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Elaine Morgan was a Welsh writer and evolutionary theorist, whose 1972 book The Descent of Woman (1972) sought to reclaim for women a place in the story of evolution. Born in Pontypridd, Elaine Morgan (née Floyd) was the daughter of a coalminer, and retained a lifelong attachment to her home country – living in Mountain Ash for almost all of her adult life. In addition to a flourishing career as a screenwriter – for which she won two BAFTAs and an OBE – she turned to evolutionary theorising out of frustration with the male centred hunter gather narratives of most anthropological works of the 1960s. Morgan’s books on the subject became hugely popular with non-expert readers (even as they were treated with some scepticism by anthropologists), and were influential on the women’s liberation movement. Morgan’s ideas sat her firmly within a tradition of humanist feminist writing on science and evolution, with an earlier example being that of Zona Vallance, a founding figure in the Union of Ethical Societies (now Humanists UK), who similarly protested the absence of recognition for women’s role in the evolution of the human species.

In ‘Women and the Ethical Movement’, Vallance argued that women could claim a very distinctive role in producing the capacity for idealism which underpinned the Ethical movement (both the Ethical movement as a non-religious network, and what she called the great ethical movement from ‘beasthood’ to civilisation, brought about by evolution). Vallance believed that the role of women in caring for human infants – a vastly extended period of infancy and ‘childhood’ as compared to other species – is what allowed humankind itself to develop the capacity for moral reflection, action, and idealism. As women were central to this, their role was similarly distinctive in pushing morality forward in the present day, and challenging patriarchal and biblical oppression.

This statue of Elaine Morgan, created by sculptor Emma Rodgers, was placed in Mountain Ash in 2022, as part of ongoing efforts by the Monumental Welsh Women project to better acknowledge the achievements of women. Also on the list for statues to be created is another humanist, Lady Rhondda, a journalist and suffragist, motivated wholly by the deep joy of ‘finding something to do that one believes to be absolutely worth while, and doing it.’

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Elaine Morgan | Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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