Local voluntary group, Women of Bedford, are crowdfunding to erect the first statue of a woman in Bedford. This will be unveiled in December 2018 as part of the national ‘Vote 100’ celebrations, marking 100 years since women won the right to vote.
And you can help make it happen by contributing to the crowdfunding campaign.
The statue will address the huge gap in the town’s existing 11 works of public art. Despite a wealth of strong, high achieving women of historical significance, there is no recognition of their continued contribution to the borough.
The crowd-funded sculpture will celebrate one of the town’s most passionate advocates of women’s equality – a strong and enigmatic woman who was head of the local school, a business leader, educationalist, suffragette and politician.
Amy Walmsley deserves her place amongst the celebrated leaders in the town’s history.
Amy moved to Bedford in 1896 to become the Principal of Bedford Kindergarten School and Teacher Training College, expanding the School and teacher training facilities to make it a success. The school had been in decline when Amy took it on, but she was determined to turn things around.
She set up a second Kindergarten school, called “Froebel House”, which opened on Goldington Avenue in 1896. Then, in 1899 she opened a hall of residence for pupils that meant the school could now compliment the Harpur Trust Schools in the town for elementary education.
The Froebel Gazette in 1900 comments: “She has made the Bedford Kindergaten College analogous, on a small scale to the women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge…Why should not Bedford become as conspicuous a centre of Kindergarten study as it has become as a centre of secondary education generally.”
Amy had also always had an interest in women’s rights and in 1908 she was instrumental in re-founding the Bedford Women’s Suffrage Society. Amy was appointed honorary secretary to this group in 1909 and became its Chair in 1913. In June of 1913, 56 members from Bedford joined other Suffrage Societies at Sandy in a national march, known as the Women’s Pilgrimage, which culminated in an enormous rally at Trafalgar Square. In 1928, after the vote had been achieved for all women over 21, Amy went on to found the National Council of Women Workers. In 1918 she stood as a Parliamentary Candidate, but was unfortunately unsuccessful. By 1922 she decided to run in the local elections and became Bedfordshire’s first female County Councillor.
Sadly, Amy Walmsley suffered ill health and was forced to retire in 1927. After Amy’s death in 1928, Froebel House school changed its name to Walmsley House in 1954 and moved premises in 1956 to Kimbolton Road where the building is now part of St. Andrew’s school.
This campaign is part of vital work being done to elevate the visibility of women in our heritage. A mere 2.7% of the UK’s statues are of historical, non-royal women – much greater recognition is needed for the astonishing contribution made by woman to the story of our borough, our country and the world.
That is why, in addition to the sculpture, a History Hopscotch will be laid to celebrate ten further women who have made a substantial contribution to our local history over the last 100 years. This will be co-created by Bedford’s schoolchildren.
Owner of Rogan’s Books and the founder of the group, Rachael Rogan, says “When I had this mad idea, I wasn’t sure we would get to this point. It’s so exciting seeing our plans come together. If every woman in Bedford made a contribution we would hit our target”.
What will it mean for Bedford?
The impact for Bedford will be significant. Far more than an additional piece of public art for the community to enjoy – the sculpture makes a strong statement about our town’s role in reversing the historical trend of making women invisible. In recognising the significance of the suffragette movement, alongside the national celebration of Vote 100, it celebrates Bedford’s central role in the campaign to create equality for all.
Clare Sumner, Group Secretary, is delighted by how the project has been received: “Celebrating women, inspiring the next generation is really motivating us on this incredible project. The Mayor has been very supportive and we are delighted that so many people are getting behind us to make this happen”.
Owned By the People of Bedford
At the start of the project it was estimated that, if every woman in the Borough made a contribution, the target funds needed to commission the sculpture would easily be reached.
The project crowdfunder is launched to enable the people of the town to play their part in bringing the project to life. Currently in its first phase, the team need to raise £25,000 by the end of January 2018. In addition to smaller individual donations, there are opportunities for larger donors to be closely involved in the development of the campaign.
Emily Pool, Treasurer, urges people to get involved: “This is a great opportunity for individuals and businesses in this town to help put Bedford on the map and women in the history books. Please join us!”
The statue will be unveiled close to the Butterfly Bridge, on the grass along The Embankment. It will be unveiled on 14th December 2018, exactly 100 years to the day women first exercised their right to vote.
Who are ‘Women of Bedford’?
A volunteer-led community group working with schools, community groups and public bodies to identify and celebrate the impact women have had on the heritage of our borough, informing and inspiring current and future generations.
The team work across communities in Bedford to ensure representation from the diverse population of the town. Through education, art and engagement, they bring groups together and encourage integration.
The Women of Bedford Crowdfunder is now LIVE! Full details can be found here.
There are some exciting, fascinating, powerful stories in our town’s history. Uncovering these, sharing them in a substantial way, has the potential to change the way we see ourselves – to recognise the important, hidden people who have created the place we love.
For up to date news on the project, follow the Women of Bedford Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BedfordWomen. You could even be part of their Fake Protest March at the 2018 River Festival…
Twitter (@WomenOfBedford) Instagram (womenofbedford)