Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett was a suffragist – which is by no means to be confused with the Suffragettes, who unlike suffragists were more militant with their campaigns – she was the president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) for over twenty years. Being a Feminist, political and union leader as well as a writer she was renowned for her tireless campaign into bettering women’s lives with better education, workers’ rights and off course her hard slogged out campaign to get the vote for women. She was a very caring and intelligent woman who felt deeply for the Suffrage movement, but it is reported that Millicent felt that the likes of the Pankhurst’s were doing more harm than good in the Suffrage claim. Millicent wasn’t one for their violent and militant styles of campaigning she believed to achieve her goal of women votes that it would be won in parliament, so she took her cause directly to the MP’s. she campaigned religiously but always peacefully and in 1918 she witnessed the first woman in Britain to make her mark and cast that hard fought for vote.
Her life long’s work was rights for women whether it was in Britain of abroad, because of her value and dedication to the cause she was selected by parliament to travel to South Africa to investigate the conditions of the concentration camps where the families of the Boar War soldier were being interned, she fought for women’s civil rights and revived the interest of the women’s suffrage movement, for a woman to be given this duty was testament to how well received and respected she had become.
Throughout her life time Millicent put her name to countless campaigns and organisations that were close to her heart including to curb child abuse – which included cruelty to children within the family, criminalising incest, to end the practise to exclude women from the courtroom during sexual offense crimes, to eradicate the slave trade and to prevent child marriage. Millicent also fought for the Contagious Diseases and Double Standards acts were to be repealed as they were both highly offensive and discriminating to women, Millicent believed that “the double standard of morality would never become eradicated until women were represented in the public sphere of life” due to her campaign the acts were repealed.
Early and Family Life
Born into a very working-class family her father; Newson Garrett was from an old iron workers family, the Garretts had been in the iron industry since the seventeenth century in Suffolk. Her father didn’t have the same spirit as the rest of his family and instead of following his father into the iron works. Newson left his family home in Suffolk and moved to London where he fell in love with Louise Dunnell; daughter of an innkeeper. After they were married Newson and Louisa moved into a Pawnbrokers house – Newson later went on to own a larger Pawnbrokers a d Silversmiths. Newson after the death of his father and having the family business passed on to his brother. Newson had the Garrett thirst for success and he moved his family back to his home county of Suffolk and quite impulsively bought a Barley and Coal Merchants, Newson was a very successful businessman and was able to build a mansion on a hill behind Aldeburgh, which they called Alde House.
When Millicent was 12 and her sister Elizabeth – who was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who went on to become the first female doctor in Britain – were sent to a London Boarding school in Blackheath, it was here that Millicent’s became aware of the differences between how men were treated and women. She regularly attended speeches and sermons by people whose views were at the time classed as radical, it was due to hearing these speakers that she became more involved with the campaign, she was hugely influenced by MP John Stuart Mills who was a man with very modern opinions and regularly brought equality of women into the public eye with his speeches because of his opinions many of his fellow MPs thought him a bit too radical. But to Millicent he was the foundation stone to her lifelong views on women’s suffrage, she was immensely impressed by his support for the cause and when she was just 19 she became the secretary of the London Society of Women’s Suffrage.
Mills was a crucial man in her life he supports her causes and went on to introduce her to other women’s right activists; which included her husband-to-be; Henry Fawcett, they quickly married and had their only child a daughter called Philippa Fawcett. Unlike most married couples of the time Henry and Millicent had a genuine loving marriage, they were very real and both highly engrossed in advocating women’s rights, trade unionism and free trade principles.
When her husband Henry passed away in 1884, Millicent withdrew from public life completely. She sold their family homes, and with her daughter Philippa she moved into the home of her sister; Agnes Garrett. To pull out of society and the work she loved so much says a lot about how Henry’s death affected her and shows just how theirs really was a true love match.
On the Suffrage Campaign
In 1868 Millicent joined the London Suffrage Committee and proceeded to speak at meeting’s, it is said that she had very clear and precise speech and voice. She didn’t only voice her views at meeting she was an acclaimed writer and her “Political Economy for Beginners” was wildly accepted and successful. She also co-authored with her loving and supportive husband; Henry and the pair republished the “Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects.”
From returning to work in 1885 after the death of her husband, Henry Millicent threw herself into the course, she campaigned tirelessly and over the years right up until women got the vote in 1918.
Millicent always thought that the way to get equality for women then it had to be done peacefully and campaigning directly to those in the positions to turn the law around, her suffragists were political and peaceful, and it was known that Millicent thoroughly believed that the suffragettes; the likes of the Pankhurst’s and their violent and militant campaigns was doing more damage than good as people just saw women and those on the suffrage campaign as dangerous or deluded. Millicent’s strived to distance herself and her own campaign away from them.
Millicent’s calming and logical thought worked as by 1913 Millicent’s Suffragist; NUWSS had more than 50,000 members whereas the suffragette, WSPU had a mere 2,000. Millicent thought that that the home rule was “a blow to the greatness and prosperity of England as well as disaster and… misery and pain and shame“. And so, her main goal and fight was to get women that crucial vote.
After the death of Lydia Becker, one of the leading ladies of the suffrage campaign in the National Union of Woman’s Suffrage Societies or NUWSS, Millicent was offered the prominent role of leader which she was for over twenty years, right up until women were granted the vote. After years and all her life on the suffrage trial, going through hardships and heart aches in 1919 a year after the Representation of the People 1918 Act which gave women the vote she left the organisation and suffrage campaign and focused on writing more books.
Due to her tireless work in 1925 Millicent Garret Fawcett was awarded the Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Empire.
The Repeal of the Contagious Diseases and Double Standards Acts
Millicent thought that the Contagious Diseases Act reflected the Double Standards Act and both were harsh and discriminatory towards women. These two acts lawfully required prostitutes to undertake an invasive, painful and humiliating examination to ascertain whether they were free from sexually transmitted diseases, if found to have got one of these diseases and then passed said disease on to a client the woman would be imprisoned. Under these acts any women could legally be arrested on suspicion of being a prostitute and would be subjected to an examination any woman who refused being examined would also be imprisoned. Funnily enough though, male clients with transmittable disease weren’t subjected to the same humiliation and brutality.
NUWSS during the War
Unlike the WSPU – the Suffragettes led by the Pankhurst’s – who stopped their campaigned during the war out of respect of what was happening, the NUWSS stayed active during the war they set up an employment register so that the jobs that would have been left open dur to the war were filled and they financed women’s hospital units where they employed only women doctors and nurses who served during the war.
She was instrumental for women gaining their human right and gaining the vote, her memory will always be preserved not just in the incredible thing that she had achieved but also at the Fawcett society and in the Millicent Fawcett Hall, which was constructed in 1929 in Westminster as a place where women could gather to debate and discuss issues the hall still stands today and is owned by the Westminster School.
In 1932 the memorial monument of her husband Henry which can be seen in Westminster Abbey was edited to add that Millicent “won citizen ship for women”
With the 100-year anniversary since the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave women over the age of 30 (all women no matter their age won their fight and got the vote in 1926) a statue of Millicent Garrett Fawcett will be erected in Parliament Square and it will hold a quote from one of Millicent’s quote which she did in 1913 after the death of Emily Davison at Epsom Derby whish will say “courage calls to courage everywhere”