Newnham alumna, suffragist and campaigner Clara Rackham has been honoured with a blue plaque outside her Cambridge home. Clara Rackham (1875-1966) was a penal reformer, a campaigner for workers’ rights, and a Councillor and magistrate in Cambridge.
She was one of a group of social reformers centred around Newnham College, including Florence Keynes, and sisters Eglantyne Jebb and Dorothy Buxton, founders of Save the Children. There was hardly a progressive cause or organisation in Cambridge that Rackham did not lend her support to. Meanwhile, at a national level, she effectively ran the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) while Millicent Fawcett was president.
We were particularly delighted that the plaque to Clara Rackham was unveiled by fellow alumna, Dame Stella Manzie (NC 1979), recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her own tireless work for local government.
Dame Stella spoke of the many similarities in their professional experiences, despite one working in the early 20th and one in the 21st century. She herself is well known for her work with Rotherham Council, after the child sexual exploitation scandal. Rackham co-wrote a report for Parliament in 1925, on child sexual abuse.
The unveiling ceremony was held at Newnham College on 20 November, with speeches by Newnham’s Dr Gill Sutherland, Dame Stella Manzie, and Councillor Anna Smith. The event brought together members of ‘town and gown’, including the Mayor of Cambridge and local Councillors.
Professor Mary Joanou, who campaigned for the plaque, said “Clara was a wonderful pioneering feminist, shaped by the women’s movement, who devoted her life to other people.” Joanou described her as Millicent Fawcett’s “right-hand woman”.
This recognition was all the more valuable, coming as it did in a week when English Heritage called for the nomination of more women for their blue plaque scheme in London. At present, only 14% of blue plaques in London commemorate women’s contribution to society. English Heritage is calling for more nominations of women for the scheme.