A CAMPAIGN to secure the first statue of a woman in Middlesbrough has reached the next stage after the public voted for their choice - Ellen Wilkinson MP.

She was elected as the town's first female MP in 1924 and went on to campaign for widows' rights, lead the Jarrow hunger marchers and introduce free milk and school meals as the first female education secretary.

The "Eighth Plinth" campaign to build a statue to a woman in Middlesbrough was started because there are seven statues in Middlesbrough – all of men – and co-ordinator Emma Chesworth wants to see women's achievements celebrated.

A list of six unsung, remarkable women, who all made a positive impact on the area, was put to a public vote.

Almost 600 people had their say in the poll with votes coming in from as far afield as California, Poland and Australia. Ms Wilkinson topped the table by about 20 votes.

Fundraising will now begin to raise the money for the statue, which will not be paid for in any way by public funds.

Ms Chesworth said: “There are many remarkable women who lived and do live in Middlesbrough and this campaign aims to highlight their tremendous achievements.

"All too often, women are erased from history and their achievements never known or given the recognition they deserve.”

Ellen Wilkinson was born in 1891 and was elected Labour MP for Middlesbrough East in 1924, serving until 1931. In 1925 her campaigning saw the amending of anomalies adversely affecting widows in the Pension Bill. She returned to Parliament in 1935 representing Jarrow and leading the hunger marches.

The Eighth Plinth campaign is being backed by Middlesbrough Council and the town's MP Andy McDonald, who said: “It has always been ridiculous that 50 per cent of the population were given less credence and paid less attention simply because of their gender.

"We've made great strides in redressing such gross injustice and imbalance in recent decades but we still have a long way to go. Ideas like this make a major contribution to correcting perceptions of significant contributions to our shared past.

"History is full of "her" stories and we should tell them loud and proud."

Middlesbrough Mayor David Budd said: “We have several statues in Middlesbrough in honour of some of the major figures in the town’s history – but it’s currently an all-male club.

“That clearly ignores a number of women whose achievements are every bit the equal of their male counterparts, even though they might not be household names."

The shortlisted women were: Ellen Wilkinson, Viva Talbot, Gertrude Bell, Alice Schofield Coates, Mary Jaques and Marion Coates Hansen.