At last someone is interested in making Wales a land fit for heroines.
Inspired by a campaign that began on the highways and byways of Rome, Torfaen councillor Jessica Powell is proposing a motion that as many new Welsh streets should be named after women as after men.
Taking the example of Italy’s “Pink Streets” project, the 24-year-old councillor is aiming to put gender equality on the map in Wales quite literally. Not before time.
Historian Deirdre Beddoe wrote “Welsh women are culturally invisible” more than 25 years ago.
And if you look at those who are celebrated in street names and blue plaques, the males of Wales are still hogging the historical limelight.
Evidence of testosterone-fuelled achievement is all around us.
Statues of industrialists, soldiers, statesmen and sporting icons loom in towns and cities across the nation.
Eighty five per cent of British statues are of men and Wales has never bucked the trend
If a female is immortalised in bronze in these parts she is usually a generic embodiment of Welsh Mam.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but while our capital city is populated with effigies of Nye Bevan, Ivor Novello, Gareth Edwards, Sir Tasker Watkins, Fred Keenor and that anti slavery chap in the Hayes who always ends up WITH a traffic cone on his head, there’s not a single notable female figurine apart from Boudicea in City Hall.
Indeed, I’m struggling to think of any metal, marble or stone-carved ladies across the land.
An 8ft statue of Llandudno-born physician and suffragist Dr Martha Hughes Cannon (1857-1932) was erected in 1996 – but in Utah, where she became America’s first female state senator.
Perhaps knowing her remarkable achievements would never bag her a giant bronze in North Wales she did the sensible thing and emigrated.
Because we just haven’t been very good at building female success into the very fabric of our communities.
The problem is that while some of the gentlemen of Welsh history are so legendary we don’t even bother with a surname – particularly if an oval ball is involved – notable women just don’t resonate in the same way.
Ask the general public to come up with a list of worthy Welsh women and they rarely get past OK magazine.
A few years ago, just when I’d stopped ranting about Catherine Zeta-Jones being the only woman in the top 20 of Wales’s 100 Heroes, they did it again.
Another one of those lists that scours two millennia of Welsh history for a definitive roll call of Cymric icons was produced and the only woman they could come up with was Katherine Jenkins.
No offence to Katherine, of course. Lovely girl, good ambassador, very impressive crossover classical sales.
Yet why couldn’t the National Assembly’s shortlist of Welsh Idols – voted for by the public – include any other significant Welsh woman?
Because they’ve never had decent PR. History is usually His Story after all.
But a councillor who also happens to be a Cambridge history graduate Jessica Powell is urging us to get streetwise on gender equality.
She is drawing on the example of Italy’s Toponomastica Femminile, the group who have emailed every city council in Italy proposing leaders of local government commit to dedicating half of their street and place signs to notable women from Italy and around the world.
Next: Female-friendly suggestions for Wales’ road names
I’ve been working on how to get Wales beyond Blokesville with some female-friendly suggestions for the housing developers of the 21st century. Here goes:
:: Amy Dillwyn Avenue: Who better for a Swansea signpost than this helluva girl who smoked cigars, wrote novels and ran a factory at a time when women were supposed to stay at home with their needlepoint;
:: Lady Rhondda Road: Anywhere in RCT could celebrate the journalist, businesswoman and firebrand suffragette who jumped on Stanley Baldwin’s car to let him know why women should get the vote;
:: Elizabeth Andrews Way: The Valleys seamstress and miner’s wife who became a pioneering politician, campaigning for pithead baths and improved maternity care. Also founded Wales’s first nursery school in Llwynypia – I was one of its tots many years later;
:: Gwenllian Morgan Street: Brecon could recognise the woman who became Wales’ first female mayor in 1910 – at a time when women didn’t even have the vote. The Powys town could also immortalise another notable daughter Frances Hoggan. Born there in 1843, she became the first British woman and only the second in Europe to be awarded a degree in medicine. Plus she was a fervent campaigner for girls’ education and the rights of ethnic minorities;
:: Lucy Thomas Place: Think it’s all about King Coal? There was a Queen too, or rather the woman they called the “Mother of the Welsh Coal Industry”. Born in Llansamlet in 1781, Lucy Thomas became an industrial entrepreneur. On her husband’s death, she took over his mining business, despite being unable to read or write. She expanded it, employing 50 men and boys and by 1839 was sending 17,097 tonnes to Cardiff; and
:: Cranogwen Court: Better known by her bardic name of “Cranogwen”, Sarah Jane Rees was a 19th-century superwoman. She excelled as a poet, sailor, teacher, preacher, leading temperance campaigner and first woman editor of the Welsh-language women’s magazine Y Frythones.
We could consider our living lady legends: actress Sian Phillips, nominated this month for her latest stage award at the age of 79; Elaine Morgan, ground-breaking television screen writer, columnist and the woman who pointed out evolution’s female dimension; pioneering bard Mererid Hopwood; sports icon turned influential peer Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson.
Give Charlotte Church a few years, meanwhile, and she could end up as the most charismatic female political activist to come out of Wales since Annie Powell. Not to mention newly-crowned BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year and Olympic gold medallist Jade Jones, who has lent her fame so joyously to Flint.
So good luck with the campaign Councillor Powell. Let’s map out a more womanly Wales through the place names of the future. Because it would be right up my street if we occasionally remembered that this nation is the Land of Our Mothers too.