Who was Millicent Fawcett?

Millicent Fawcett was a leading suffragist and instrumental in securing votes for women in 1918.

Born in the seaside town of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, in 1847, she was sent to a London boarding school and took an interest in women's suffrage aged 19 after hearing a speech by radical MP John Stuart Hill.

Her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, faced an almighty struggle to become the first female doctor in the UK and this fight spurred on Fawcett in her campaign for female equality.

She married Henry Fawcett, a politician and professor of political economy at Cambridge, in 1867 and made her first speech on women's suffrage in 1868.

She became a well-known activist and speaker before becoming president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in 1897. This group joined together lots of suffrage factions, including Emmeline Pankhurst's suffragette movement.

Fawcett was an advocate for peaceful protest, using non-violent demonstrations and petitions to MPs. She believed that by demonstrating that women were intelligent, law-abiding citizens then they would be seen to be responsible enough to participate fully in politics.

In 1913, Emily Davison threw herself under King George V's horse at Epsom in a bid to draw attention to the plight of women in the UK. Shortly afterwards, Fawcett made a speech in which the line "courage calls to courage everywhere" was said.

The phrase is on the banner which Fawcett is holding on the bronze statue in Parliament Square.

Tate Britain staff look at Annie Swynnerton's portrait of suffragist Millicent Fawcett (Philip Toscano/PA)
Tate Britain staff look at Annie Swynnerton's portrait of suffragist Millicent Fawcett (Philip Toscano/PA)

In 1918, the Representation of the People act was passed, granting voting rights to some women in the UK. To qualify, you had to be over 30 years old and hold £5 of property, or have a husband who did.

In 1928, voting rights were extended to all women over 21, in line with men, and an 81-year-old Fawcett watched on in the public gallery in the House of Commons as the bill was passed.

She died one year later.

Today, the Fawcett Society, named in her honour, continues to fight for gender equality and in February this year Fawcett won a BBC Radio 4 poll for the most influential women of the past 100 years.

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