Historic female firsts captured on canvas

University of Leicester unveils three portraits of women of influence created by female artists

The University of Leicester has recognised the contribution of three women who have helped to create the institution in three stunning portraits painted by three female artists. 

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,” she continued, “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.

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.”

Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith was the university’s first black woman to hold office

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. 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.

Olive Banks was a pioneer in the field of sociology and became the University’s first female professor

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.

Wendy Hickling served 16 years on the Convocation (the University’s predecessor to the Alumni Association)

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 University of Leicester. 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). 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.

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