Paul Edie: It’s time we had a heroine joining the Hall of Heroes

Medical pioneer Sophia Jex-Blake
Medical pioneer Sophia Jex-Blake
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I was delighted to read that the Hall of Heroes at the National Wallace Monument is to add to its 16 busts for the first time in a century.

The existing heads are of some of the men who have helped shape the history of this country and range from Robert the Bruce to Walter Scott and John Knox. All have made an important contribution but they are all men and the proposal is to add, for the first time, the bust of a woman.

Photo by Jayne Wright. Paul Edie with a GPS watch which people with dementia can wear, allowing them to be tracked if they become lost.

Photo by Jayne Wright. Paul Edie with a GPS watch which people with dementia can wear, allowing them to be tracked if they become lost.

The public are being polled about whom they would like to see added from a list of 14 remarkable women.

Figures range from the two groundbreaking doctors, Sophia Jex-Blake and Elsie Inglis, to legendary folk singer Jean Redpath and co-founder of the Maggies Centre, Maggie Keswick Jencks.

All are worthy of the honour but as only one bust is to be added, 13 will miss out and many more have not made the shortlist. There is no space on the shortlist, for example, for any of our esteemed novelists such as Muriel Spark or Naomi Mitchison.

This move is obviously progress, but it does get me thinking about how Edinburgh has celebrated our women of genius.

I cannot recall a single statue celebrating the achievements of any of our female residents.

We have a statue of Queen Victoria at the bottom of Leith Walk, the mother and child statue in Festival Square, which celebrates the struggle against apartheid, but neither of those two statues are representations of Edinburgh residents.

We do have a monument to Catherine Sinclair, an Eleanor-type cross, dedicate to the Victorian children’s writer in the New Town, but we do seem to have more monuments to dogs than to women in this town.

Clearly monuments are important, otherwise we wouldn’t keep building them. Far from halting the statue building we have added to them and even around the Old Town over the last few years we have celebrated people of genius such as Adam Smith, David Hume and Fire Fighting pioneer James Braidwood but have not taken the opportunity to celebrate in this fashion the life of St Margaret or artist Phoebe Traquair.

Statues and monuments are far more than a stuffy form of public art. They provide a permanent and visible reminder to future generations of the achievements of some of our outstanding citizens and as such can help to provide inspiration for future generations. Some might say that this is a particularly male practice but it shouldn’t be and it certainly shouldn’t be seen as exclusively male. It is high time we did more to celebrate our heroines and in a more solid fashion.

Paul Edie is the Liberal Democrat group party leader at Edinburgh City Council