When she arrived to study at the University of Oxford, Elaine Morgan was mistaken for a cleaner because of her broad south Wales valleys accent.
But she went on to be a scriptwriter, evolutionary theorist and trailblazing feminist, and on Friday a statue of the Welsh renaissance woman was unveiled in the town of Mountain Ash, where she tried to change the world from her desk.
The memorial is only the second statue of a named, real woman to be placed in an outdoor space in Wales and comes six months after the first – to Wales’ pioneering black headteacher Betty Campbell – was unveiled in Cardiff.
A group called Monumental Welsh Women, which aims to erect five statues honouring women at five Welsh locations within five years, is behind both statues.
Born in 1920 into a mining family in Hopkinstown, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Morgan went on to win a scholarship to Oxford. After graduating, she returned to south Wales where she taught, raised three sons and began writing plays to make ends meet. Her first scripts were accepted before she even had a television set and she is best known for the 1970s series How Green Was My Valley.
She challenged accepted theories of human evolution, arguing in her book The Descent of Woman that there had been too much focus on the male hunter and that females were an equally vital part of the story.
The book, published 50 years ago, was a global bestseller and became a key text in the women’s liberation movement. Despite her fame, she never abandoned her valleys roots and her bronze statue, crafted by the sculptor Emma Rodgers, was unveiled outside a doctor’s surgery close to her family home.
Helen Molyneux, the founder of Monumental Welsh Women, said: “Our mission is to celebrate female ambition and success by commemorating the achievements of great Welsh women – and to inspire the next generation of great Welsh women.
“Elaine was a wonderful dramatist and feminist icon, and we are thrilled to be able to immortalise her achievements so that she will be remembered in her home town and beyond for years to come. We hope her statue will act as an inspiration to the girls – and boys – of Mountain Ash and everyone who sees her.”
Morgan was 92 when she died in 2013 and her son, Gareth Morgan, said she would have been delighted that the achievements of Welsh women were being celebrated through the statue campaign.
He said: “Elaine’s work has helped to inspire women everywhere and I have seen messages from women all over the world who wrote to thank her for changing their lives.
“Some had been inspired to forge a career in science, while others took up writing or some other long-held ambition after reading her books, and they all expressed how she had changed their view of women, of science and of themselves.
“Elaine has been called a campaigner for women’s equality, but secretly I think she believed in women’s superiority.”