Crowds took to the streets of Manchester City Centre to take part in a tribute to ‘Our Emmeline’, as a statue of the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst was unveiled in her home city 100 years after the first women went to the polls for the first time in a UK General Election.
In an event that reflected Emmeline’s own rallying calls of ‘Rise up, women’ and ‘Deeds not words’, her legacy was honoured by people of all ages coming together, including over 1,000 schoolchildren, who marched from her former home, the Pankhurst Centre, to take part in the unveiling. Emmeline herself is depicted stood aloft a chair in St Peter’s Square as she addresses the crowds.
Symbolically the meeting circle in which she stands is orientated towards the former Free Trade Hall, where the first disruptive actions of the suffragettes, including her own daughter Sylvia, took place.
Speaking at the event her great granddaughter Helen Pankhurst said “Today we honour Emmeline here in Manchester, her personal and political home, and we remember all of those who fought alongside her in the country and beyond. Women and men. Today, she has been welcomed back with a march, as of old, to a meeting circle, as of old. In this statue, she is campaigning, still beckoning us on, because despite all the progress in women’s lives, there is still work to be done, here in Manchester, in the country as a whole and globally.
“It’s important that Emmeline is here. She is a local hero and a global icon, a symbol of women rising, defying their secondary status, demanding change.
“I believe that just as we have come here today, in our thousands, on the closing days of 2018, in coming years, feminists will continue to congregate there. They will come to honour, but also to protest, to defy, to demand more of the political establishment, of society – of each one of us. As they did in the past, as we do today, as future generations will, tomorrow, and for centuries to come.”
In her speech Hazel Reeves, whose design won the hearts of thousands of people who voted for it, addressed Emmeline directly, saying “Emmeline, we need you as much as ever, back on our streets, continuing to inspire us all – women and men – to rise up and demand gender equality and demand the end to violence against women. We need, today, to channel your passion, courage and determination and take this back into our lives – into our homes, into our communities, into our workplaces.”
The occasion was also an opportunity to acknowledge the work of Councillor Andrew Simcock. Since 2014 he has been leading the campaign for a statue of a woman of significance to Manchester. Speaking at the event he said, “We are delighted at how many people came together for the unveiling of Our Emmeline, an event that has celebrated the legacy of those who campaigned for the right to vote and remembered their sacrifices and bravery. And in being joined by so many young people, we are looking with hope to the future and a desire to carry forward the spirit of those then, and now, striving for equality.”
Also taking part in the ceremony were the Minister for Equalities Baroness Williams, Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor June Hitchen and Manchester City Council Lead Member for Women, Councillor Sarah Judge along with 12 year old Fatima Rashid.
The statue of Emmeline Pankhurst is only the second of a female to stand in Manchester since the statue of Queen Victoria was unveiled in Piccadilly Gardens in 1901. Emmeline Pankhurst was selected as the public’s chosen female icon to be immortalised as a statue from a long list of 20 inspiring Mancunian females. As well as voting for Emmeline, the public also voted for Hazel Reeves’ ‘Rise up, women’ as the winning design from a short list of six maquettes. The unveiling is the culmination of a campaign launched in 2014 to celebrate the significant contribution of women to the city.
The project was conceived, and has been led and directed by Councillor Andrew Simcock, Chair of the Emmeline Pankhurst Statue Campaign