Millicent Fawcett

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Millicent Garrett Fawcett
Millicent Fawcett.jpg
Born Millicent Garrett
(1847-06-11)11 June 1847
Died 5 August 1929(1929-08-05) (aged 82)
Nationality British
Occupation Feminist, suffragist, union leader & 1st de facto woman MP

Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, GBE (11 June 1847 – 5 August 1929) was an English feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer. However, she is primarily known for her work as a suffragist (a campaigner for women to have the vote). (GBE: Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire)

She was born Millicent Garrett in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. As a suffragist (as opposed to a suffragette), she took a moderate line, but was a tireless campaigner. She concentrated much of her energy on the struggle to improve women's opportunities for higher education and in 1871 co-founded Newnham College, Cambridge. She later became president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (the NUWSS), a position she held from 1897 until 1919. In July 1901 she was appointed to lead the British Government's commission to South Africa to investigate conditions in the "concentration camps" that had been created there in the wake of the Second Boer War. Her report corroborated what the campaigner Emily Hobhouse had said about conditions in the camps.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Millicent Garrett was born on 11 June 1847 in Aldeburgh to Newson Garrett, a warehouse owner, and his wife Louise Dunnell.[1]

The Garrett ancestors had been ironworkers in East Suffolk since the early seventeenth century. Newson Garrett was the youngest of three sons and not academically inclined, although he possessed the family’s entrepreneurial spirit. When he finished school, the town of Leiston offered little to Newson, so he left for London to make his fortune. There, he fell in love with his brother's sister-in-law, Louisa Dunnell, the daughter of an innkeeper of Suffolk origin. After their wedding, the couple went to live above a pawnbroker's shop at 1 Commercial Road, Whitechapel. The Garretts had their first three children in quick succession: Louie, Elizabeth and their brother (Newson Dunnell) who died at the age of six months. In 1839 the family moved to 142 Long Acre, where they were to live for 2 years, whilst two more children were born.

Her father moved up in the world, becoming not only the manager of a larger pawnbroker's shop, but also a silversmith. Garrett's grandfather, owner of the family engineering works, Richard Garrett & Sons, had died in 1837, leaving the business to his eldest son, Garrett's uncle. Despite his lack of capital, Newson was determined to be successful and in 1841, at the age of 29, he moved his family to Suffolk, where he bought a barley and coal merchants business in Snape, Suffolk. The Garretts lived in a square Georgian house opposite the church in Aldeburgh until 1852. Newson's malting business expanded and five more children were born, Alice (1842), Millicent (1847), Sam (1850), Josephine (1853) and George (1854). By 1850, Newson was a prosperous businessman and was able to build Alde House, a mansion on a hill behind Aldeburgh.

In 1858 when she was twelve, Millicent was sent to London, with her sister Elizabeth (Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman doctor in Britain ) to study at a private boarding school in Blackheath. Her sister Louise took her to the sermons of Frederick Denison Maurice, who was a more socially aware and less traditional Church of England minister, and whose opinion influenced Millicent's view of religion. A key moment occurred when Millicent was 19 and went to hear a speech by the radical MP, John Stuart Mill. Mill was an early advocate of universal women’s suffrage. His speech on equal rights for women made a big impression on Millicent, and she became actively involved in his campaign. She was impressed by Mill's practical support for women’s rights on the basis of utilitarianism – rather than abstract principles.[citation needed] These visits were the start of Millicent Garrett's (Fawcett) interest in women's rights.[2] In 1865, Elizabeth took her to see a speech by John Stuart Mill on the subject; Millicent was impressed by this speech, and became an active supporter of his work.[1]

In 1866, at the age of 19, she became secretary of the London Society for Women's Suffrage.[2] Mill introduced her to many other women's rights activists, including Henry Fawcett, a liberal Member of Parliament who had originally intended to marry Elizabeth before she decided to focus on her medical career. Millicent and the politician became close friends, and despite a fourteen-year age gap they married in 1867.[1]

Millicent took his last name, becoming Millicent Garrett Fawcett.[1]

Marriage, Political Career & first de facto Woman MP[edit]

Blue plaque, 2 Gower Street, London
Doorway of Millicent Garrett Fawcett's home at No. 2, Gower Street, London, with blue commemorative plaque
Millicent Fawcett (nr 4 from left, bottom row) at a Suffrage Alliance Congress, London 1909

Henry Fawcett had been blinded in a shooting accident in 1858, and Millicent "acted as his secretary" but more like a modern day PA/jobshare.[3][4] It is for this reason that Millicent Garrett-Fawcett can be reasonably described as being the first de facto woman MP with her husband/partner Henry (Garrett) Fawcett, in fact joint job-share MPs for Brighton 1864-1874, since she acted more like a modern day PA, performing all the tasks of MP that he could not perform due to his blindness. At a time when braille was in its infancy, the first job of the day was for Millicent to read the newspapers out loud to Henry, for them both to discuss and arrive at opinions prior to other engagements such as Henry Fawcett MP attending the House of Commons.[5] Their marriage was described as one based on "perfect intellectual sympathy".[2]

Millicent Garrett Fawcett ran two households, one in Cambridge and one in London. "The Fawcetts were a radical couple, flirting even with republicanism, supporters of proportional representation and trade unionism, keen advocates of individualistic and free trade principles and the advancement of women".[6] Henry and Millicent's close relationship was never doubted; they had a real, and loving, marriage. Millicent pursued a writing career of her own while caring for him and their only child, Philippa Fawcett, was born in 1868.[2] She was close to Phillipa as they shared skill in needlework, Phillipa also excelled in school, which fared well with her mother and with women's rights.[6] It is worth noting that Philippa Fawcett became a notable mathematician and educator in her own right, after this formidable upbringing and parents.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett began her career on the political platform at twenty-two years old at her first women's suffrage meeting at the end of the 1860's. In 1868, Millicent Garrett Fawcett joined the London Suffrage Committee, and in 1869 she spoke at the first public pro-suffrage meeting to be held in London.[2] Millicent (leader of NUWSS) was a moderate campaigner, distancing herself from the militant and violent activities of the Pankhursts and the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). She believed that their actions were in fact harming women's chances of gaining the vote, as they were alienating the MPs who were debating whether or not to give women the vote, as well as souring much of the general public towards the campaign.[7] Despite the publicity given to the WSPU, the NUWSS (one of whose slogans was "Law-Abiding suffragists"[8] ) retained the majority of the support of the women's movement.

On 24 March 1870 Millicent Garrett Fawcett known for her clear speaking voice gave a speech "the electoral disabilities of women".[2][9] at Brighton Town Hall in her husband's/their constituency. In 1870 she also published Political Economy for Beginners, which although short was "wildly successful",[10] and ran through 10 editions in 41 years.[2][10][11]

In 1872 Millicent and her husband Henry published Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects, which contained eight essays by Millicent.[2][12]

After the death of her husband on 6 November 1884, Millicent Garrett Fawcett withdrew briefly from public life. She sold both family homes and moved with Philippa into the house of Agnes Garrett, her sister.[2] The 14 year age-gap and Henry's early death in 1874 at the age of 51, meant an extended period of widowhood. Millicent resumed work in 1885 and began to concentrate on politics. Originally an active Liberal, she joined the Liberal Unionist party in 1886 in opposition to Irish Home Rule.[why?]

In 1875 she was a co-founder of Newnham Hall, and served on its Council.[13]

In 1883, Millicent Garrett Fawcett received the role of president of the Special Appeal Committee.[14]

Millicent Garrett Fawcett cut her liberal ties in 1884, her belief in women's suffrage was unchanged however her political views did change and began to resemble the views she had when she was younger.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett was a frequent speaker and lecturer at girls' schools and women's colleges and in adult education. In 1899, she was granted an honorary LLD by the University of St Andrews for her services to education.[15]

The Boer War broke out in South Africa in 1899. Millicent was appointed to be the Chair of the commission of women who were sent to South Africa.[6] In July 1901, she sailed to South Africa with other women "to investigate Emily Hobhouse's indictment of atrocious conditions in concentration camps where the families of the Boer soldiers were interned".[6] In Britain a woman had never been trusted with such a responsibility during wartime. Millicent fought for the civil rights of the Uitlanders, "as the cause of revival of interest in women's suffrage".[6]

In 1904, she resigned from the Liberal Unionist party on the issue of Free Trade when Joseph Chamberlain gained control in his campaign for Tariff Reform.[citation needed]

By 1905, under Millicent Garrett Fawcett's leadership, the NUWSS had reached 305 constituent societies and nearly fifty thousand members. In 1913 they had 50,000 members compared to 2,000 of the WSPU.[16] Millicent Garrett Fawcett mainly fought for women's right to vote, and found home rule to be "a blow to the greatness and prosperity of England as well as disaster and… misery and pain and shame".[17]

When the First World War broke out in 1914, while the WSPU ceased all of their activities to focus on the war effort, Millicent Garrett Fawcett's NUWSS did not. This was largely because as the organisation was significantly less militant than the WSPU, it contained many more pacifists, and general support for the war within the organisation was weaker. The WSPU, in comparison, was called jingoistic as a result of its leaders' strong support for the war. While Fawcett was not a pacifist, she risked dividing the organisation if she ordered a halt to the campaign, and the diverting of NUWSS funds from the government, as the WSPU had done. The NUWSS continued to campaign for the vote during the war, and used the situation to their advantage by pointing out the contribution women had made to the war effort in their campaigns.

Campaigner & Author[edit]

Over many years, Millicent Garrett Fawcett had backed countless campaigns; which were not all successful. A few campaigns Millicent supported were, "to curb the Rape and Sexual Abuse of children by raising the Age of Consent, criminalizing incest, cruelty to children within the family, to end the practice of excluding women from courtrooms when sexual offences were under consideration, to stamp out the 'white slave trade', and to prevent child marriage and the introduction of regulated prostitution in India".[6] Fawcett also campaigned for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which reflected sexual double standards. The Acts required that prostitutes be examined for sexually transmitted diseases, and if they were found to have passed any on to their customers, they were imprisoned. Women could be arrested on suspicion of being a prostitute, and could also be imprisoned for refusing consent to the examination, which was invasive and could be painful. The prostitutes' infectious male customers were not subject to the Acts. The Acts were eventually repealed as a result of Millicent Garrett Fawcett's and others' campaigning. Millicent believed the double standard of morality would never become eradicated until women were represented in the public sphere of life.[6]

Millicent Garrett Fawcett was also an author. She usually penned under her own name as Millicent Garrett Fawcett, however as a public figure she was styled "Mrs. Henry Fawcett".[6] Millicent had three books, a co-authored book with her husband Henry Fawcett, and many of her articles were published respectively.[18] Fawcett published a textbook Political Economy for Beginners that had ten editions, sparked two novels and was produced in many languages. One of Millicent Garrett Fawcett's first articles on women's education was published in Macmillan's Magazine in 1875. In 1875, Fawcett's interest in women's education lead her to become one of the founders of the Newnham College for Women, located in Cambridge. Millicent Garrett Fawcett served on the school's council, she was also supportive when there was a controversial bid to all women to receive Cambridge degrees.[6] Millicent was also a speaker and lecturer at girl's schools and women's colleges, she also spoke in adult education centres. For her services in education the University of St. Andrews awarded her an honorary LLD in 1899.[6]

National & Historic Significance[edit]

Millicent Garrett Fawcett was appointed Dame of Grand Cross of the Most Excellent (GBE) (the highest of four grades) in 1925, and died four years later, in 1929. Her memory is preserved now in the name of the Fawcett Society, and in Millicent Fawcett Hall, constructed in 1929 in Westminster as a place that women could use to debate and discuss the issues that affected them. The hall is currently owned by Westminster School and is the location of its drama department, incorporating a 150-seat studio theatre.

Nancy Astor is sometimes attributed with being the first woman MP, in fact she was the first to be elected and to take her seat in the House of Commons. The first woman to be elected as MP to the Westminster Parliament was Constance Markiewicz, elected in 1918, but as she was an Irish Republican, she did not take her seat. As a result Lady Astor is sometimes erroneously referred to as the first woman elected to Parliament rather than the first woman to take her seat in Parliament. It was not until 2010 that the first woman to be elected for a Brighton constituency was Caroline Lucas, elected as MP for Brighton Pavilion in the 2010 General Election. In the 2015 General Election, Caroline Lucas also became the first woman to be re-elected as a MP for Brighton Pavilion.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett is regarded as instrumental in gaining the vote and then gaining a the vote on equal terms with men. In 1918 Representation of the People Act gave the vote six million British women over 30 years old. However this was further restricted by a qualification of property although this same act extended the right to vote to all men over 21, regardless of property. Finally in 1928 the Equal Franchise Act extended the vote to all women over 21, the achievement of the same voting rights as men. This brought the number of eligible women voters to 15 million. Millicent Garrett Fawcett lived to see this take place but died in 1929 in London on 5 August [19] and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.

[Space for evidence that she actually cast her vote in an election or not.]

“A memorial inscription added to the monument to Henry Fawcett in Westminster Abbey in 1932 asserts that Millicent Garrett Fawcett GBE 'won citizenship for women'".[6]

The archives of Millicent Garrett Fawcett are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 7MGF.

Foundation stone of Millicent Fawcett Hall in Westminster, London. Laid by Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett on 24 April 1929


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Millicent Garrett Fawcett". Spartacus. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Fawcett, Millicent Garrett". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33096.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Goldman, Lawrence (Cambridge University Press 1989) Henry Fawcett - the Blind Victorian & British Liberalism
  4. ^ "Millicent Garrett Fawcett". Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  5. ^ Goldman L, (Cambridge University Press 1989) Henry Fawcett - the Blind Victorian & British Liberalism
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Howarth, Janet. "Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  7. ^ Van Wingerden, Sophia A. (1999). The women's suffrage movement in Britain, 1866–1928. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 100. ISBN 0-312-21853-2. 
  8. ^ Velllacott, Jo (1987). "Feminist Consciousness and the First World War". History Workshop 23: 81. JSTOR 4288749. 
  9. ^ Goldman L, (Cambridge University Press 1989 Henry Fawcett the Blind Victorian & British Liberalism
  10. ^ a b "The Fawcetts". The History of Economic Thought. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  11. ^ See Fawcett, Millicent Garrett (1911). Political Economy for Beginners (10 ed.). London, UK: Macmillan and Co. Retrieved 22 June 2014.  via
  12. ^ See Fawcett, Henry; Fawcett, Millicent Garrett (1872). Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects. London, UK: Macmillan and Co. Retrieved 22 June 2014.  via
  13. ^ Cicarelli (2003) p. 63
  14. ^ Copeland, Janet. "Millicent Garrett Fawcett". History Review. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  15. ^ Howarth, Janet (October 2007). "Oxford DNB article: Fawcett, Dame Millicent Garrett". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  16. ^ National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. "NUWSS". National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. 
  17. ^ Rubinstein, David. "Millicent Garrett Fawcett and the Meaning of Woman's Emancipation, 1886–99". Victorian Studies. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  18. ^ Rubinstein, David. "Millicent Garrett Fawcett and the Meaning of Women's Emancipation, 1886–99". Victorian Studies. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Great Britain: Virago, 2005. ISBN 1-84408-141-9. Page 521.


The archives of Millicent Fawcett are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics ref 7MGF

External links[edit]