A CAMPAIGN to erect a statue to a Victorian school teacher who was also journalist and master mariner, as well as a public speaker who toured Wales and America, has been given helping hand.

Aberystwyth University has pledged £5,000 to support a statue of Sarah Jane Rees in Llangrannog the coastal village in Ceredigion where she was born in 1839, and where she had been headteacher of the local school. 

Described as “the most outstanding Welsh woman of the 19th century” she is better known by her bardic name of Cranogwen.   

The statue is one of a series planned across Wales by The Monumental Welsh Women campaign which established a ‘Hidden Heroines’ project which highlighted there is not a single statue of an historical Welsh woman in any outdoor space in Wales. 

It intends erecting statues of five Welsh women over a period of five years. 

Headstrong and fiercely independent, Cranogwen resisted conforming to restrictions of life as a Victorian woman. She excelled in many fields, as a mariner, poet, teacher, lecturer, journalist, preacher, temperance advocate and political campaigner before her death in 1916. 

A master mariner in her own right, she was qualified to command a ship in any part of the world. A head-teacher of the village school by the age of 21, she also set up her own Navigation School in Llangrannog in 1859 where she taught navigation and seamanship to local young men.  

As a poet, she won notoriety as the first female winner of a poetry prize at the National Eisteddfod in Aberystwyth, 1865. She became the first woman to edit a Welsh-language women’s magazine, Y Frythones, which campaigned for girls’ education and provided a platform for other female writers.

As a lecturer and preacher, she travelled across Wales and America, at a time when public speaking by women was largely disapproved of.  She also founded the South Wales Women’s Temperance Union and outlined her vision for a refuge for homeless young women. 

READ MORE: 

The Monumental Welsh Women campaign intends to commission renowned artist Seb Boyesen, who lives and works in Llangrannog, to create a life-size bronze statue of Cranogwen, which will be erected near to St Carannog Church where she is buried. 

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, vice chancellor of Aberystwyth University, said: “The university is delighted to be playing a part in this worthwhile campaign to address the lack of diversity in public monuments in Wales.  Equality has long been a key part of Aberystwyth University’s mission, having been one of the first universities in the UK to admit female students in 1874, and opening the first purpose-built university hall of residence for female students in the UK in 1896.  Cranogwen’s extraordinary and pioneering achievements have left a legacy in Ceredigion, and the university is proud to contribute towards the fundraising for a statue in recognition of her remarkable life.” 

Helen Molyneux, from the Monumental Welsh Women group, said: “We are delighted that the university is so supportive of our project and very grateful for their contribution to the fund, which will ensure that we are able to commission a statue worthy of our heroine.

"Cranogwen deserves to be remembered and recognised for her achievements and we hope that her statue will be an inspiration for generations of girls in Llangrannog and West Wales to have broad horizons and big ambitions.” 

The Welsh Government is providing £100,000 towards the cost of the statues, which are estimated to cost £75,000 each, and the remaining amount are being sought through fundraising. 

The first statue of a Welsh woman will be of Cardiff headteacher Betty Campbell, who died in 2017, and was Wales’ first black headteacher. The others to be commemorated are political activist, Elizabeth Andrews; TV writer and feminist Elaine Morgan and suffragette Margaret Haig Thomas (Lady Rhondda).

If you value The National's culture and arts coverage, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.