Women in blue
By Deborah Yaffe, May 9 2019 01:00PM
Among London’s many delights are the blue plaques that mark buildings associated with historical personages both famous and obscure. Spotting these plaques, with their mini-history lessons, enlivens the walk through neighborhoods across the city.
Sadly, if unsurprisingly, women are grossly underrepresented on blue plaques, featuring on only 14 percent of the more than 900 placed since the program began 153 years ago.
In 2016, English Heritage launched a campaign to encourage the public to nominate female candidates for plaque-immortality, but results have been mixed: Although more than half the subsequent plaques have featured women, two-thirds of the public nominations are still going to men.
“If we are to see a significant increase in the number of blue plaques for women, we will need more female suggestions,” English Heritage explains on its website.
Among the 117 women currently featured on the blue plaques, and listed in an article last week on the MyLondon website, are actors, artists, educators, scientists, social reformers, and many writers, from Frances Burney to Sylvia Plath, George Eliot to Agatha Christie.
Jane Austen, however, is missing—probably, I would guess, because the London addresses on Sloane Street, Henrietta Street, and Hans Place where she stayed with her brother Henry during visits in 1811, 1813, 1814, and 1815 no longer “survive in a form that the commemorated person would have recognised,” as English Heritage’s selection criteria require. (Even Carlton House, where Austen visited the Prince Regent's librarian in 1815, was torn down in 1826.)
Still, that shouldn’t deter historically minded Janeites from nominating other likely choices—Jane Austen isn’t the only woman worth a plaque.