Four statues of female scholars to be added to the Long Room

Trinity has chosen scholars Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Augusta Gregory, and Mary Wollstonecraft from more than 500 suggestions

College has announced their plans to commission four new sculptures of women for the Old Library’s Long Room. 

A panel, composed of the Provost, former Registrars, the Librarian and Academic and Collections experts and other senior staff has chosen Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Augusta Gregory, and Mary Wollstonecraft from more than 500 suggestions. 

At the end of last year, the Provost invited nominations from staff, students, and alumni in Trinity for new sculpture busts. The criteria was that they be women, scholars, and no longer living. Currently the Long Room has 40 busts, all of them men. 

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Rosalind Franklin was a prolific scientist whose work led to the awarding of multiple Nobel Prizes. Despite dying young at the age of 37, her experimental work on virus structures and expertise in x-ray crystallography resulted in two important contributions to the field of science. The first, her contribution to uncovering the structure of DNA. Her production of x-ray pattern images of DNA molecules allowed James Watson and Francis Crick to suggest the double-helix structure of DNA. She is perhaps most widely known for having been looked over for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry that Watson and Crick received for this work, but it was far from her defining moment in science. Her later work uncovered virus structures in plants and animals. The year before her death, she was working on establishing the poliovirus structure. John Kulg and James Finch, her collaborators, published the paper revealing the poliovirus structure the year after her death and dedicated it to her. Klug went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1982. Her important advances lay the foundations for the field of structural virology. Her work is all the more relevant at this very moment, with knowledge of DNA-sequencing and x-ray crystallography being key tools used to investigate the Covid-19 virus.

 Augusta Gregory (1852-1932)

Lady Augusta Gregory was a significant figure of the Irish Literary Revival. Her work as a writer, dramatist, theatre-founder, champion of the Irish language, translator, folklorist and social commentator established her as a key voice in the Irish cultural scene in the early 20th century. She wrote plays which enjoyed wide popularity. However her most enduring legacy is founding the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, alongside WB Yeats. Her dedication to the theatre allowed it to thrive past her death, and the existence of a national theatre has been credited by the Irish dramatist Lennox Robinson as the reason JM Synge and Sean O’Casey reached such artistic prominence. Her work is today researched by scholars seeking insight into the Irish revolutionary period alongside the interaction of culture and language in defining Irish identity. 

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was a mathematician. She is best known for her work on Charles Babbages’ machine the Analytical Engine (the first general-purpose computer). When asked to translate an article about the machine from French to English, her notes ended up being much longer than the original article. These famous Notes, published in 1843,  were where she theorised the potential flexibility of the analytical engine compared to a calculator and suggested code to allow the machine to utilise letters and symbols as well as numbers. The most significant aspect of her Notes was her suggested algorithm which would allow the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. This is believed to be the first publication of an algorithm designed to be used on a computer, which is the reason Ada Lovelace has been called the first computer programmer. 

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)  

Mary Wollstonecraft was a trailblazing advocate for women’s rights and is considered to be a founding feminist philosopher. Her Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) is considered a foundational text for women’s rights movements. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication argues in contradiction to popular philosophers of the day, that all human beings are rational creatures who are capable of reason, not just men. She defended the rights of young women to be fully educated, and deemed it a necessity that women and men be allowed to contribute to society equally as doing otherwise would do nothing but hamper the progress of knowledge. Wollstonecraft also has a Trinity connection, with her preceding work A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) taking the form of a letter addressed to Trinity alumnus Edmund Burke. It was written in defence of the French revolution’s egalitarian, anti-monarchist, republican ideals which Burke, a famous conservative thinker, had attacked. Wollstonecraft’s name has recently returned to international headlines after a statue was constructed in England which depicted her as a small naked female figure emerging from a sliver blob and which received much criticism. 

This is the first time in over a century that Trinity has commissioned new sculptures for the Long Room of the Old Library. The first busts for the Old Library were commissioned in 1743. The most recent sculptures were commissioned since the 1880s and no additional sculptures have been installed since the 1920s. 

Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton said: “As the first woman Librarian in the College’s 428-year history, I am especially delighted to champion this initiative to address the historic inequity in the Long Room.”

College will next seek expression of interest from the artistic community for designs of the busts. This will result in a short-list where successful artists will be invited to submit maquettes of their designs. College has noted that the realisation of the panel’s proposal is subject to available funding, which is currently being sought.

Kate Glen

Kate Glen is a News Analysis Editor for Trinity News. She is a Senior Sophister History and Political Science student.