Edinburgh's statues are infamously lacking in women. It's time to celebrate their achievements and inspire next generation – Susan Dalgety

Statues are controversial these days, especially those of dead white men from centuries gone by.
Edinburgh-born suffragette and doctor Elsie Inglis is surely worthy of a statue in her home city (Picture: PA)Edinburgh-born suffragette and doctor Elsie Inglis is surely worthy of a statue in her home city (Picture: PA)
Edinburgh-born suffragette and doctor Elsie Inglis is surely worthy of a statue in her home city (Picture: PA)

But while campaigners are urging that monuments to such figures as Henry Dundas are torn down because of their link to the slave trade, there is another, less noisy, campaign to erect a statue to one of Edinburgh’s most famous figures.

Next month, Lord Provost Frank Ross will host afternoon tea in the City Chambers with two Scottish writers, Sara Sheridan and Kate Murray-Brown, to raise money for a statue of Dr Elsie Inglis, a truly remarkable woman.

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The Lord Provost, along with Mercat Tours and this newspaper, first launched the campaign to commemorate Dr Inglis in 2017, but the drive to raise £50,000 has stalled in recent years.

It has been rejuvenated with support from Edinburgh Girlguiding among others, and a week of fundraising events – including tea with the Lord Provost – is planned from 5 March.

Elise Inglis’ biography reads like the stuff of adventure novels. She was one of Scotland’s earliest women doctors, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology.

She campaigned for female medical education and for women to get the vote. She set up a women’s hospital in Edinburgh’s High Street, hopefully the site of her statue, and in 1914, when she offered the War Office a fully staffed medical unit to work at the front, she was famously told: “Go home my good lady, and sit still.”

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As befits a woman of energy and drive, Dr Inglis ignored the government’s blatant sexism and instead volunteered her services to the French and Serbians, who immediately took up her offer.

She died aged only 53 in November 1917 after being repatriated from the Russian front, and thousands lined the streets for her funeral in St Giles’ Cathedral. If anyone deserves a statue, it is Dr Elsie Inglis.

Edinburgh is embarrassingly short of female statues. Indeed there are only two: Queen Victoria at the Foot o’ the Walk, and Helen Crummy, founder of the Craigmillar Festival Society.

But there is no shortage of notable women who deserve to be recognised for their contribution to city life and beyond.

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Off the top of my head, I would like to see the redoubtable Eleanor McLaughlin commemorated. She was Edinburgh’s first female Lord Provost, elected in 1988, breaking a 700-year run of men, from 1296 when William de Dederyk was appointed to run the city.

World-renowned authors Muriel Spark and JK Rowling deserve a permanent tribute, as do medical pioneers like Marie Stopes, who set up Britain’s first birth control clinic, and Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, Edinburgh’s first female doctor.

And we don’t need to commission statues. Why not have a permanent exhibition in a city gallery or museum that tells the story of notable Edinburgh women – dead and alive – who have transformed society?

We have come a long way since an officious civil servant turned down Elsie Inglis’ medical expertise because of her sex. But it’s only a few years ago that her grave in Dean Cemetery was reported to be so neglected that the inscription on her headstone had almost disappeared.

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We need to shout about the achievements of inspirational women in order to inspire the next generation of Edinburgh women who will change the world.

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