A Liverpool health pioneer has become the first woman commemorated with a statue in St George’s Hall.
The ‘Saint of the Slums’, Kitty Wilkinson, joins two Earls of Derby and ten other male cohorts in the great hall more than 150 years after her death. With the only boiler in her city centre neighbourhood, Kitty opened her doors to a cholera-ridden community so they could wash their clothes and halt the spreading epidemic.
Julia Carding, the curator of St George’s Hall, told JMU Journalism what makes Kitty so special: “She’s a sort of Florence Nightingale. I can’t understand how she managed to live until she was in her 70s because the life she led was just so hard. It was backbreaking. She took in orphans, she let people wash in her house. She was a truly altruistic woman. She deserves to be honoured.”
Ms Carding added: “The wash houses were vitally important so people could keep their houses clean. People didn’t have the facility to wash their own clothes. Kitty and her husband, Tom Wilkinson were appointed superintendents of the wash house in Frederick Street, but they did take all of her work and her ideas forward and she’s remembered through the wash houses.
The £100,000 statue has been two years in the making by sculptor Simon Smith, who was chosen through a competition, starting with 35 applicants and narrowed down to three finalists.The curator said: “We wanted to make sure that the artist was right, in that they understood Kitty and her personality, what she did, what she achieved and to get all that over in a statue.
“It is awkward because there’s only one picture of her. You have to make something three dimensional from a two dimensional image, but we felt that when we interviewed Simon he actually got it. His maquette was the least flashy of the three but he understood her.”
Alongside the statue, St George’s Hall has organised school visits to teach children about Kitty’s work. Ms Carding said: “Unless there’s a teacher that particularly wants to do local history then it’s easy to see that learning about Kitty would fall through the gaps.
“We commissioned a lady to go round and visit schools and tell them about Kitty Wilkinson so she didn’t fall out of the relevance to children. We wanted to bring her back into general knowledge.”
“It’s a great project and it’s gone down a storm in the schools. They’ve been learning about Kitty, they made a film and they make soap, and they learn how to wash their hands properly!”
Ms Carding believes that Kitty’s work and attitude has left a lasting legacy in the city, saying: “I definitely think that her kind of personality lives on. People in Liverpool are generally very welcoming but they don’t even have to think about it.
“There’s a very trusting nature in that respect. I think there’s definitely something in the genes to have that sympathy and concern, and accept people for who they are. I hope every city’s like that but I know that Liverpool definitely is.”