English Heritage has conceded that there are not enough commemorative blue plaques for women and is calling on the public to nominate celebrated women from history to be included in the scheme.
Founded in 1866, the initiative commemorates significant figures from the past who have made a lasting impact on society, by installing an iconic blue roundel on the London building in which they lived or worked.
However, only 14% of the 900 London blue plaques celebrate the achievements of women. The charity launched a ‘plaques for women’ campaign in 2016, in an attempt to redress the gender disparity. Since then, only one third of the nominations received since 2016 have been for women.
The charity is soliciting the help of the general public, asking them to nominate women from history, particularly in the areas of science, sport and the fine arts. You can use English Heritage’s ‘Find a Plaque’ tool to check who has a plaque already, and then you can send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director and Secretary of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel, said: ‘The London blue plaques scheme is over 150 years old and the dominance of plaques to men reflects a historic blindness to both the role women have played in our society and the type of roles deemed worthy of celebration.’
‘This year’s centenary of the first votes for women has brought about an increased urgency to rebalance the record of women’s contribution to history. We really hope this enthusiasm will be translated into lots more nominations and ultimately more blue plaques for women.’
In order to be included in the scheme, figures must meet criteria including the following: ‘they should have made a great and lasting impact on society’, ‘they should have been dead for more than 20 years’ and ‘the London building in which they lived or worked should still survive’.
English Heritage has already announced three women due to receive plaques including Margaret Lockwood, star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), the Second World War heroine Noor Inayat Kahn, and archaeologist and diplomat Gertrude Bell.
Dipping into this year’s Frieze Masters magazine, which celebrates the achievements of women in art history, we’ve pulled out a few suggestions for women artists worthy of a blue plaque commendation.
Angelica Kaufmann (1741–1807) and Mary Moser (1744–1819) were the only two female founding members of the Royal Academy of the Arts, London.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–c.1656) was an Italian baroque painter, who specialized in painting strong mythic or biblical women. She spent a short time at the court of Charles I in London, before leaving the country around the time of the Civil War.
Dame Laura Knight (1877–1970) was an English painter, primarily in the Impressionist style. She lived in London for much of her life and was the first woman accepted as a full member of the Royal Academy.
Mary Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907) was a sculptor who achieved international acclaim for incorporating figures of African American and indigenous heritage into Neoclassical-style sculpture. The artist spent her final years in London.
Main image: Agatha Christie’s Blue Plaque, 2018, photograph. Courtesy: © English Heritage