Lady Rhondda was a woman of privilege but she used that privilege in the best way possible - to fight for the rights of all women. She did things few other women of her background would have dared. Born Margaret Haig-Thomas, she was a suffragette who made the fight for the vote front page news. She brought Emmeline Pankhurst to Wales and spearheaded the suffrage campaign among the women of Newport.
She confronted the anti-suffrage Prime Minister Asquith by jumping on his car.
She set fire to a post box and was sent to prison, where she went on hunger strike. In the First World War she ensured women played a vital role, recruiting them into the women’s services. She became Commissioner for Wales in the Women’s National Service Department, then Chief Controller of women’s recruitment at the Ministry of National Service in London.
Crossing the Atlantic, she survived the sinking of the Lusitania when it was torpedoed during the war, claiming more than 1,100 lives. Struggling to survive for hours in freezing water, the trauma proved a pivotal moment for Lady Rhondda: “What it did do was to alter my opinion of myself. I had lacked self-confidence…and here I had got through this test without disgracing myself. I had found that when the moment came, I could control my fear.” After the war as well as campaigning for the rights of women workers who did not want to be pushed back into the home, she also continued the fight for the final phase of women’s suffrage which saw all women get the vote in 1928. She was the greatest global businesswomen of her era.
She sat on the board of 33 companies, chairing seven of them, and oversaw an industrial empire of mines, shipping and newspapers. She also became the first and to date only female to be President of the Institute of Directors. As a journalist she created and edited a ground-breaking and hugely influential weekly paper called Time and Tide which featured some of the literary giants of the 20th century – from George Orwell and Virginia Woolf to JRR Tolkien. It had a ground-breaking all-female board but appealed to both men and women. Exploring Welsh, British and international politics as well as the arts, Time and Tide was one of the key journals of the interwar period. Lady Rhondda also used the paper to push her progressive programme called The Six Point Group. It made gender equality paramount.
Lady Rhondda argued that women’s voting rights must be accompanied by social and economic legislation. Her programme sought legislation for mothers that would give children better protection. It was ahead of its time in demanding strict laws on child assault and it sought to protect widowed mothers with young children and the unmarried mother and child. The other three points dealt with equal rights for men and women, demanding equal guardianship of children for married parents, equality of opportunity in the civil service and equal pay for teachers.
And Lady Rhondda is the reason women of today can sit in the House of Lords. She campaigned for female peers for 40 years – though sadly she died before the law she fought for was changed, too late to take her own seat. Any one of these individual achievements would have secured her place in history – put them all together and Lady Rhondda remains one of the most remarkable figures Wales has ever known.
The Statue 4 Lady Rhondda Group is a group of local Newport women who have formed the MWW steering group to raise funds for a statue of Newport’s famous daughter, following our success to crowdfund a blue plaque for Lady Rhondda in 2015. We are all volunteers.
We are determined to provide Newport with its first statue of a named woman. Our fundraising appeal has been badly hit by the pandemic but we have now reignited interest in the project as things return to normal. In the meantime, our Newport group's chair, Julie Nicholas, has created a Girl Guiding badge to celebrate Monumental Women, to help raise funds for the statue and to inspire girls to get to know our heroines.
1. What is the fundraising target?
Our target is £80,000 to cover the planning, commissioning and installation costs of a statue. We have already secured £20,000 from the generous Welsh Government grant to Monumental Welsh Women and £5000 from the Waterloo Foundation. In total, the group have raised over £58,000 but we still need to raise approximately £25,000 through individual and organisational contributions.
2. How was the artist chosen?
Three Artists were selected and invited to submit a design for the statue based on a project-brief for a representational monument to Lady Rhondda. The artist briefing day took place on the 23rd June and on September 12th the three artists presented their designs to a panel made up of members from the steering group, invited guests, including two representatives of Lady Rhondda's family and historian Professor Angela V John. Jane Robbins (www.janerobbinssculptor.co.uk) was selected to create the statue.
On 6th March 2023, the design maquette was unveiled in St Woolos Cathedral, by the artist. Prof John, Lady Rhondda's biographer, gave a talk about Lady Rhondda and Rajvi Glasbrook interviewed Jane Robbins about her design for the statue. Thanks to the Bishop of Monmouth, Cherry Vann and her team at the Cathedral for kindly hosting the evening which was attended by over 100 people and raised over £2000.
3. Where will the statue be situated?
Lady Rhondda’s home was at Llanwern House, and as such we think the location of a statue would be most fitting East of the River Usk. There are very few pieces of public art in East Newport and our preferred site is at the riverside of the Millennium footbridge.
4. How can you help?
You can fundraise for us in a variety of ways:
· Donate to the Statue for Lady Rhondda crowdfunder and choose a reward
· Make ‘Statue for Lady Rhondda’ your ‘good cause’ for a sponsored run or walk
· Arrange an activity for the campaign; a tea party, auction or fun-day
· Buy a ticket to a fundraising event
5. Where can you donate?
You can donate directly at our crowdfunding site here
6. Find out more about Lady Rhondda
The sculptor Jane Robbins with her maquette for the Statue of Lady Rhondda, t St Woolos Cathedral
The Haig-Thomas Family
Dame Rosemary Butler DBE
Newport City Homes
Lync Cymru Housing
Newport Women's Forum
Somerville College, Oxford
Llanwern Ladies Golf Club
And all of our kind individual donors who have bought our merchandise and donated to our Go Fund Me site.