September 20, 2017
In honor of the announcement of the first woman statue joining the impressive company in Parliament Square, our Activist of the Week is Millicent Fawcett. Her work and life inspired change not only in the United Kingdom, but throughout the world.
In 1847, Millicent Fawcett tumbled into the world, already part of a large, unconventional family. Millicent was one of ten children, all of whom were fathered by a “political radical”. Later, she married Henry Fawcett, once a professor and Liberal MP, he advocated for women’s rights, nurturing Millicent’s need to stand up for equality. With a family rooted in radical ideas, Millicent became a very vocal suffragist in the 1860s.
Millicent became involved with the “Langham’s Place Circle” women’s suffrage advocates. In 1867, she joined the leadership for London National Societies for Women’s Suffrage. While her upward momentum in the cause encouraged her work, she did not go unscathed by opposing forces.
In 1868, she gave a speech advocating for suffrage. However, many in Parliament denounced her action and accused the speech of being “indecent”. Despite the vociferous objections, Millicent continued her work fervently.
“I cannot say I became a suffragist I always was one, from the time I was old enough to think at all about the principles of Representative Government.” -Millicent Fawcett
In addition to her work for women’s suffrage, Millicent supported the Married Women’s Property Act and the social purity campaign. During this time in her life, Millicent supported her husband in multiple ways. During a shooting incident, Henry Fawcett was blinded. Millicent served as his amanuensis, secretary, and companion as well as his wife. Her husband’s interests in reform in India led her to an interest in the subject of child marriage. However, his death in 1884, led her to redouble her work as an advocate for women’s suffrage.
Millicent’s methods for winning the vote for women was one of “reason and patience”. When many other “radical” suffragists were staging hunger strikes, Millicent focused her work on lobbying and public education. She expressed her admiration in the tactics they used during hunger strikes and stayed in communication with them after their release from prison. However, she opposed the violent methods the Women’s Social and Political Union used such as deliberate property damage.
Throughout her life, Millicent supported women’s rights and the British war efforts in World War I (she believe if women stood behind their country, the rights would naturally come trickling down to them- this was not the case).
In 1924, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was given the Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, and became Dame Millicent Fawcett.
After a long life dedicated to the rights of women, Millicent died in London on August 5, 1929.
- Political Economy for Beginners, 1870, a textbook
- Life of Queen Victoria, 1895
- with E. M. Turner, Josephine Butler: Her Work and Principles, and Their Meaning for the Twentieth Century, 1927.
- The Women’s Victory — and After, 1920
- What I Remember, 1927
“Courage calls to courage everywhere, and its voice cannot be denied.”
“I cannot say I became a suffragist I always was one, from the time I was old enough to think at all about the principles of Representative Government.”
“To women as mothers is given the charge of the home and the care of children. Women are therefore, by nature as well as by training and occupation, more accustomed than men to concentrate their minds on the home and the domestic side of things. But this difference between men and women, instead of being a reason against their disenfranchisement , seems to me to be the strongest possible reason in favour of it; we want to see the home and the domestic side of things to count for more in politics and in the administration of public affairs than they do at present.”