Humanists UK Vice President Alice Roberts and Bristol Mayor Paula O’Rourke unveiled a blue plaque for local humanist icon Emma Martin (1812–1851) yesterday, following a successful Bristol fundraising initiative Humanists. The event brought together guests from Bristol and beyond to celebrate Martin’s inspiring and radical legacy.
Near the site of her former home, the plaque honors the remarkable life and work of Emma Martin, who transformed from a devout Christian to an agitator for atheism, socialism and feminism. She then lectured before crowds of thousands, challenging religious oppression and standing up for women’s rights. In her later years, she practiced as a midwife and continued to support women in exercising control over their own bodies. She wrote: ‘I would rather give my daughters a set of physiology and obstetrics books to read than allow them to read Levitical law.’
Spearheaded by Humanists UK’s partner group, Bristol Humanists, which launched an annual conference last year on behalf of Emma Martin, the plaque makes visible part of the city’s rich humanist heritage and highlights one of its unsung heroes. The opening was attended by a number of people whose work has helped unearth such stories, including historian Sheila Rowbotham, whose groundbreaking hidden from history explored 300 years of women’s struggle for equality; and Nan Sloane, whose uncontrollable women traced a history of radical, reformist and revolutionary women little remembered today.
Humanist Heritage Walking Tour in Bristol
Few better embody Bristol’s remarkable history of humanist activism than Emma Martin, and her plaque is a stop on the new Humanist Bristol Tour, available now using the Go Jauntly walking app. This joins free self-guided walks in London, Manchester and Belfast, uncovering the stories of those humanists who shaped, and were shaped by, these cities.
About Emma Martin’s remarkable legacy, author Nan Sloane said:
“Emma was a woman who believed fiercely, and sometimes to the extreme, in causes that have, in the long run, turned out to be right. She would view the current state of women’s rights, imperfect and precarious as they are, with a considerable degree of satisfaction. She would find it extraordinary that the clergy still sit in the legislature and that religion still has such strong support, but I think she would also be a humanist who would galvanize everyone else to action. She was a woman of her time, but she was also, in her own way, absolutely a woman of ours.’
Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said:
‘Humanists UK’s Humanist Heritage project has sought to shed light on this often hidden history; to discover the diverse and significant contributions made by humanists across the UK over hundreds of years. And, most importantly, make this rich history more visible by highlighting the monuments, gathering places, homes, workplaces, and places of birth and burial that bear witness to it. Now, tens of thousands of people will walk past this plaque every day, and more people than ever will know the name of Emma Martin.”
UK Humanists Vice President Alice Roberts said:
We know it’s possible to live happy, moral lives without religion, but Emma Martin’s attackers weren’t so sure. Today, in the UK, women have more control over their lives, their bodies and their relationships than Emma dared to dream. But these are hard-won rights and do not apply universally. These are rights that must be defended and fought for, but the example of people like Emma shows us that change is possible.’
Chrissie Hackett, president of Bristol Humanists, said:
‘Bristol Humanists are delighted to celebrate the life of Emma Martin, one of our heroines! As a freethinker, public speaker, socialist, and advocate for women’s rights, she courageously challenged the religious status quo, paving the way for all of us to enjoy the freedoms we now take for granted. This blue plaque ensures that she is finally recognized in her hometown and she can continue to inspire us today.”
For further comment or information, the media should contact Humanist Heritage Coordinator Madeleine Goodall at [email protected]
Read more about the life of Emma Martin in Humanist Heritage
Visit the Humanist Heritage website, explore the timeline of humanist thought and our interactive map of humanist landmarks and stories, and see all the walks on Go Jauntly.
The Bristol Civic Society is an independent, voluntary organization that exists to improve Bristol’s built environment and celebrate its heritage. Since 2015, the Bristol Blue Badge Scheme has been administered by its Blue Badge Panel. The Scheme recognizes former residents who lived for at least some time within Bristol’s boundaries and who have made significant contributions to Bristol and/or the rest of the world.
Image Credit: Mark Pickthall Photography
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we promote free thought and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thought and goodness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services that benefit more than a million people each year, and our campaigns promote humanistic thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.