Historic female firsts captured on canvas

University unveils three portraits of their women of influence created by female artists
Today (5 March) the University of Leicester has recognised, on its walls and in its paintings, the contribution of three women who have, through their work and lives helped to create the University.

The University is built on the contribution of thousands of remarkable women and men, staff, students, alumni and contributors. The University has today unveiled three portraits of its women of influence painted by three talented female artists at an event attended by staff, students and invited guests. Marking this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March, the paintings are just a few of the inspirational stories of women working in universities and science that will be told this week to encourage staff and students to #pressforprogress in gender equality.

The chosen women all represent watershed moments for the University in its history: its first female Professor, its first female graduate, and the first black female President of its Students’ Union.

Dr Kate Williams, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: “For many decades, the University has honoured the dedicated service of those who have led this institution and helped it to flourish by committing them to canvas. With these new portraits, we are also recognising pioneers whose achievements have challenged stereotypes and demonstrated that achievement and leadership has no boundaries of race or gender.

“These portraits mark a place on our journey towards embedding a culture of equality, diversity and inclusivity throughout the University.”

In 2017, working with colleagues from Attenborough Arts, the University commissioned the three portraits and received more than 50 applications from artists keen to be part of this historic change.

Jeremy Webster, Deputy Director at Attenborough Arts, said: “The Attenborough Arts Centre is delighted to have played a role in the selection of the three brilliant women artists who have painted portraits of three brilliant women for the University of Leicester.  We look forward to seeing these new paintings hang alongside their contemporaries in the University.”

When elected President of Leicester University Students’ Union in 1975, Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith scored a double first, being both the first female student and the first black woman student to hold the office since the University received its Royal Charter. ‘Students pick woman!’ was the headline in the local media that week.

Today, drawing on more than 30 years’ experience as an activist in women’s human rights worldwide, Jane is a consultant to over 100 different voluntary organisations nationally and internationally. Jane now uses her Ghanaian name, Esuantsiwa – or Esua for short.

Her portrait has been painted by University staff member Megan McMullan, whose previous works include recreating a well-known image of Leicester City Football Club’s Jamie Vardy in tribute to their amazing Premier League success in 2016. Megan studied at De Montfort university where she achieved a first class honours in her fine art degree and also gaining a Master’s the year after.

In 1970, after a number of years at Liverpool University, Olive Banks was appointed as Reader in the Sociology Department at the University of Leicester. Three years later she was awarded a chair, becoming the University’s first female professor.

A graduate of LSE who had left school at 16, Olive concentrated on the new field of sociology of education, publishing her first book in 1955. She later published her 1965 textbook, simply called The Sociology of Education, and her acclaimed 1981 work Faces of Feminism. She passed away in 2006.

Her portrait has been painted by Elizabeth Emma Tooth, a Derbyshire-based portrait artist with an outstanding catalogue of works to her name. Her work is featured in many public galleries and collections across the world including the UK, France, Iceland, Germany, North America and South Africa.

In 1958, students who had spent three years studying at University College Leicester received their degrees in the first graduation ceremony of the newly established Leicester University. By virtue of alphabetical order, Wendy Hickling (née Baldwin) was the first ever University of Leicester graduate to cross the stage.

Wendy was an integral part of the University throughout her life. She served on the University’s two main governing bodies, Council and Court, for more than 20 years and also for 16 years served on the Convocation (predecessor to the Alumni Association). Initially working as a teacher, Wendy ran a nursery school in Leicester for 25 years and also worked for Vista, the local charity supporting blind people.

In 1998, Wendy Hickling received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws and in 2008 she was named a Distinguished Honorary Fellow – the highest honour which the University can bestow. She passed away in May 2017, after a lifetime of devoted service to University and city.

Her portrait has been painted by Rebecca Foster, a London based artist whose work is focused on contemporary portraiture. Her recent solo show of portraits exploring modern masculinity was an overwhelming success and she is currently showing work in a group exhibition focused on female creativity.

Events at the University of Leicester to mark International Women’s Day will be taking place across the whole week from 5 – 9 March and will shine a light on the challenges that women face in all walks of life.  Through these events, the hope is that staff and students will come together to recognise gender inequalities that exist whilst celebrating the significant achievements of women.

Dr Williams added: “International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress that has been made, continue to call for change but also to celebrate those women who are determined to make a difference. Our events over the week of International Women’s Day all celebrate those women who have or still are making a difference. We hope that you are able to come along to one or more of the events that colleagues have organised that demonstrate their passion to #pressforprogress.”

More information on International Women’s Day at University of Leicester: www.le.ac.uk/iwd

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