In the month that we mark the centenary of Emily Wilding Davison’s death and everything she and her fellow suffragettes fought for, it is vital that we recognise the many inspirational women in our history in the same way that we recognise the leading male figures of the past.
The current debate around the decision by the Bank Of England to replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry with Sir Winston Churchill on our £5 notes is an interesting one, and one which I know has evoked some very strong views.
The Bank of England has pictured British personalities on the back of its bank notes since 1970 and the previous 15 eminent figures chosen have included the composer Sir Edward Elgar, scientist Michael Faraday and writer Charles Dickens. Of course there has been a constant female presence on our coins and banknotes in the form of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; for some fifty-odd years she has been pictured on our currency and the currencies of many Commonwealth countries around the world. But, otherwise we cannot fail to note that only two, Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale, have been women.
Florence Nightingale, appeared on the back of £10 notes between 1975 until 1992 accompanied by a scene showing her tending the wounded soldiers in Scutari. And Elizabeth Fry has been depicted on the reverse of £5 notes since 2001. She is shown reading to prisoners at Newgate Prison. The design also incorporates a key, representing the key to the prison which was awarded to Fry in recognition of her work. Our past is full of amazing women who have achieved incredible things such as Dorothy Hodgkin, who won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Or Clementine Churchill, for her work supporting the YWCA and the Red Cross during World War II.
Celebrating the contributions of women
Women are vital to the economic health of our country and we need to ensure we are making full use of their talents and skills. That’s why I and my colleagues across Whitehall are focused on removing the barriers that prevent women from getting ahead in life and at work. A crucial part of that must be ensuring that we have inspirational role models and that they are recognised. We have some incredible contemporary role models in the many successful women who are making their mark in sectors like science, business and education. But historical role models are important too – to remind us of how far we have come, and to remind us of what we can achieve.
It is obviously a decision for the Bank of England who they put on the back of a £5 or any other note, but I very much welcome the news this week that the Bank of England will consider replacing Charles Darwin with the author Jane Austen on the £10 note. That said, I would still urge them to ensure that they play their part in shining a light on the successful female figures – to help inspire the next generation of women to achieve their full potential, and create the role models of the future.