Melanie Goldberg guides us through the few statues of women in Glasgow, and offers suggestions for those who deserve equal commemoration.
Glasgow is often revered for its artistic reputation, a fact emphasised by the fair share of successful alumni from the Glasgow School of Art. Another notable aspect of Glasgow is the abundance of statues. With too many to count on one hand in George Square alone, it begs the question, why are there only four statues of women across the entire city? Mary Barbour, Isabella Elder and Dolores Ibarrubi are all women who dedicated their lives to helping others through education, activism, and investment; all were uniquely individual in the lives that they led. The fourth, Queen Victoria, has not exactly aged well, having recently been added to the “Slavery Hall of Shame”.
Mary Barbour was a worker’s right’s activist and local politician throughout from the late 19th to mid 20th century. She fought for the rights of the working class by organising rent strikes, leading protests, and running for local office, making her one of Glasgow’s first female councillors. Designed by Scottish sculptor Sharon Thomas, the statue was almost not built after a controversial opposition from Creative Scotland, demonstrating the contempt for successful women from arts institutions. In spite of this setback and after immense support, the statue was unveiled in 2017 at Govan Cross, depicting Barbour leading women and children in protest.
Isabella Elder is the namesake of the former Queen Margaret College, the first tertiary educational institution to admit women in Scotland, and the aptly named Isabella Elder Feminist Society. Akin to Barbour, Elder and her philanthropic and educational work is strongly associated with Govan. She ensured the creation of the Elder Park Library and a school to teach women valuable life skills. She was highly invested in providing women with educational opportunities and funded the establishment of the Queen Margaret College, which merged with Glasgow University just ten years later. Her statue resides in Elder Park, Govan.
Dolores Ibárruri was a Spanish Republican and communist who fought against the fascist forces during the 1936 Spanish Civil War. Commonly referred to as La Pasionaria, Ibárruri saved hundreds of children from starvation prior to the Civil War and was involved with many anti-fascist groups, fomenting her reputation. Immortalising the phrase “No pasarán”, Dolores was instrumental in aiding Republican forces, despite their eventual defeat. The reason behind the choice of statue was to commemorate the British forces who fought against Franco’s forces and whom Dolores personally thanked. Her statue is located in Saltmarket, by the River Clyde.
Beyond the three women mentioned above, there are countless more admirable Scottish women who deserve commemoration. Here are a few ideas:
Margaret and Frances Macdonald
The often-overlooked Glasgow sisters contributed immensely to the Art Nouveau movement of the 19th and 20thcenturies. Alongside her sister, Frances Macdonald, Margaret’s work has been fundamental to the establishment of Glasgow’s esteemed art reputation. Often overshadowed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Macdonald sisters are constantly erased and deserve equal representation. Perhaps a sculpture in the grounds of House for an Art Lover or even Buchanan Street, home to the Willow Tearooms and The Lighthouse?
Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots, Scotland’s most infamous monarch, defied history as a standalone Queen, akin to her English counterpart, Queen Elizabeth I. Enduring constant attacks from those who believed women should not rule, befitting to her character, a statue of Mary deserves to overshadow John Knox in the necropolis. Whilst Mary had stronger connections to other areas in Scotland and is memorialised elsewhere, what would be more befitting to her revolutionary legacy other than a statue in the biggest city in Scotland?
Defying her husband’s wishes, Isabella fled her home to honour her belief in Scottish Independence, riding to Scone Palace for Robert the Bruce’s coronation. Although a statue of Macduff exists in Inverness, a Glasgow version wouldn’t go amiss. Perhaps designed by a Scottish female sculptor? Surely, Scotland’s countless Robert Burns monuments signifies that there’s enthusiasm for multiple commemorations?
The namesake of Oxford’s Somerville College, Mary was a scientist specialising in maths and astronomy. Born in Jedburgh in 1780, Mary defied societal expectations in her pursuit of education and academia. She has an extensive bibliography and has been consistently lauded for her work, even during a time when women were considered incapable of such work. She was also one of a pair of the first women (alongside Caroline Herschel) to be admitted to the Royal Astronomical Society.
These are just a fraction of possibilities. There really are too many to name, but other potentials could be athlete Kayleigh Haggo, entrepreneur Poonam Gupta, engineer Victoria Drummond, politician Katharine Marjory, Doctor Elsie Inglis and Mairi Chisholm, a WWI nurse and ambulance driver. There is an abundance of potential for more statues of revolutionary women in Glasgow, and we are not exactly short of space. Particularly even, in the spirit of renaming university buildings, perhaps the Victoria Drummond Engineering Building or the Katharine Marjory School of Social Sciences? A minimum effort alternative of commemoration and tribute.