Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Mayor of London

She's the first woman ever to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square - but who was Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and what did she do for the women's movement? #BehindEveryGreatCity

Millicent Garrett Fawcett
Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett was a leading figure in the national movement for women's suffrage. Based in London, she was President of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) from 1907 to 1919. Her legacy is kept alive today by the Fawcett Society - the UK's leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women's rights.

After six decades of campaigning, and nearly 90 years after her death, in April 2018 Millicent Garrett Fawcett became the first woman to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, reflects on the legacy of this remarkable woman.

A great campaigner, a great politician, and a great supporter of other women.

She was born Millicent Garrett in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, on 11 June 1847.

Her father was a malter in Aldeburgh and, in 1858, Millicent was sent to a private boarding school in Blackheath, south east London.

She was taught there by Miss Browning, aunt of the poet Robert Browning.

Pioneering sisters
Millicent's sister Elizabeth Garrett was 11 years her senior and also living in London, training to be a doctor. Later known as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, she was the first woman in Britain to gain a medical qualification. Elizabeth's impressive list of accomplishments also includes: co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women; first dean of a British medical school; first female doctor of medicine in France; first woman to be elected to a London School Board; and, as Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain.
Women's rights
It was Elizabeth and their sister Louisa who first sparked political passion in the young Millicent. Together they attended progressive speeches and events in London, and Elizabeth introduced Millicent to early feminist campaigner Emily Davies (pictured, second from right).

During one of their conversations, Emily told Elizabeth: "It is quite clear what has to be done. I must devote myself to securing higher education, while you open the medical profession to women. After these things are done, we must see about getting the vote."

Turning to Millicent, she added: "You are younger than we are, Millie, so you must attend to that."

In 1865, Millicent's sister Louisa took her to a speech on women's rights by radical MP John Stuart Mill.

This meeting, Millicent said: "kindled tenfold my enthusiasms for women's suffrage."

Shortly afterwards, aged 19, Millicent helped to collect signatures for the first petition on women's suffrage - despite being too young to sign it herself.

Mrs Fawcett
Millicent married Brighton MP Henry Fawcett in 1867, and their daughter Philippa Fawcett was born the following year. Henry was 14 years Millicent's senior, and had been blinded in a shooting accident ten years earlier. He described their marriage as being based on "perfect intellectual sympathy". The couple were active in the campaign for women's education and, in 1875, Millicent co-founded Newnham College, Cambridge - the prestigious university's second women's college. When Henry died in 1884, Millicent withdrew from public life and moved with Philippa into the home of her sister Agnes Garrett.

Millicent and Philippa moved to Agnes' home on Gower Street, Bloomsbury. She stayed here for the next 45 years, until her death in 1929.

Millicent is today commemorated with a blue plaque at her Bloomsbury home.

Millicent returned to political life in 1885, and was a member of the Women’s Liberal Unionist Association.

After the death of the early suffrage leader Lydia Becker in 1890, Millicent Garrett Fawcett emerged naturally to the forefront of the fight for women's votes.

The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was formed in 1897 by the merging of 17 individual campaign groups, including the London Society for Women's Suffrage and the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage. Millicent Garrett Fawcett was formally elected president of the union in 1907, and served in this role until 1919.
Suffragists & suffragettes
Millicent Garrett Fawcett and the NUWSS were opposed to the more militant tactics used by organisations like the WSPU. They positioned themselves as 'law-abiding suffragists', as opposed to the so-called 'suffragettes' who were disrupting meetings, smashing windows, setting fire to post boxes, and subsequently serving jail terms.

In 1913, the NUWSS presented Millicent with a brooch, for 'steadfastness and courage'.

In 1918, the Representation of the People Act granted voting rights to women homeowners over 30.

Once the act had passed, Millicent Garrett Fawcett resigned as President of the NUWSS, at the age of 71.

She continued to campaign for women to have the vote on equal terms with men, which was achieved in 1928.

Millicent died shortly afterwards, at her Gower Street home, in 1929.

Credits: Story

#BehindEveryGreatCity: celebrating the centenary of the first women winning the right to vote and tackling gender inequality in London

Brooch image courtesy of The Fawcett Society.

The Fawcett Society is the UK's leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, as part of Millicent Fawcett's ongoing legacy. Find out more about their work here.

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