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Finally, after 200 years, Mary Wollstonecraft honoured with a statue

Mary Wollstonecraft, recognised mother of feminism has finally been commemorated by a sculpture by Maggi Hambling in North London.

The sculpture, which is placed near to where Mary lived and worked, was funded by a ten-year campaign and is the only memorial sculpture in the world to a woman.

Maggi Hambling, the creator of the statue, is known as one of Britain’s most important and controversial artists. The statue is a clear contrast to the ‘countless sculptures of stuffy men on lofty pedestals.’

The statue shows a silvery naked female figure which seems to be emerging freely and defiantly from a swirl of female forms.

This will be a conversation starter, says Bee Rowlett, who oversaw leading the campaign for the sculpture. Rowlett says that it will promote comment and debate. That’s a good thing because ‘that is what Mary did all her life.’

The sculpture, Mother of Feminism, personifies the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft who herself was controversial in her beliefs.

 For the last ten years the community has been trying to raise £143,000 for the statue, with volunteers working in their own time, and the scheme became a great community effort.

The volunteers were keen for Mary Wollstonecraft’s legacy to be remembered and it seemed the right thing to have the statue placed close to where she lived and worked.

It is also close to the girl’s boarding school that Mary set up in Newington Green when she was just 25 years old.

Artist Rowlatt commented that ten years ago she had become fixated on the reasons why Mary Wollstonecraft had not been better known. She asked the question as to what could be done to change that.

Many people have never heard of Mary Wollstonecraft and are astonished when they discover all she had done.

Mary Wollstonecraft was regarded as an important philosopher. She was an educationalist who was best known for her publication in 1792 ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women.’

Rowlatt stated that Mary’s own reputation was ‘annihilated by misogyny.’

For most of the century Wollstonecraft basically vanished from society because her enemies had taken some aspects of her life and turned them against her.

She was attacked for having a child out of wedlock as well as that she tried at one time to take her own life. These misogynistic attacks continued for years, with poems circulated against her and Mary being attacked by the press.

It was the suffragette Millicent Fawcett who became a part of restoring Wollstonecraft’s reputation, almost a century after Mary had died. Mary died soon after giving birth to her daughter – the novelist Mary Shelley.

A summer of debate has raged over the sculpture. There are 90% more public sculptures in London commemorating men than there are of women. 

Rowlatt stated that finally having a public work of art which celebrated human rights was a very public statement in times of increasing social division. Mary Wollstonecraft stands the test of time, said Rowlett, and people do catch up in the end.

Cast in silvered bronze, Hambling’s work is meant to encourage a conversation about the obstacles that Mary overcame, the ideals she strived for and the things she made happen.

The campaign, known as ‘The Mary on the Green Campaign’ was also supported by TV presenter and local resident Anita Rani. Ms rani agreed that Wollstonecraft was ‘finally getting the recognition she deserved.’

Mary Wollstonecraft was a person who simply never gave up, she continually fought for other people. ‘She was a badass – and it cost her.’

Due to the restrictions in place because of the pandemic there was no physical unveiling of the statue.

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