Friend calls for more blue plaques for women

'Peace campaigner and crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale was one of six women who was awarded a plaque in 2021.'

Blue plaque unveiled on 1 April 2021 by English Heritage

A Chesterfield Quaker has highlighted the issue of the lack of blue plaques for women.

Elspeth Bailey told the Friend: ‘I’m very interested in the ratio of plaques for women compared to men. Earlier this year I gave a talk linked to a campaign by Friends of Highgate Library to get a blue plaque for Angela Burdett-Coutts. She was such a huge character, she ought to be recognised. She was instrumental in setting up RSPCA and NSPCC, but is just not acknowledged.’

Elspeth Bailey’s interest in the topic was fired up last Christmas when she was given a book called A Woman Lived Here: Alternative blue plaques, remembering London’s remarkable women by Allison Vale. ‘The idea of the book was to give thumbnail sketches of remarkable women who lived in London but who did not have a blue plaque. I talked about this at one of our Fellowship Meetings. Another woman I spoke about was the famous Quaker scientist Kathleen Lonsdale and it turns out that she was given a blue plaque in April 2021. It’s good news, although it doesn’t mention that she was a Quaker.

‘The other thing I found really interesting,’ added Elspeth, ‘was that it’s not only London that has a plaque scheme. Derbyshire has one, so we looked into that. Three out of seventeen plaques are for women. That’s slightly better than London’s scheme, but not much.’

Peace campaigner and crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale was one of six women who was awarded a plaque in 2021.

Rebekah Higgitt, principle curator of Science at National Museums Scotland and English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel member, said: ‘Kathleen Lonsdale played a fundamental role in establishing crystallography as a research field and, in particular, progressing the new techniques of X-Ray crystallography… Her strong views on supporting women in science helped pave the way for the next generation of female scientists.’

The plaque marks her childhood home in Seven Kings, Redbridge.

Overall, the numbers of women nominated for blue plaques remains low. In 2016 English Heritage launched a campaign asking for the public to nominate more women to address the fact that only fourteen per cent of the 950-plus London blue plaques celebrate women. By 2018, they said that more than half of the people awarded plaques by its expert panel since 2016 had been women.

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