Letter: Absence of women speaks volumes

Time for change: Sarah Jackson, co-founder, East End Women’s Museum

Re. Sylvia Pankhurst: East London suffragette may get a statue in Bow

For many people east London’s history begins and ends with Jack the Ripper. Perhaps the Krays too. Or the Siege of Sidney Street.

You might get the Battle of Cable Street if you’re lucky, but mostly we’re famous for murder.

The East End Women’s Museum aims to throw some alternative stories in the mix.

Stories about activists like the Bryant & May matchwomen, or the rebel suffragettes led by Sylvia Pankhurst, Mala Sen and the Bengali Housing Action Group, the Jewish women who fought fascism in the 1930s, or the Ford Dagenham sewing machinists who walked out for equal pay.

Stories about pioneers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Dr Hannah Billig, Susan Lawrence, Joan Littlewood or Anna Maria Garthwaite.

And of course, the stories we don’t know yet.

We were chuffed to hear about the plans for a sculpture trail to celebrate women’s history in Bow, an area of special significance in the history of working women’s activism.

Of 640 listed statues in the UK, only 15 per cent are of women, and those are mostly monarchs and mythological figures.

Statues are powerful symbols and the absence of women from our civic spaces speaks volumes.

When we’re looking for inspiration we often turn to the past.

While women are still missing from parks and plinths, museums and history books, we are denying ourselves extraordinary stories of compassion and courage which have the capacity to move and inspire everyone for generations to come.

Projects like the Bow sculpture trail and the East End Women’s Museum will help to put women back in the picture and enrich east London’s fascinating history.

Sarah Jackson
Co-founder East End Women’s Museum and co-author of
  Voices from History: East London Suffragettes