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Five Welsh Women in Five Years

March 23, 2020


As Marian Wright Edelman said, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’.  The lack of a single statue of a real historical woman in any outdoor space in Wales has resulted in a group called Monumental Welsh Women undertaking an ambitious project to get statues of women erected across Wales. In her recent book, Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez said, ‘I wasn’t being shown women I could look up to …I wasn’t being taught about female politicians, female activists, female writers, artists, lawyers, CEOs. All the people I was taught to admire were men, and so in my head power, influence and ambition equated with maleness.’ The 'Five Women' mission is to normalise female ambition and success by celebrating and commemorating the achievements of great Welsh Women and inspiring the next generation of great Welsh women. From a shortlist of five candidates for a statue in Cardiff’s new Central Square, an online public ballot conducted by BBC Wales produced a clear winner. Betty Campbell (1935-2017) was the first head teacher of colour in Wales, a Cardiffian and champion of inclusivity who faced and challenged prejudice based on her race, class and gender. 

Image Credit: Media Wales

After a trip she took to America, she began teaching children about slavery, black history and the apartheid system which was happening in South Africa at that time. Putting black culture on the Cardiff curriculum, she also taught the children about Harriet Tubman and other civil right activists and the contribution people of colour gave to British society and helped to create the Black History Month. She became a member of the Commission for Racial Equality, and it was through this that Nelson Mandela requested a meet with her on his only visit to Wales in 1998.

Thanks to the generosity of the Welsh government, businesses, organisations, local authorities and individuals, not only is this statue by the immensely talented sculptor Eve Shepherd nearing completion but four others are also planned in different locations. Lady Rhondda (1883-1958) is well known in England as the founder and editor of Time and Tide, a businesswoman, the creator of the Six Point Group and persistent campaigner for women to take their seats in the House of Lords. She was also Wales’ leading suffragette. 2020 also marks the centenary of the birth of Elaine Morgan (1920-2020), television dramatist and celebrated writer of non-fiction including The Descent of Woman (1972) and an advocate of the aquatic ape theory of evolution who was still penning weekly columns for the press in her nineties. Sarah Jane Rees (1839-1916) was a master mariner from West Wales, a national eisteddfod winner known as Cranogwen, teacher, lecturer, preacher and the first woman to edit a Welsh-language women’s magazine. And there is Elizabeth Andrews (1882-1960) who had left school aged thirteen but became a household name in the Rhondda as a champion of the rights of women and children, the first women’s organiser for Wales for the Labour Party, one of Britain’s first female magistrates, and a key figure in the establishment of pithead baths and nursery schools in South Wales.