Read RHS Alumna Amy Rodwell’s story of re-discovering the significance of her school house’s figurehead.
“I do not wish [women] to have power over men, but over themselves.”
I first stumbled upon Mary Wollstonecraft when as a nervous 11 year old I was put in to Wollstonecraft House at RHSB. Not long after I was throwing myself in to the house spirit and found myself shuffling about in the dance house competition, swimming in the house galas, winning (and losing!) house points and all in the name of Mary. Since leaving in 2008, however, ashamedly I have to admit I hadn’t given her much thought. That was until I found myself nearly 8 years later at an evening by the campaign group ‘Mary on the Green’ whose sole mission is to raise a sculpture in memory of the lady herself. I hadn’t quite grasped or remembered just how amazing a woman she had been and was intrigued to find out that amongst other things Wollstonecraft had been the first female war correspondent and salaried journalist, a pioneering activist for human rights, author of ‘A vindication of the Rights of Woman’ the first book in English arguing for the equality of women and men and most poignant for me an educational pioneer who became the first woman to argue for the education of girls!
It was at this evening that I met the author and Wollstonecraft enthusiast Bee Rowlatt who, amongst others, spoke passionately about Wollstonecraft and who in her book ‘In Search of Mary’ chronicles her life, influences, loves and achievements. It was there that she spoke persuasively about the importance of the campaign’s work, revealing that astonishingly more than nine out of ten of London’s statues are of men. “For five years now we’ve been campaigning for this to change.” Rowlatt explained “The issue is women’s visibility. I want my daughters to see that women throughout history have contributed to the world in vital and significant ways.”
It’s not just Rowlatt who believes that it is high time Wollstonecraft receives the recognition she deserves. The Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has called her “perhaps the most underestimated thinker of the Enlightenment.” The historian Mary Beard also too feels strongly and explains that, “every woman who wants to make an impact on the way this country is run, from the House of Commons to the pub quiz, has Mary Wollstonecraft to thank.”
Rowlatt continued to explain that a large part of the campaign’s work is about redressing the narrative of thousands of years: the narrative in which only triumphant military men achieve visibility. She, however, does hasten to add that she’s not remotely interested in taking anyone’s statue down. “It’s just high time we got some new ones. So that school kids in Hackney, Liverpool and Manchester can look up to people who look a bit more like them; people who achieved great things and are finally recognised as having done so.”
So, if you like me hadn’t quite appreciated just how much we owe to this remarkable woman and would like to find out more about her, then I would urge you all to check out the campaign’s work by visiting their website www.maryonthegreen.org and spread the word!
Artwork credits to the street artist Stewy.