Dame Ethel Smyth
Dame Ethel Mary Smyth DBE (1858-1944) was a British composer, conductor and author. Her musical compositions included lieder, chamber music, choral symphonies and opera. A suffragette, in 1911 she composed ‘The March of the Women’ which became the official anthem of The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Sentenced to two months in Holloway Prison for breaking windows, she is remembered for conducting fellow suffragettes in their anthem with a toothbrush from her cell window. A keen sportwoman and radiographer stationed in Vichy during WWI, Smyth was a remarkable woman. She established an international reputation as a musician, but often regarded as just a ‘lady composer’, she was rather marginalised during her lifetime and after her death fell into obscurity. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in her music which no longer suffers from old-fashioned gender bias. Her compositions are being performed again and she has won a Grammy for her last major work ‘The Prison’, a vocal symphony.
Smyth is depicted here wearing her habitual tweed skirt, enthusiastically conducting with the over-sized baton, which was presented to her by Emmeline Pankhurst at the Albert Hall. The sculptor describes ‘her arms beating out the time and her eyes full of concentration as she battles with her hearing loss, which went completely in her late 50s. In her pocket is a sheaf of paper, perhaps notes for a new book, she had 10 published.’
From 1910-44 Smyth lived near Woking in Surrey.
Location: Dukes Court Plaza, Woking, Surrey.