Blue plaque schemes have come in for a bit of criticism in the last year. Some have been accused of giving plaques too freely – the plaque in Norwich which commemorates the boxer Mohamed Ali visiting a supermarket is one controversial example.

People have also pointed out that there is a distinct lack of women being commemorated, and that is also true – only 14% of plaques in London. Cambridge Past, Present & Future adopted the Cambridge Blue Plaque Scheme towards the end of 2017 and we are really pleased that our first two plaques have been to commemorate two outstanding women.

This is not a coincidence. In 2018 the UK has been celebrating the centenary of votes for women. In response, people in Cambridge came forward to ask that local suffragists be remembered with blue plaques. Cambridge, and perhaps the nation, is fortunate to have had some determined campaigners for the vote and we have been able to commemorate two of them: Millicent Fawcett and Clara Rackham.

Whilst the centenary of the vote may have brought these two women to attention, both were much more than suffragists. They were campaigners for improvements for all people in regard to education and health – the fight for the women’s vote was only a part of this wider struggle.

Millicent is well known, but Clara Rackham’s legacy in local government and penal reform seemed to have been somewhat forgotten. She was a remarkable woman and we had a difficult job summarising all her achievements onto a small plaque. For me, Clara is exactly the type of person who deserves to be commemorated with a blue plaque: she was well-known in her day and her achievements made a difference to the local community - and it is wonderful to be able to commemorate these and bring local history to greater public attention through a plaque.

We are particularly grateful to Professor Mary Joannou for nominating both women and championing their plaques, but this has been very much a community effort. As Mary has said to me “It is so good to know that Cambridge has made such a strong contribution to all the national celebrations of the vote and worked so well with many individuals and local organisations to make sure that we could celebrate our own pioneers fittingly. We have a history to be proud of.”

In February 2018 the community organised a public event in the Cambridge Guildhall in commemoration of the centenary. The large audience was treated to re-enactments, speeches and drama, the finale of which was the unveiling of Millicent’s plaque. In the autumn of 2018 a series of community events were organised to commemorate Clara, including the unveiling of her plaque at an event at Newnham College.

Each of our blue plaques has its own webpage that tells the history of the person or event that is commemorated. You can click these links to read about Millicent and Clara.

Today marks the end of the year of celebrations for the centenary of the women’s vote but I hope it is just the start of more remarkable women being nominated for blue plaques in Cambridge and around the UK. You can find out how to make a nomination for a plaque in Cambridge or South Cambridgeshire by clicking here.