11 June 1847
Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England
5 August 1929 (aged 82)|
Bloomsbury, London, England
|Occupation||Suffragist, union leader|
(m. 1867; d. 1884)
Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett GBE (11 June 1847 - 5 August 1929) was a British intellectual, political leader, activist and writer. A feminist icon, she is primarily known for her work as a campaigner for women's suffrage.
A suffragist (rather than a suffragette), Fawcett 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, was a governor of Bedford College, London  (now Royal Holloway) and in 1875 co-founded Newnham College, Cambridge. She became president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (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 investigating 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 the terrible conditions in the camps.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett was born on 11 June 1847 in Aldeburgh to Newson Garrett, an entrepreneur from Leiston in Suffolk, and his wife, Louisa (née Dunnell; 1813-1903), from London. She was the eighth of ten children.
According to Ray and Barbara Strachey in their book The Cause: A Short History of the Women's Movement in Great Britain: "The Garretts were a close and happy family in which children were encouraged to be physically active, read widely, speak their minds, and share in the political interests of their father, a convert from Conservatism to Gladstonian Liberalism, a combative man, and a keen patriot".
As a child, Fawcett's elder sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who became Britain's first female doctor, introduced her to Emily Davies, an English suffragist. In her mother's biography Louisa Garrett Anderson, quoted a statement by Davies to her mother and Fawcett, "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." She then turned to Millicent, "You are younger than we are, Millie, so you must attend to that." 
In 1858 when she was twelve, Millicent was sent to London with her sister Elizabeth to study at a private boarding school in Blackheath. Their sister Louise took Millicent to the sermons of Frederick Denison Maurice, a socially aware and less traditional Church of England minister, whose opinion influenced Millicent's view of religion. A key moment occurred when she was 19 and went to hear a speech by the radical MP, John Stuart Mill, 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. This was the start of Fawcett's interest in women's rights. Millicent became an active supporter of Mill's work.
In collaboration with ten other young, mostly single women, Garrett, Davies and Fawcett worked to form the Kensington Society in 1865. It was a discussion group focused around English women's suffrage. A year later, aged 19, although too young to sign, Fawcett collected signatures for the first petition for women's suffrage and became secretary of the London Society for Women's Suffrage.
Mill introduced her to many other women's rights activists, including Henry Fawcett, a Liberal Member of Parliament who had intended to marry her sister Elizabeth before she decided to focus on her medical career. Millicent and Henry became close friends and, despite a fourteen-year age gap, they married on 23 April 1867. Millicent took his surname, becoming Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Henry had been blinded in a shooting accident in 1858 and Millicent acted as his secretary. Their marriage was described as based on "perfect intellectual sympathy", and Millicent pursued a writing career while caring for Henry. Their only child, Philippa Fawcett, was born in 1868. She was close to Philippa as they shared skill in needlework; Philippa excelled in school, which fared well with her mother and with women's rights. 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". Henry and Millicent's close relationship was never doubted; they had a real, loving marriage.
In 1868 Millicent joined the London Suffrage Committee, and in 1869 she spoke at the first public pro-suffrage meeting to be held in London. In March 1870 she spoke in Brighton, her husband's constituency, and as a speaker was known for her clear speaking voice. In 1870 she published Political Economy for Beginners, which although short was "wildly successful", and ran through 10 editions in 41 years. In 1872 she and her husband published Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects, which contained eight essays by Millicent. In 1875 she co-founded Newnham Hall, and served on its council.
Despite her many interests and duties, Millicent, together with Agnes Garrett, took on the raising of four of their cousins who had been orphaned at an early age; Amy Garrett Badley, Fydell Edmund Garrett, Elsie Garrett, later to become a prominent botanical artist in South Africa, and Elsie's twin, John.
After the death of her husband on 6 November 1884, Fawcett temporarily withdrew from public life. She sold both family homes and moved with Philippa into the house of her sister, Agnes Garrett. When she resumed work in 1885, Fawcett began to concentrate on politics and was a key member of what became the Women's Local Government Society. Originally a Liberal, she joined the Liberal Unionist party in 1886 to oppose Irish Home Rule.[why?] In 1904, she resigned from the party on the issue of Free Trade when Joseph Chamberlain gained control in his campaign for Tariff Reform.
After the death of Lydia Becker, she became the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), the main suffragist organisation in Britain. She held this post until 1919, a year after the first women had been granted the vote in the Representation of the People Act 1918. After that, she left the suffrage campaign and devoted much of her time to writing books, including a biography of Josephine Butler.
Fawcett was granted an honorary LLD by the University of St Andrews in 1899, and was appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in the 1925 New Year Honours. She died four years later at her home in Gower Street, London. Fawcett was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. Her memory is preserved in the name of the Fawcett Society, and in Millicent Fawcett Hall, constructed in 1929 in Westminster as a place where women could debate and discuss issues that affected them. The hall is owned by Westminster School and is used by its drama department in a 150-seat studio theatre.
Fawcett began her career in the political platform at twenty-two years old at the first women's suffrage meeting. As leader of NUWSS, she was a moderate campaigner, distancing herself from the militant and violent activities of suffragettes like the Pankhursts and the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). She believed their actions were harming women's chances of gaining the vote as they were alienating the MPs who were debating this topic and souring public opinion towards the campaign. Despite the publicity given to the WSPU, the NUWSS, one of whose slogans was "Law-Abiding suffragists", retained most support for the women's movement. By 1905, Fawcett's NUWSS had 305 constituent societies and almost fifty thousand members. In 1913 they had 50,000 members compared with the WSPU's 2,000. 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". In Fawcett's book,, Women's Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement, she explains her disaffiliation with the more militant movement:
I could not support a revolutionary movement, especially as it was ruled autocratically, at first, by a small group of four persons, and latterly by one person only ... In 1908, this despotism decreed that the policy of suffering violence, but using none, was to be abandoned. After that, I had no doubt whatever that what was right for me and the NUWSS was to keep strictly to our principle of supporting our movement only by argument, based on common sense and experience and not by personal violence or lawbreaking of any kind.
Fawcett cut her Liberal ties in 1884: her belief in women's suffrage was unchanged but her political views did and began to resemble the views she had when she was younger. In 1883, Fawcett was made president of the Special Appeal Committee.
The South African War created an opportunity for Fawcett to share female responsibilities in British culture. She was nominated to be the leader of the commission of women who were sent to South Africa. 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". 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".
Over many years, Fawcett had backed countless campaigns, not all successful. A few campaigns she supported were "to curb child abuse by raising the age of consent, criminalising 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". Fawcett campaigned for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which reflected sexual double standards. The Acts required prostitutes to be examined for sexually transmitted diseases and if they were found to have passed disease to their clients, they were imprisoned. Women could be arrested on suspicion of being a prostitute, and be imprisoned for refusing consent to examinations which were invasive and painful. The men who infected the women were not subject to the Acts, which were repealed as a result of campaigning by Fawcett and others. She believed the double standard of morality would never become eradicated until women were represented in the public sphere of life.
Fawcett was an author usually writing as Millicent Garrett Fawcett, but as a public figure she was Mrs Henry Fawcett. Fawcett wrote three books, a co-authored book with her husband Henry and many articles, some of which were published retrospectively. Fawcett's textbook, Political Economy for Beginners, went to ten editions, sparked two novels and was reproduced in many languages. One of her 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 in Cambridge. She served on the college council and supported a controversial bid for all women to receive Cambridge degrees. Millicent was a speaker and lecturer at girls' schools, women's colleges, and adult education centres. In 1899, for her services in education, the University of St. Andrews awarded her an honorary LLD.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, the WSPU ceased all of their activities to focus on the war effort and Fawcett's NUWSS ceased political activity to support hospital services in training camps, Scotland, Russia and Serbia. This was largely because the organisation was significantly less militant than the WSPU: it contained many more pacifists and support for the war within the organisation was weaker. The WSPU was called jingoistic because 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 diverted NUWSS funds to 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 1910, Fawcett and Dr Mary Morris were invited to Eagle House near Bath. The house was owned by the Blathwayt family and it featured a garden where the leading suffragettes and suffragists had created an arboretum with a plaque for each notable activist. Fawcett joined dozens of other women who had left commemorative plaques at the house. There was no complaint from the local archaeological society when it was demolished in the 1960s.
The Fawcett Society continues to teach British women's suffrage history to younger generations and inspire young girls and women to continue the fight for gender equality while also creating campaigns like the #FawcettFlatsFriday to make strides in lessening the gender equality gap in Fawcett's name.
The Fawcett archives are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 7MGF.
The blue plaque for Fawcett, which states, "Dame Millicent Garrett FAWCETT 1847-1929 pioneer of women's suffrage lived and died here", was erected in 1954 by London County Council at 2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 6DP, London Borough of Camden, where Fawcett lived for 45 years and died.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, a statue of Fawcett by Gillian Wearing was erected in Parliament Square, London. The campaign to erect the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square, led by Caroline Criado Perez, garnered more than 84,000 signatures on an on-line petition. Fawcett's statue holds a banner quoting from a speech she gave following Emily Davison's death during the 1913 Epsom Derby, reading "Courage calls to courage everywhere". The statue was unveiled on 24 April 2018, by Britain's second female Prime Minister, Theresa May.