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Women's Rights

The early 18th century Unitarian Chapel, 39 Newington Green, London N16, the oldest still in use in Britain, provided a focus for non-Conformist activity in the area with its radical intellectual group.

When Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) decided to escape an abusive father and earn a living by establishing her own school at Newington Green in 1784, the refuge, support and stimulation she found at the Chapel through her involvement with this group helped her to develop as a writer. Her remarkable 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' (1792) marked her out as the 'Mother of Feminism'.

Newington Green Church built in 1708 by goldsmith Edward Harrison.
Newington Green Church, Hackney, London was built in 1708 by goldsmith Edward Harrison and enlarged in 1860. It houses a monument to the prominent English poet Anna Laetitia Barbauld who lived locally. Listed Grade II. © Historic England Archive

Into the World

By the mid-19th century, middle and upper class women were beginning to come together to campaign for:

  • married women's rights
  • improved secondary education 
  • access to higher education (see University)
  • training and employment opportunities
  • admission to the professions
  • votes for women (see 'Suffrage')

Arthur Walker's 1915 statue of Florence Nightingale, Waterloo Place, London
The bronze statue of Florence Nightingale on Waterloo Place, London was sculpted by Arthur Walker in 1915 and is one of three Grade II-listed statues erected to honour Nightingale nationally. © Historic England Archive

Marriage and motherhood were middle and upper class woman's career. Her seclusion as the 'Angel of the House' demonstrated her father or husband's wealth and status, as at Embley Park, Hampshire, the estate of Florence Nightingale's (1820-1910) family.

While many working class women would have envied her life, she wrote in 'Cassandra' in 1852 that suicide was preferable to her 'imprisonment' there as a dutiful daughter. Like many women of her class she wanted to contribute to society.

Embley House, Hampshire, childhood home of Florence Nightingale
Embley House, Hampshire, the childhood home of Florence Nightingale, has a 16th Century core but was altered and enlarged by her father during their tenure. Listed Grade II. © Stuart Goodall (2003). Source Historic England Archive

The setting up of the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas' Hospital, London SE1, which opened in 1860, and the hospitals Nightingale participated in planning to improve the nation's health both significantly contributed to the professionalisation of nursing. 

The hospitals she helped to plan include, the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital, Aylesbury, Farnham Road, Guildford, and Leeds General Infirmary, Great George Street, Leeds.

The many memorials to Nightingale, including those at Waterloo Place, London SW1, Princes Road, Liverpool, and London Road, Derby demonstrate her success. Interestingly, the 1914 Derby statue was sculpted by Countess Feodora Gleichen who was posthumously made the first woman member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1922.

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Visible in Stone - Women's Rights

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Emma Paterson (1848-1886), teacher, suffragist and founder of the Women's Provident and Protective League in 1874. © & source TUCLIB.
  • After the success of her 1859 book, ‘Notes on Hospitals’ her advice was sought on the plans of many hospitals, including Leeds General Infirmary
  • The new St Thomas's hospital, built in 1868-71. The architect was Henry Currey.The move to the riverside site was supported by Florence Nightingale, who had established her nurses' training school at St Thomas's in 1860. © Historic England.

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