International Women’s Day is coming up on Sunday, but celebrations have already begun. English Heritage, the charity that looks after the UK’s historic monuments, has just revealed that four British female icons – including World War II spies and an armed forces leader – as well as two suffragette organisations will be honoured with blue plaques in London.
The decision to add these to the list comes as part of an ongoing campaign to bolster the number of plaques that recognise women, because only 14 percent of the existing plaques do.
All of the selected candidates have made substantial contributions to their country, but one woman, Christine Granville, led an unusually exciting life as the first and longest-serving female special operations executive (SOE) in Nazi-occupied Europe. Because of the dangers of her job, she rarely stayed in one place for long, so it's fitting that her plaque will receive a permanent home at a west London hotel that was her only long-term base in the city.
Granville isn't the only war heroine on the list: Noor Inayat Khan was the first Muslim SOE agent and female radio operator sent to France during World War II, where she was killed by the Gestapo. Noor was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949; now there will be a blue plaque outside her house in Bloomsbury.
Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, a leader in the first women’s British military corps, as well as a celebrated botanist, and Barbara Hepworth, the artist from Yorkshire who gained international prominence for her Mother and Child sculptures will also be honoured with blue plaques.
The final two plaques will represent organisations rather than individuals, including the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies – with a plaque at the group's former headquarters in Westminster – and the Women’s Social and Political Union, a militant organisation fighting for women’s rights that often saw its offices raided by the police.
‘It is a long road but we are well on our way to receiving equal number of public nominations for men and women,’ said Anna Eavis, curatorial director and secretary of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel. ‘There are now more women shortlisted than men, and 2020 will see more plaques to women than we have unveiled in 20 years.’
Don’t miss our list of the best International Women’s Day events happening this week.
In other plaque news, Amy Winehouse has just received an honour on Camden’s Music Walk of Fame.