strength of spirit and her gentleness.
The suffragette leader Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence recalled an occasion in Brighton on which Mary’s path was blocked by a mob of opponents. The hostile men slunk away after she quietly pulled out a copy of the WSPU newspaper Votes for Women and started to read it as though she were in “a drawing room”.
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence recalled: “She was on several occasions very much knocked about, and some of her young workers were inclined to strike out in her defence, but she always restrained them.”
Joan Dugdale described an event in Bournemouth where she, Clara Mordan and Mary Clarke were violently heckled and had rotten apples thrown at them. Mary managed to escape from the mob, but saw that Joan was being attacked. She returned to help and “then came in for her blows and kicks and shoving”. Another witness recalled that the hecklers were shouting “Throw her over a cliff!” Things were so bad by 1910 that Mary was driven to say “Prison is the only place for self-respecting women.”
Mary attended the notorious ‘Black Friday’ events on 18th November 1910, where, over a six-hour period, 300 women outside Parliament were brutally beaten and deliberately sexually assaulted by uniformed and plain-clothed police, almost certainly acting on Home Office orders. Mary was injured and deeply distressed, remaining bedridden for the next three days.
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence later wrote: “She could stand ill usage herself, but could not bear to see others victimised. The tears were streaming from her eyes as she watched the women flung like footballs between the police in uniform and the organised mob of roughs led on by plainclothes officers of the force.”
Though friends tried to dissuade her, on Tuesday 22nd November she left her bed and returned to London with Minnie Turner to protest about the police’s actions. When she heard others of the deputation had been arrested, including her sister Emmeline, she deliberately broke a police station window, almost certainly her first illegal act. She said to the constable who arrested her, “I voted that the deputation should go, and am morally as responsible as they are. If they are guilty of wrongdoing so am I, and I mean to share their punishment.”
She was imprisoned for one month, her third and final period in gaol. She wrote to a friend who had tried to dissuade her from going for fear of further violence towards her: “I had to protest somehow; you would not have me a shirker.” When her sentence was pronounced she telegraphed to her Brighton members, “One month. I am glad to pay the price for freedom.” Despite her frailty, when in prison Mary went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed. This cruel and illegal process caused terror, acute pain and often long-term injury.
After her release from Holloway prison on 23rd December 1910, she attended a Welcome Meeting in London where, as Christabel Pankhurst reported, she made an inspirational speech. She then travelled to another Welcome Meeting in Brighton before returning to London to spend Christmas at her brother’s house.
Two days after release from prison, on Christmas Day 1910, she collapsed and died of a brain haemorrhage. She was buried quietly in a family plot in London. John Clarke, to whom she was still legally married, inherited her small estate of sixty pounds.
Mary’s death never received the publicity of Emily Wilding Davison’s violent end under the Kings’ horse on Derby Day 1913. Nonetheless, her grief-stricken sister Emmeline, to whom she had been a constant support, understood the political significance of her death. Two days after Mary’s death, she wrote to newspaper editor and former Liberal politician C.P. Scott calling Mary her “Dearest Sister” and saying “She is the first to die. How many must follow before the men of your Party realise their responsibility.”
The deeply moving obituary for Mary, delivered by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence at Mary’s memorial service in Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, called her the “first woman martyr who has gone to death for this cause.”
Mrs Pethick-Lawrence recalled a graveside tribute to Mary: “Upon her last restingplace lies a laurel wreath, and upon it is inscribed those words which she telegraphed from the police court: “ I am glad to pay the price for freedom.“ This was sent as a tribute from the Brighton members.”
At the Royal Pavilion memorial meeting, Isabella McKeown, a prominent Brighton suffragette, rallied the mourners saying: “Her they must not mourn in silence. They must take the torch from her and light the darkness of craft and cruelty.” That thought is our inspiration.
We have commissioned the well-known sculptor Denise Dutton, who made the statues of Annie Kenney in Oldham, the Landgirls and Lumber Jills at the national Arboretum and the Maharaja Duleep Singh in Thetford and is currently sculpting the statue of Mary Anning for Lyme Regis. Denise has completed a bronze maquette (model) made to the exact design of the proposed statue of Mary, as well as a resin copy, which is easy to display and move.
We asked the sculptor to tell the story of Mary’s life and death and to express her gentle dignity and calm strength as well as her great courage and determination.
The agreed design depicts Mary after leaving prison, two days before her death. She gestures towards a lamp at her feet which she has left for others to pick up. This refers to Isabella McKeown’s words at Mary’s memorial meeting in the Royal Pavilion “Her we should not mourn in silence, but take up the torch and light the darkness..”. Her hand is held low, so that children can hold it and pose for photographs. We suspect many children will rub the lamp and make a wish.
Mary wears a suffragette sash and on her left arm carries a last few copies of Votes for Women, the suffragette newspaper she regularly sold in Brighton. The front page of the November 1910 issue depicts the violent events of ‘Black Friday’, where Mary was injured.
She wears the Hunger Strikers’ medal and walks over the implements used in forcible feeding, which are imbedded in the surface of the plinth. Her clothing, accurate for the period, subtly references her background as an artist, her love of flowers and her time in prison (the prison arrows which marked the Holloway Prison uniform are incorporated in the dress design).
A low plinth carries Isabella McKeown’s words: “..take the torch from her and light the darkness…” and those of Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence who called her “The first woman martyr to go to death for this cause.”, as well as Mary’s own brave words: “I am glad to pay the price for freedom..” Emmeline Pankhurst’s grief-stricken cry: “She is the first to die. How many must follow…” is on the surface of the plinth, curving around the feeding tube embedded in the bronze. The font is of the period.
Subject to future planning consent, our aim is to place Mary’s statue in the Pavilion Estate, both because of its deep historic ties with the suffrage movement and because of the cultural, educational and political significance of the statue. We believe the statue will attract national and possibly international attention – especially given the lack of any other public memorial to Mary.
In 2018 the Dome was listed by Historic England as a site of National Suffrage Interest. The Royal Pavilion itself could have been listed. It hosted public meetings of the suffragettes (Christabel Pankhurst spoke in the Music Room) as well as many ordinary business meetings of the WSPU. Mary’s own memorial meeting which took place in the Pavilion in January 1911 had originally been scheduled as a routine business meeting. The WSPU also met in the elegant Pavilion tea rooms (probably on the site of the present Pavilion Shop and tea room). There were also suffrage meetings in the Chapel Royal, though they do not seem to have been organised by the WSPU.
Our preferred site for the statue is away from the Pavilion itself, set into the Garden on the right hand side of the entrance to the Museum, centrally placed in such a way that it can be easily be seen and reached from the entrance driveway. This is a beautiful, sunny and accessible setting which avoids the most important parts of the Regency Gardens and would not impinge on views of, and from, the Pavilion. There we hope that every school party, adult resident and visitor to the museum and art gallery will see and recognise Mary’s statue as a symbol of the city’s historic and ongoing commitment to democracy, equality and women’s rights. We believe that because of the sensitivity of the site and to make it genuinely accessible, especially to children, the statue with its low plinth should stand no taller than seven feet and appear, from a distance, as if Mary is walking in the garden.
The sculptor has recommended a square plinth, in order to make the quotes fully visible. If landscaping requires it, the plinth could be made circular, but there would be a reduction in words. There are no immediate plans for an interpretation board, though this would be possible. Our hope is that the statue will tell its story and that this can be picked up within the Museum by means of displays, publications and information – and associated materials designed for work in schools.
If consent for this site is given, we propose landscaping and planting around the statue that subtly references Mary’s life and suffrage history while remaining fully in keeping with the Regency Garden.
We would suggest a circular self-binding gravel path around the statue (or a safe alternative) bounded by wrought iron fencing, as used elsewhere in the Gardens, and wide enough to allow wheelchairs or double buggies to circle it, with sufficient space in front to encourage children, families and small school parties to discuss the statue and pose for photographs. The plinth, as currently designed, will be 105 x 105 cm. The path and space surrounding it would need to be at least 2 m. wide to accommodate two people in wheelchairs side by side or at least 1.5 m. wide to accommodate one person in a wheelchair and one pedestrian side by side.
We propose the garden continues as deep shrubbery hospitable to wildlife, ideally one in which the planting subtly reflects suffrage colours of white, green and occasional deep plum/purple. Some of the plants already there would be very suitable and Historic England’s list of appropriate plants for Regency Gardens gives a great deal of choice.
The suffragettes were very conscious of the symbolism of plants and of biblical and classical associations. Planting around the statue might include laurel, which was recognised by the suffragettes to be a symbol of victory and heroism. Indeed, the Brighton branch of the WSPU sent a laurel wreath to Mary’s funeral, which was laid on her grave. Another possibility would be holly, often used to symbolise sacrifice, and particularly apposite considering Mary’s death on Christmas Day. Yet another would be rosemary, for remembrance.
Flowers associated with Mary are irises (which she loved and used to paint) and lilies and palms which were often used in suffragette processions. At Mary’s funeral the floral tribute from the national WSPU headquarters was made up of lilies and palms. The lilies suggest purity, the palms sacrifice.
A tree that is particularly associated with Mary is a cedar, specifically a cedrus deodara pendula (introduced to Britain from India just after the Regency period). This tree was planted in Mary’s memory by suffragette Annie Kenney at the suffragette arboretum in Batheaston on 15th January 1911, the plaque saying In Memory of Mary Clarke, released from Holloway Prison 23rd December 1910, died 25th December 1910. Here again, symbolism mattered. The suffragettes tended to plant cedars for leaders who had endured much for the cause. They would have been well aware of the tree’s biblical association with strength and incorruptibility, endurance and immortality. They may not have known that deodar (or devadaru) means ‘wood of the gods’ in Sanskrit, but it is a potentially interesting point given the Pavilion Estate’s links with India.
The arboretum, which commemorated so many suffragists and suffragettes (one tree for each woman), was destroyed in the 1960s, to build a housing estate. Only one tree survives. However, there are efforts elsewhere in the country to re-plant these memorial trees. The Appeal hopes to work with the City Council to plant at least one memorial tree, if not near the statue, then at least somewhere in the centre of the city.
Denise Dutton, our sculptor, has completed a resin maquette and one in bronze to the exact design of the proposed statue. Our challenge now is to raise a further fifty thousand pounds to complete the statue itself. We are grateful for the all-party support of the City Council and the backing of all Members of Parliament from Brighton, Hove, Lewes and Hastings, as well as the support of our distinguished Patrons and Ambassadors. We hope the people of Brighton & Hove and those who live elsewhere will work with us to erect this statue at the heart of our city.
Our target date for the unveiling is the weekend of the 2nd July 2023, the ninety fifth anniversary of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928, which enfranchised all women. This should position the city very well to celebrate the centenary in 2028 and, in the years which precede 2028, to benefit from anticipated government grant aid for ‘suffrage cities’. This should bring great benefit to our city and community.
Mary Clarke’s Story
Mary’s Obituary, which was written by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, called her the
first woman martyr who has gone to death for this cause. At her memorial service Isabella McKeown, a prominent Brighton suffragette, raised a rallying cry, saying
Her they must not mourn in silence. They must take the torch from her and light the darkness of craft and cruelty.In January 1911 suffragette leader Annie Kenney planted a memorial tree for Mary in the Suffrage Arboretum (later demolished). Mary’s tree was a Cedrus Deodara Pendula.
Mary Jane Goulden, later Mary Clarke, was born in 1861 in Salford.
She was a talented decorative artist, making items for sale in a shop she ran with her sister Emmeline Pankhurst. She was a co-founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and became Organiser for Brighton from 1909 to 1910. She was an effective campaigner and speaker, and although quieter than her charismatic sister, had just as much courage. Though Mary was not physically strong, she was brave and deeply committed. She had no children of her own, but regularly cared for Emmeline’s and supported her in her paid employment as a Registrar. Mary had escaped a deeply unhappy nine-year marriage to John Clarke, during which she experienced abuse, destitution and homelessness.
She is the first to die. How many must follow before the men of your Party realise their responsibility.Emmeline Pankhurst
Thereafter she dedicated her life to the struggle for women’s suffrage.Deeply committed to the cause, Mary was imprisoned three times for minor offences. She spoke well at meetings and was reported to handle aggressive mobs and heckling “Brighton rowdies” with calm good humour and wit. Mary also spoke at a Hyde Park rally and led at least one delegation to Parliament in January 1909, which led to her arrest and imprisonment.
During her time as WSPU Organiser in Brighton, Mary lodged with Minnie Turner in her boarding house ‘Sea View’ at 13 Victoria Road. From this address and the WSPU office at the Quadrant near Brighton’s Clock Tower, she helped build the WSPU operation in the South East of England and in 1910 ran the General Election campaign.As an organiser, Mary often worked in the background but would take the lead when needed. For example, on 23rd October 1909, she chaired a meeting at Hove Town Hall at which Constance Lytton spoke; and on 5th May 1910, she chaired and spoke at a major meeting in Brighton’s Dome, alongside Lady Emily Lutyens and the Reverend Chapman.
The Argus newspaper quoted Mary’s comment from the Dome meeting that
she hoped that as comets were supposed to synchronise with great events, Halley’s comet this year would accompany emancipation of women, after which the suffragette newspaper
Votes for Women referred to this as the
Great Dome Meeting.
She was admired and greatly loved by her fellow suffragettes. Lady Constance Lytton, whom she met in prison in 1909, referred to her as
exceptionally gentle and courteous in her manner adding
her outward calm nevertheless suggested a reserve of inward force. She also noted Mary’s great
understanding of human nature.Suffragette Joan Dugdale spoke of Mary’s
superhuman strength of spirit as well as her
sweet sympathy and
gentleness. She recalled how Mary would speak to several hundred members of the public each evening whom she said,
admired her pluck. A local solicitor, who opposed female suffrage, would turn up each evening to heckle her. Joan recalled,
Mrs Clarke never got impatient or angry and managed to silence him by turning his own words against him in a very clever manner.
first woman martyr who has gone to death for this causeEmmeline Pethick-Lawrence
Mary was very brave. The suffragette leader Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence recalled an occasion on which Mary’s path was blocked by a mob of opponents. She quietly pulled out a copy of the WSPU newspaper Votes for Women and started to read it as though she were in
a drawing room.Joan Dugdale described an event in Bournemouth where she, Clara Mordan and Mary Clarke were violently heckled and had rotten apples thrown at them. Mary managed to escape from the mob, but saw that Joan was being attacked. She rushed to help and
then came in for her blows and kicks and shoving. Another witness recalled that the hecklers were shouting
Throw her over a cliff!. Despite her extreme gentleness, Mary was driven to say in 1910
Prison is the only place for self-respecting women.
Her they must not mourn in silence. They must take the torch from her and light the darkness…Isabella McKeown
Mary attended the notorious ‘Black Friday’ events on 18th November 1910, where, over a period of six hours, 300 women outside Parliament were brutally beaten and deliberately sexually assaulted by uniformed and plain-clothed police, almost certainly acting on Home Office orders. It seems Mary was also assaulted.Though friends tried to dissuade her, she returned to London days later with Minnie Turner to protest about the police’s actions. She was arrested for breaking a window and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for one month. Despite her frailty, Mary went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed. This was a cruel and illegal process which caused acute pain and often long-term injury.
Mrs Clarke never got impatient or angry and managed to silence [hecklers] by turning [their] own words against [them]…Joan Dugdale
After her release from prison on 23rd December 1910, she attended a Welcome Meeting in London where, according to her niece Christabel, she made an inspirational speech. She then travelled to another Welcome Meeting in Brighton (it is unclear whether she made a speech) before returning to London to spend Christmas at her brother’s house.Two days after release from prison, on Christmas Day 1910, she collapsed and died of a brain haemorrhage. She was buried quietly in a family plot in London. John Clarke, to whom she was still legally married, inherited her small estate.
Mary’s death never received the publicity of Emily Wilding Davison’s violent end under the Kings’ horse on Derby Day 1913. Nonetheless, her grief-stricken sister Emmeline understood the political significance of her death. She wrote to C.P. Scott of the woman she called her
Dearest Sister and said
She is the first to die. How many must follow before the men of your Party realise their responsibility.
[Mary Clarke was] exceptionally gentle and courteous in her manner… her outward calm nevertheless suggested a reserve of inward force.Lady Constance Lytton