In The Bank: A List of Women That Could be the Face of British Currency

It has recently been announced by the Bank of England that Winston Churchill will replace Elizabeth Fry as the face of £5 notes. Elizabeth Fry, in her time, was a social reformer and the ONLY woman to appear on English currency. With her removal, Britain is once again faced with a sausage fest of legal tender.

Of course, some of you are probably screaming at your laptop screens ‘WHAT ABOUT TEH QUEEN!’

teh queen

Yes, the Queen is a woman and yes, she is a feature on our national currency – but is she there for achievement or for her birthright? The Queen will always be on there, no matter what she did or didn’t achieve. Unlike the famous faces of Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, Matthew Boulton or James Watt, she has not been selected on merit. She was simply born at the right time and into the right family.

That’s not to poo-poo old Elizabeth; it just would be nice to see women being recognised on a level playing field as men. After all, there have been plenty of trail blazing women who have carved themselves a place in history while also going against the ever dominating patriarchy. Shouldn’t these women get recognised alongside their male counterparts?

By excluding women from this prestigious form of recognition, Britain is ultimately sending a message that says – well there was that ONE woman who did something, but on the whole, ladies, you just haven’t done that much.

And this message is coming from a country that has pork-swords controlling the major majority of parliament, the British media, and even has meat wands acting as director in all but 16.7% of directorial positions in the business world.

I mean, if poor old Elizabeth Fry was still around I think she would be pretty pissed that our patriarchal society has chosen to keep old Darwin instead of herself, despite his face being the oldest note by two years.

There is currently a petition going around that asks the Bank of England to reconsider its decision to ditch Fry, which I wholeheartedly urge you to sign. However, in the event that Fry is still scrapped, I’ve compiled a list of other famous female faces that might step up to the plate. Just in case Mervyn King is unaware of the amazing women British history has to brag about and needs a little bit of reminding.

I mean, hasn’t Darwin had his day?

Caroline Norton (1808 – 1877)

Coming from an impoverished family with a good name, she was forced into an unhappy marriage under the pressure of the well-being of her family. Her relationship with George Norton involved regular beatings and ended in 1836 when she packed her bags. Shortly after, Norton claimed Caroline to be having an affair with Melbourne and tried to sue the pair – this lawsuit ultimately failed but left Caroline’s reputation in tatters. Norton refused Caroline access to her children but she protested – HARD! Her example of defiance against her ex-husband became instrumental in the passing of the Infant Custody Bill of 1839.

She later carried on her activism by campaigning for and influencing the passing of the Marriage and Divorce Act of 1859. Furthermore, she also published several verses against child labour.  Activism FTW!

Fanny Kemble (1809 – 1893)

Fanny was a successful Victorian actress who caught the eye of an American plantation owner called Pierce Mease Butler. The two married and in 1838 the pair travelled back to America to start their life of passion, commitment, hugs, cuddles, and slaves – wait, what?

Kemble on arrival at Butler’s cotton farm quickly realised ‘holy fuck, this guy uses and abuses a lot of slaves’ which quickly killed the romance factor for Fanny. She spent the winter at Butler’s cotton, tobacco, and rice plantations for one year where her marriage slowly fell apart as she documented the extreme cases of abuse she witnessed. Despite Butler threatening her never to publish said journal, Fanny was quick to flip him the bird and bugger off back to England as soon as she could.

Fifteen years later, when the Civil War broke out, she published her anti-slavery Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 and it became very well known in the United States. In her lifetime she continued to be outspoken against slavery and often donated money (gathered from her public readings) to charities.

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 – 1928)

The Godmother to angry feminism, Pankhurst is famous for her work as a suffragette and for the many times she was arrested for the cause.

Born in 1858 in Manchester, she married a lovely man called Richard Pankhurst who authored the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882. In 1889, Emmeline founded the Women’s Franchise League and fought for married women and their rights to vote. Later on, in 1903, she forms the more aggressive union WSPU, whose members were the first to be dubbed suffragettes. The WSPU fought hard for women’s rights, especially their right to vote. Window smashing, arson and hunger strikes were all prevalent in the group’s campaigns and Pankhurst became synonymous with the governments ‘Cat and Mouse’ act.

Yet despite her dedication to women’s rights, when war broke out Emmeline instantly refocused her efforts to supporting Britain’s campaign. In 1918, she saw women over 30 given the rights to vote and in 1928 Emmeline passed away having just witnessed women being given equal voting rights to men.

Frances Buss (1827 – 1894)

A headmistress and a pioneer of women’s education, Buss demonstrated that hey, bitches can learn stuff too.

Early on in her life she helped run and teach in her family’s private school. North London Collegiate became a model for girls’ education, with over 200 female students. However, as a privatised school, Buss was unhappy that only the privileged women of society were able to benefit from her schooling. So in 1871 she set up Camden School for Girls, with the aim of providing more affordable education for young women.

In her lifetime she constantly pushed campaigns for the endowment of girls’ schools, and for women, to be allowed to sit public exams and to enter university. She also became the first woman Fellow of the College of Preceptors, which was the only form of public recognition she received.

Octavia Hill (1838 – 1912)

Thanks to the financial failings of her father, Hill grew up in strained circumstances that left her with no formal education. Nevertheless, Hill started work at 14 years old and did so for the welfare of the working classes.

Hill slowly became a social campaigner with a capital S. She was besties with John Rushkin, and he helped invest in some of her welfare theories. One theory being that those in charge should have some personal contact with their tenants and enable said tenants to become self-reliant. She pushed her colleagues to engage with the lower classes, and strongly opposed policies that silenced the workers voices, such as the municipal provision of housing.

If you ever find yourself admiring the pastoral splendour of London’s Hampstead Heath, then you also have Hill to thank for that. Her dedication for providing open spaces for people from a disadvantaged background meant she helped save a lot of suburban woodlands – Hampstead Heath being just one example and Parliament Hill Fields another.

Later in life, she became one of the three founders of the National Trust, which to this day still helps preserve natural beauty and sites of historical interest for future generations. She was also a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws in 1905 and a founding member of the Charity Organisation Society, now referred to as Family Action.

In short, if someone like Hill can’t get on a bank note, then who can?

One thought on “In The Bank: A List of Women That Could be the Face of British Currency

  1. I vote Hill or Pankhurst. In fact, I signed the online petition about this yesterday suggesting Pankhurst. Really enjoyed reading this and finding out some more about women I didn’t know. Brilliant in social reform/law/education/public services – would love some women from science/technology and the arts, too. I think there should be a man and a woman on every bank note. Great post!

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