Memorial for Mary Wollstonecraft planned for Newington Green

A memorial of Mary Wollestonecraft is planned to be built on Newington Green. Pic: Mary on the Green

An award-winning artist has been commissioned to create a public sculpture that will celebrate philosopher and advocate of women’s rights Mary Wollstonecraft on Newington Green.

The design by Maggi Hambling hopes to attract investment for a memorial of the 18th century feminist, best-known for writing the first book in English arguing for gender equality.

The Mary on the Green campaign, which has been petitioning for a permanent memorial since 2011, has gathered over 4,000 signatures and now requires construction funds.

Funds are expected to be raised through grants from art schemes and public donations.

Bee Rowlatt, Chair of Mary on the Green campaign said: “Mary Wollstonecraft is a local hero, she lived and worked in Newington Green and her influence extended around the world.

“People who find out about her legacy are astonished to hear that she has no significant memorial anywhere, but the Mary on the Green campaign has now selected the ground-breaking artist Maggi Hambling’s design, and at last we’re on the move.”

The sculpture is set to be built on Newington Green, near to where Wollstonecraft set up a school for girls in 1784.

Wollstonecraft argued that women were capable of reason and all they lacked was education, a controversial statement at the time.

The memorial will feature her most famous quote from The Rights of Women: “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves.”

With over 90% of statues in London commemorating male figures, the Mary on the Green campaign has gained support from the public including Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn through #MinuteForMary.

Many believe Wollstonecraft’s memorial would help raise awareness of gender equality in society.

Hambling, best-known for her public sculptures of Oscar Wilde in Trafalgar square and four metre steel scallop on Aldeburgh beach, was commissioned to create the statue after several artists submitted proposals for how they would best commemorate Wollstonecraft.

Maggi Hambling’s A Conversation with Oscar Wilde located in Trafalgar Square. Pic: Flickr

Anna Birch, spokesperson for Mary on the Green campaign, told ELL: “We came to the conclusion that Hambling represented the life and work of Mary Wollstonecraft best. The piece represents every woman, made out of organic materials with the form of a woman emerging out of a birch. It resonates to Mary.”

Hambling said of her selection: “I hope this piece will act as a metaphor for the challenges women continue to face as we confront the world.”

Birch added: “Now we’ve got the name of the artist we expect to attract funding very quickly. We’re really looking for private donors and arts funds.”

The memorial to Wollstonecraft will be a stimulus for events in Newington Green, named the birthplace of feminism.

Sarah Jackson, co-founder of the East End Women’s Museum told ELL: “Hackney has a very rich history of radical ideas and for centuries activists have made Hackney their home.

“I hope that it will become a source of pride for everyone in the local community and inspire us all, especially girls and women, to have the courage to test our limits and question accepted wisdom.”

Birch said the Mary on the Green group hope the sculpture will be installed as soon as possible, although there is a balance to raise of around £60,000. A fundraising page has been set up by the organisation.

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