A 7-foot, bronze statue has been unveiled in Leicester’s New Market Square of Suffragette Alice Hawkins, making her the first ever named woman to be recognised with a statue in the county. By Renuka Odedra
A celebratory event took place on New Market Square to commemorate one hundred years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 came into place, giving all men and some women the right to be able to vote. It was a landmark victory for the suffragettes and suffragists who fought tirelessly for their campaign, but it was only the start on the road to achieving equality.
The ceremony started off with the De Montfort University choir, who sang a stunning rendition of ‘Rise Up’, which was met with a round of applause by a packed crowd who were not put off by the bitterly cold weather and a sudden shower of hail to celebrate a truly remarkable woman.
Helen Antrobus, who works at the Peoples History Museum in Manchester preceded on stage to talk about what it would have been like for a working-class woman to be a suffragette, describing them as “foot soldiers” who were a crucial part of the group.
Whilst various people got up onto the stage to talk about Alice Hawkins, including Leicester Businessman James Lewis who funded the statue, a march took place including cycling suffragettes, three local choirs and representatives of local women’s organisations. The 200 strong procession began from the city’s Secular Hall in Humberstone Gate East and ended at the Clock Tower in the heart of the city centre. Actress, Elaine Pantling played the role of Alice Hawkins, who led the group all the way. The women carried banners whilst ‘Alice’ addressed the crowds from a soapbox, before leading the group to a version of The Women’s Marseillaise to the New Market Square.
Elaine Pantling told The Demon: “It’s an absolute privilege and honour to walk in Alice’s shoes today, it was just amazing.”
Talking about Alice becoming the first woman to be honoured with a statue in Leicester she explained why having a working-class woman celebrated was huge, “for Leicester it’s brilliant because she was a working-class woman for a start and Leicester is a radical city, it always has been. For me as a working-class woman, it’s important, she was aspirational and today her voice is still going to mean such a lot to people.”
The statue was unveiled by four women who have a connection to Alice Hawkins’s life and work. They included Alice’s great-great-granddaughter Kate Barratt, Manjula Sood the assistant city mayor for communities and equalities, Leicester West MP Liz Kendall and Mental Health Campaigner Alice Gibbs.
Went to cover the unveiling of Leicester Suffragette, Alice Hawkins statue. It was such an inspirational event, a lovely way to honour a woman who led the campaign in the city for women's right to vote. pic.twitter.com/7xQZ1GJRpb
— Renuka Odedra (@RenukaOdedra) February 4, 2018
Built in London by sculptor Sean-Hedges Quinn, the 800lbs bronze statue stands on a 4ft granite plinth. Hedges Quinn, who has won critical acclaim for his work and has also featured in movies such as V for Vendetta, Phantom of the Opera and the Harry Potter films told The Demon, “I am extremely happy to have been the artist entrusted to create a fitting effigy of Alice Hawkins. It really is an honour.
“More than anything I wish to embody the personality of her and not just capture a good likeness. My wish is to create a unique interpretation and not just a simple reproduction. What she achieved and fought for was truly remarkable and I for one feel very privileged to be doing this. When Alice stood in The Market Square 100 years ago she composed herself with great dignity and strength. She strongly believed in everything she fought for, in particular, that of gender equality. This is a struggle that still echoes through to the present time. The fight still rumbles on and the statue of Alice Hawkins should be an inspiration for that continued struggle.
I believe the people of Leicester and beyond will take time to appreciate her statue, remember the woman herself and all the values she stood for.”
The statue is the first of three to be unveiled around the UK to commemorate the centenary of the right to vote for women. Events are also planned across Bolton, Bristol, Leeds, London, Manchester and Nottingham funded by the Government’s £1.2 million Centenary Cities fund.
Who was Alice Hawkins?
Alice Hawkins was born in a working-class family in Stafford. She left school at the young age of 13 and in her 20’s she began working in a shoe factory as a machinist. She fought for the right for women to be able to vote in the early 1900’s, whilst continuing to work in an ‘Equity Shoes’ factory that was formerly located on Western Road, which remained in business until 2008. A plaque is located on the building to commemorate her role in the suffragette’s movement.
In total Alice was jailed five times for protesting, including once for digging the words ‘votes for women’ on a local golf course. Also, a close ally of Emmeline Pankhurst who was one of the well-known faces for the cause and led the Women’s Social and Political Union.
She was a mother of six children and died at the age of 83 in 1946, buried in an unmarked ‘paupers’ grave.
An exhibition on her life will be open at the New Walk Museum in October.
DMU to hold event to celebrate 100 years of Women’s Vote
On February 6th the exact date it will 100 years since some women, over the age of 30 first had the right to vote, De Montfort University are holding an event to commemorate the centenary on this exact date.
Between 12 till 1pm in the Campus Centre on the 6th of February, there will be a talk about the history and sociological impact of women getting the vote by senior Lecturer Vicky Ball. De Montfort Student Unions Vice President of Welfare and Community, Jessica Okwuonu will also be speaking.
There is also a great opportunity to see an exhibition connected to the suffrage campaign provided by Alice Hawkins great-grandson, Peter Barratt.