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Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Key British Feminist and Suffrage Activist

By

Millicent Fawcett

Millicent Fawcett

© 2008 Clipart.com
Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

© 2008 Clipart.com

June 11, 1847 - August 5, 1929

Millicent Garrett Fawcett Known for:

British reformer, feminist, suffragist. In the British campaign for woman suffrage, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was known for her "constitutional" approach: a more peaceful, rational strategy, in contrast to the more militant and confrontational strategy of the Pankhursts.

Also known as: Mrs. Henry Fawcett, Millicent Garrett, Millicent Fawcett

The Fawcett Library is named for Millicent Garrett Fawcett. It is the location of much archive material on feminism and the suffrage movement in Great Britain.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett was the sister of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to successfully complete the medical qualifying exams in Great Britain and become a physician.

About Millicent Garrett Fawcett:

Millicent Garrett Fawcett was one of ten children. Her father was both a comfortable businessman and a political radical.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett married Henry Fawcett, an economics professor at Cambridge who was also a Liberal MP. He had been blinded in a shooting accident, and because of his condition, Millicent Garrett Fawcett served as his amanuensis, secretary, and companion as well as his wife.

Henry Fawcett was an advocate of women's rights, and Millicent Garrett Fawcett became involved with the Langham Place Circle women's suffrage advocates. In 1867, she became part of the leadership of the London National Societies for Women's Suffrage.

When Millicent Garrett Fawcett gave a speech advocating suffrage in 1868, some in Parliament denounced her action as especially inappropriate, they said, for the wife of an MP.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett supported the Married Women's Property Act and, more quietly, the social purity campaign. Her husband's interests in reform in India led her to an interest in the subject of child marriage.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett became more active in the suffrage movement with two events: in 1884, the death of her husband, and in 1888, the division of the suffrage movement over association with particular parties. Millicent Garrett Fawcett was a leader of the faction that supported non-alignment of the women's suffrage movement with political parties.

By 1897, Millicent Garrett Fawcett had helped bring these two wings of the suffrage movement back together under the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and assumed the presidency in 1907.

Fawcett's approach to winning the vote for women was one of reason and patience, based on persistent lobbying and public education. She initially supported the more visible militancy of the Women's Social and Political Union, led by the Pankhursts. When the radicals staged hunger strikes, Fawcett expressed admiration of their courage, even sending congratulations on their release from prison. But she opposed the increasing violence of the militant wing, including deliberate property damage.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett focused her suffrage efforts in 1910-12 on a bill to give the vote to single and widowed female heads of household. When that effort failed, she reconsidered the alignment issue. Only the Labour Party had supported women's suffrage, and so the NUWSS aligned itself formally with Labour. Predictably, many members left over this decision.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett then supported the British war effort in World War I, believing that if women supported the war effort, suffrage would naturally be granted at the end of the war. This separated Fawcett from the many feminists who were also pacifists.

In 1919, Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act, and British women over the age of thirty could vote. Millicent Garrett Fawcett turned over the NUWSS presidency to Eleanor Rathbone, as the organization transformed itself into the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) and worked for lowering the voting age for women to 21, the same as for men.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett disagreed, however, with several other reforms endorsed by the NUSEC under Rathbone, and so Fawcett left her position on the board of NUSEC.

In 1924, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was given the Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, and became Dame Millicent Fawcett.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett died in London in 1929.

Her daughter, Philippa Garrett Fawcett (1868-1948), excelled in mathematics and served as the principal assistant to the director of education of the London County Council for thirty years.

Religion: Millicent Garrett Fawcett rejected the evangelical Christianity of her mother and, while remaining an agnostic most of her life, attended the Church of England in her later years.

Writings:

Millicent Garrett Fawcett wrote many pamphlets and articles over her lifetime, and also several books:

  • 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

 

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