The unveiling on Sunday of a statue of Leicester’s great suffragette heroine Alice Hawkins will be an inspiring moment for one member of staff at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).
Elizabeth Wheelband is on tenterhooks for when she first sees the finished statue, having been closely involved in the project for more than two years with Alice’s great grandson, Peter Barratt.
Elizabeth Wheelband putting together an exhibition featuring Alice Hawkins memorabilia
Elizabeth, Curator of the DMU Heritage Centre, was asked to be one of the panel of judges who selected sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn from a shortlist of applicants to create the monument.
“We really liked the sculptor’s drawings showing Alice’s body language and expressions and I cannot wait to see the finished work when it is unveiled on Sunday,” said Elizabeth.
Alice was a shoe machinist who rose to national prominence as one of the suffragettes led by Emmeline Pankhurst who successfully campaigned for women to get the right to vote. Alice herself was jailed five times because of her protests.
Peter and Elizabeth will be among the special guests at the public unveiling of the 7ft statue of Alice at 2pm on Sunday, alongside Emmeline Pankhurst’s great grand-daughter.
The statue was funded by local businessman Jamie Lewis, and will look out over Market Square, where Alice addressed large crowds at the height of the suffragette movement in 1912.
Sunday’s ceremony will involve a performance by the DMU Gospel Choir plus a suffragettes’ procession through the city led by an actress playing Alice.
Alice Hawkins larger
One of the few photos of Alice Hawkins (Picture supplied by Peter Barratt)
Elizabeth’s involvement in the project began more than two years ago when she met Alice’s great grandson at the launch of a DMU exhibition she was putting on about Leicester’s role in Britain’s history of radical reforms.
Peter formally opened the Road to Reform exhibition at DMU’s Heritage Centre in November 2015. Among the items on display commemorating his ancestor was a copy of a letter she wrote to the Leicester MP and future Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald while she was serving time in Holloway Prison.
“Peter’s very keen to promote the legacy of Alice and started a relationship with DMU giving talks and lectures,” explained Elizabeth.
“He really liked the way that we included Alice in the exhibition and got students involved, and asked me at that early stage to join the panel, which I was really honoured to accept.
“It’s great to have DMU involvement in the statue project because a lot of Alice’s life was spent very close to the campus – this was her stomping ground.
“I hope it will also make young students realise that not so long ago they would not have the rights they do now if it had not been Alice. The vast difference that Alice’s role locally made is incredible.”
Alice’s life was played out within the vicinity of DMU - she worked as a machinist at the former Equity Shoes factory in Western Road, just behind the campus, and lived off nearby Tudor Road.
It adds fitting poignance to an event that will be held just a short distance away at DMU on Tuesday next week to mark exactly 100 years to the landmark day when the right to vote came into effect for millions of women aged over 30.
An hour-long event is being held at the Campus Centre from midday celebrating the centenary. It will include talks about women getting the vote and a display about Alice Hawkins.
Posted on Friday 2nd February 2018