The Independent London Newspaper

 

‘Apparition’ of 18th-century women’s rights campaigner Mary Wollstonecraft appears on church

Wollstonecraft by Stewy on the side of New Unity church in Newington Green

Published: 15 March, 2013
by AMY SMITH

A MYSTERIOUS apparition on the side of the New Unity church in Newington Green caught the eye of passers-by when it appeared overnight.

But it is not the “Mary” that some might expect. Instead, it’s a graffiti stencil of Mary Wollstonecraft, the influential 18th-century author and staunch advocate of women’s rights who was inspired by sermons at the church.

Its appearance on the wall of the church coincided with Inter­national Women’s Day last Friday. New Unity Reverend Andrew Pakula said that the street art had met with near universal approval by locals.

“We hope that the ‘apparition’ will make the world more aware of Mary’s example and her essential values,” he said. “Mary is our inspiration in working for equality and justice. She also leads us to take chances in our lives for what we know to be right. Our position in support of equal marriage has a very strong Mary inspiration behind it.” 

Mary Wollstonecraft is best known for her seminal book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, which argues for a fairer and more equal society.

At the time women’s rights were a radical notion and her book put Wollstonecraft in the vanguard of a campaign that is still not finished.

As a young school­mistress Wollstonecraft used to attend the New Unity church and its radical sermons were integral in shaping her political stance. Street artist Stewy was inspired by her message to create the piece. 

“I’ve been aware of Mary Wollstonecraft’s connection with the Unitarian Church for many years,” he said. “The placing of the image, where she may have walked, was important to me and I decided to make a small edition of 25 screen prints taken from the stencil to help raise money for ‘Mary on the Green’.” 

The Mary on the Green campaign was formed to secure funding and commission a memorial statue. Roberta Wedge, an active member of the group, is devoted to preserving Wollstone­craft’s memory. On Thursday she spoke to pupils at Hugh Myddelton School, Upper Street, using Wollstonecraft’s example to combat bullying in a talk called “The little girl who said that’s not fair”. 

Ms Wedge is delighted with the stencil but concerned that it may disappear. “Street art is so eph­em­eral,” she said. “I keep worry­ing that it will be tagged, defaced or whitewashed by the council.” 

Mildmay’s Labour councillor Kate Groucutt sees Mary Wollstonecraft as an icon of Newington Green and says the artwork is a great contribution to the campaign. “I absolutely want it to stay. We’ve had confirmation from Hackney Council and they can’t remove it without checking with the owner, and that’s the church. It’s not going to be painted over, we have secured that,” she said.

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