Millicent Garrett, the eighth of tenth children of Newson Garrett (1812–1893) and Louise Dunnell (1813–1903), was born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk on 11th June, 1847. Millicent's father, was the grandson of Richard Garrett, who founded the successful agricultural machinery works at Leiston.
"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". (1)
Millicent's father had originally ran a pawnbroker's shop in London, but by the time she was born he owned a corn and coal warehouse in Aldeburgh. The business was a great success and by the 1850s Garrett could afford to send his children away to be educated. In 1858 she was sent to a private boarding school in Blackheath.
Millicent's sister, Elizabeth Garrett, was also living in London and attempting to qualify as a doctor. and she took her to see Frederick Denison Maurice, the founder of the Christian Socialist movement. Elizabeth and her other sister, Louise, brought her into contact with people with progressive political views. Elizabeth introduced her to Emily Davies, a woman who was active in campaigning for women's rights. On one occasion, Emily told Elizabeth, "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." (2)
In July 1865 Louise took Millicent to hear a speech on women's rights made by the John Stuart Mill. the Radical MP for Westminster. He was one of the few members of the House of Commons who believed that women should have the vote. Millicent was deeply impressed by Mill and became one of his many loyal supporters. "This meeting kindled tenfold my enthusiasms for women's suffrage." (3)
In 1865 a group of women in London formed a discussion group called the Kensington Society. Nine of the eleven women who attended the early meetings were unmarried and were attempting to pursue a career in education or medicine. The group eventually included Millicent Garrett, Elizabeth Garrett, Barbara Bodichon, Jessie Boucherett, Frances Power Cobbe, Emily Davies, Francis Mary Buss, Dorothea Beale, Anne Clough, Sophia Jex-Blake, Helen Taylor and Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy. (4)
On 21st November 1865, the women discussed the topic of parliamentary reform. The question was: "Is the extension of the Parliamentary suffrage to women desirable, and if so, under what conditions?" Both Barbara Bodichon and Helen Taylor submitted a paper on the topic. The women thought it was unfair that women were not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. They therefore decided to draft a petition asking Parliament to grant women the vote.
When she was eighteen, at a party given by the radical MP, Peter Alfred Taylor, Millicent Garrett met Henry Fawcett, the MP for Brighton. Fawcett, who had been blinded in a shooting accident in 1857, had been expected to marry Millicent's older sister Elizabeth, but in 1865 she decided to concentrate her efforts on becoming a doctor. Henry and Millicent became close friends and even though she was warned against marrying a disabled man, fourteen years her senior, the couple was married on 23rd April 1867. According to Henry, the marriage was based, in Fawcett's words, on "perfect intellectual sympathy" (5)
In 1867 William Gladstone became leader of the Liberal Party. Gladstone made it clear that he was in favour of increasing the number of people who could vote. Although the Conservative Party had opposed previous attempts to introduce parliamentary reform, the new government were now sympathetic to the idea. The Conservatives knew that if the Liberals returned to power, Gladstone was certain to try again. Benjamin Disraeli "feared that merely negative and confrontational responses to the new forces in the political nation would drive them into the arms of the Liberals and promote further radicalism" and decided that the Conservative Party had to change its policy on parliamentary reform. (6)
On 20th May 1867, John Stuart Mill, proposed that women should be granted the same rights as men. "We talk of political revolutions, but we do not sufficiently attend to the fact that there has taken place around us a silent domestic revolution: women and men are, for the first time in history, really each other's companions... when men and women are really companions, if women are frivolous men will be frivolous... the two sexes must rise or sink together." (7)
During the debate on the issue, Edward Kent Karslake, the Conservative MP for Colchester, said in the debate that the main reason he opposed the measure was that he had not met one woman in Essex who agreed with women's suffrage. Lydia Becker, Helen Taylor and Frances Power Cobbe, decided to take up this challenge and devised the idea of collecting signatures in Colchester for a petition that Karslake could then present to parliament. They found 129 women resident in the town willing to sign the petition and on 25th July, 1867, Karslake presented the list to parliament. Despite this petition the Mill amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73. Gladstone voted against the amendment. (8)
On 4th April 1868, Millicent Fawcett gave birth to Philippa Fawcett. According to her biographer, Rita McWilliams Tullberg: "Philippa Fawcett's political and intellectual inheritance was formidable. Both her parents were active in the movement for the higher education of women. Not yet two years old, she reportedly toddled among the group of senior academics and their wives meeting in her parents' drawing-room in Cambridge in 1869 to plan the scheme of lectures for women that led, in time, to the foundation of Newnham College." (9)
Millicent Fawcett gave her full support to her husband's political and academic career. She also wrote articles on women's education and women's suffrage. Her short textbook, Political Economy for Beginners (1870), ran into ten editions and was translated into many languages. She also co-authored a book with her husband, Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects (1872). Millicent had been inspired by the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and John Mill. (10)
Millicent Fawcett went on speaking tours on behalf of the women's movement. Her most popular lecture, Electoral Disabilities of Women attempted to deal with all the main objections to women having the vote. For example: (i) Women are sufficiently represented already by men, and their interests have always been jealously protected by the legislature. (ii) A woman is so easily influenced that if she had a vote it would practically have the same effect as giving two votes to her nearest male relation, or to her favourite clergyman. (iii) Women are so obstinate that if they had votes endless family discord would ensue. (iv) The ideal of domestic life is a miniature despotism - one supreme head, to whom all the other members of the family are subject. This ideal would be destroyed if the equality of women with men were recognised by extending the suffrage to women. (v) Women are intellectually inferior to men. (11)
In the 1860s the very idea of a woman standing on a public platform was considered shocking. She found the experience difficult and although she always maintained an air of calm while on the platform, she professed not to enjoy this aspect of the work. Apparently she was so nervous before a speech that she was often physically ill. In an effort to cope with this problem she refused to speak either more than once a day or more than four times a week. (12)
Millicent Fawcett received a great deal of criticism for her public speaking. One man wrote: "I wish to observe that if you purchase a Bible and carefully read its teaching you will arrive at a better conclusion as to the intentions of the Great Creator as to the relation which should exist between the sexes than you will by reading the writings of J.S. Mill who seems to be the chief apostle of the woman suffrage question. I can only say that in my estimation no Christian woman who properly considered her sex and the Divine intention respecting her would take any direct part in politics." (13)
The 1880 General Election was won by William Gladstone and the Liberal Party that had successfully obtained 352 seats with 54.7% of the vote. Queen Victoria and Gladstone were in constant conflict during his premiership. She often wrote to him complaining about his progressive policies. Victoria was especially opposed to parliamentary reform. In November, 1880, Queen Victoria she told him that he should be careful about making statements about future political policy: "The Queen is extremely anxious to point out to Mr. Gladstone the immense importance of the utmost caution on the part of all the Ministers but especially of himself, at the coming dinner in the City. There is such danger in every direction that a word too much might do irreparable mischief." (14)
In 1884 Gladstone introduced his proposals that would give working class males the same voting rights as those living in the boroughs. Gladstone told the House of Commons "that every Reform Bill had improved the House as a Representative Assembly". When opponents of the proposed bill cried "No, no!" Gladstone "insisted that whatever might be the effect on the House from some points of view, it was past doubt that the two Reform Acts had made the House far more adequate to express the wants and wishes of the nation as a whole". He added that when the House of Lords had blocked the Liberal's 1866 Reform Bill the following year "the Conservatives found it absolutely necessary to deal with the question, and so it would be again". (15)
Left-wing members of the Liberal Party, such as James Stuart, urged Gladstone to give the vote to women. Stuart wrote to Gladstone's daughter, Mary Gladstone Drew: "To make women more independent of men is, I am convinced, one of the great fundamental means of bringing about justice, morality, and happiness both for married and unmarried men and women. If all Parliament were like the three men you mention, would there be no need for women's votes? Yes, I think there would. There is only one perfectly just, perfectly understanding Being - and that is God.... No man is all-wise enough to select rightly - it is the people's voice thrust upon us, not elicited by us, that guides us rightly." (16)
Millicent Fawcett, on behalf of other female members of the Liberal Party, wrote a letter to Gladstone about this issue: "We write on behalf of more than a hundred women of liberal opinions, whose names we index, who are ready and anxious to take part in a deputation to you, to lay before you their strong conviction of the justice and propriety of granting some representation to women. Believing our own claim to be not only reasonable, but also in strict accord with the principle of your Bill, we are persuaded that if you are able to give any recognition to it, there is no act of your honourable career which will in the future be deemed more consistent with a truly liberal statesmanship." (17)
The following month, Edward Walter Hamilton, Gladstone's private secretary replied. "He (William Gladstone) is most unwilling to cause disappointment to yourself & your friends, whose title to be heard he fully recognises; and he can assure you that the difficulty of complying with a request so referred does not proceed from any want of appreciating the importance of your representation, or of the question itself. His fear is that any attempt to enlarge by material changes the provisions of the Franchise Bill now before Parliament might endanger the whole measure. For this reason, as well as on account of his physical inability at the present time to add to his engagements, he is afraid he must ask to be excused from acceding to your wishes." (18)
A total of 79 Liberal MPs asked Gladstone to recognize the claim of women's householders to the vote. Gladstone replied that if votes for women was included Parliament would reject the proposed bill: "The question with what subjects... we can afford to deal in and by the Franchise Bill is a question in regard to which the undivided responsibility rests with the Government, and cannot be devolved by them upon any section, however respected , of the House of Commons. They have introduced into the Bill as much as, in their opinion, it can safely carry." (19)
Gladstone authorized his Chief Whip to tell Liberal MPs that if the votes-for-women amendment were carried the bill would be dropped and the government would resign. He explained that "I am myself not strongly opposed to every form and degree of the proposal, but I think that if put into the Bill it would give the House of Lords a case for postponing it and I know not how to incur such a risk." (20)
Henry Fawcett was furious with Gladstone over this issue. As Fran Abrams, the author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), has pointed out: "As a member of a government which opposed the measure he could not vote for it; as a keen supporter of reform he could not vote against it. In the end he abstained. The measure was roundly defeated but Gladstone was furious with Henry, and wrote to him saying his action had been tantamount to resignation. Henry was reprieved only because the Prime Minister wanted to avoid the bad publicity which would inevitably accompany a ministerial sacking." (21)
The House of Lords voted the Gladstone's Reform Bill down by 205 votes to 146. Eventually, Gladstone reached an agreement with the Lords. This time the Conservative members agreed to pass Gladstone's proposals in return for the promise that it would be followed by a Redistribution Bill. Gladstone accepted their terms and the 1884 Reform Act was allowed to become law. This measure gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs - adult male householders and £10 lodgers - and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections. However, it did not give votes to women. (22)
Fawcett, postmaster-general in the government, considered resigning over Gladstone's policies and high-handed methods and unwillingness to try and gain votes for women. However, he was taken ill in October. A cold developed into pneumonia with coronary complications, and Fawcett died at his Cambridge home on 6th November 1884. "Something approaching national mourning followed, for Fawcett was said to have been the most popular man in England after Gladstone." (23)
Millicent Fawcett was a widow at thirty-seven. There is no evidence that she ever considered remarriage. She gave up their two houses and moved to Bloomsbury with Philippa Fawcett, her 16 year-old daughter and her favourite sister, Agnes Garrett. Fawcett continued to campaign for the vote. After the death of Lydia Becker, she emerged as the leader of the struggle for votes for women. (24)
In 1886, women in favour of women's suffrage in the party decided to form the Women's Liberal Federation. This group had no success in persuading the male leadership of the Liberal Party in parliament to support legislation. Suffragists within the party doubted the commitment of the leader of the organisation, Rosalind Howard, Countess of Carlisle, to the cause and in 1887 a group of women, including Millicent Fawcett, Eva Maclaren, Frances Balfour and Marie Corbett, formed the Liberal Women's Suffrage Society. (25)
Millicent Fawcett believed that it was important that women campaigned for a wide variety of causes. This included helping Josephine Butler in her campaign against the white slave traffic. Millicent Fawcett also gave support to Clementina Black and her attempts to persuade the government to help protect low paid women workers. Another cause she favoured was the work of the Women's Trade Union League. She also wrote letters to newspapers protesting about government plans to restrict women's work in industry. (26)
Millicent also became involved with the Personal Rights Association, which took an active role in exposing men who preyed on vulnerable young women. In 1890 Millicent Fawcett took part in a physical assault on an army major who had been pestering a servant of a friend of hers. According to William Stead: "They threw flour over his waxed moustache and in his eyes and down the back of his neck. They pinned a paper on his back, and made him the derision of a crowded street... in the sequel he was turned out of a club, and cut by a few lady friends - among them a young lady of some means to whom he was engaged at the time when he planned to ruin the country lass. Mrs Fawcett had no pity; she would have cashiered him if she could." (27)
By the 1890s there were seventeen individual groups that were advocating women's suffrage. This included the London Society for Women's Suffrage, Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage, Liberal Women's Suffrage Society and the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. On 14th October 1897, these groups joined together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Millicent Fawcett was elected as president. Other members of the executive committee included Marie Corbett, Chrystal Macmillan, Maude Royden and Eleanor Rathbone. (28)
The NUWSS held public meetings, organised petitions, wrote letters to politicians, published newspapers and distributed free literature. The main demand was for the vote on the same terms "as it is, or may be" granted to men. It was thought that this proposal would be "more likely to find support than a broader measure that would put women into the electoral majority, and it might nevertheless play the part of the thin end of the wedge." Its message was directed at the Liberal Party, who it was hoped would win the next election. However, as one historian pointed out, the NUWSS's achilles heel was that it remained "irrationally optimistic about the Liberal Party". (29)
In October 1900, Emily Hobhouse, a member of the NUWSS, formed the Relief Fund for South African Women and Children. An organisation set up: "To feed, clothe, harbour and save women and children - Boer, English and other - who were left destitute and ragged as a result of the destruction of property, the eviction of families or other incidents resulting from the military operations". Except for members of the Society of Friends, very few people were willing to contribute to this fund. (30)
Hobhouse arrived in South Africa on 27th December, 1900. Hobhouse argued that Kitchener’s "Scorched Earth" policy included the systematic destruction of crops and slaughtering of livestock, the burning down of homesteads and farms, and the poisoning of wells and salting of fields - to prevent the Boers from resupplying from a home base. Civilians were then forcibly moved into the concentration camps. Although this tactic had been used by Spain (Ten Years' War) and the United States (Philippine-American War), it was the first time that a whole nation had been systematically targeted. She pointed this out in a report that she sent to the government led by Robert Cecil, the Marquess of Salisbury. (31)
When she returned to England, Emily Hobhouse campaigned against the British Army's scorched earth and concentration camp policy. William St John Fremantle Brodrick, the Secretary of State for War argued that the interned Boers were "contented and comfortable" and stated that everything possible was being done to ensure satisfactory conditions in the camps. David Lloyd George took up the case in the House of Commons and accused the government of "a policy of extermination" directed against the Boer population. (32)
In August, 1901, the British government asked Millicent Garrett Fawcett to visit South Africa in order to investigate Hobhouse's complaints. While the Fawcett Commission was carrying out the investigation, the government published its own report. According to the New York Times: “The War Office has issued a four-hundred-page Blue Book of the official reports from medical and other officers on the conditions in the concentration camps in South Africa. The general drift of the report attributes the high mortality in these camps to the dirty habits of the Boers, their ignorance and prejudices, their recourse to quackery, and their suspicious avoidance of the British hospitals and doctors.” (33)
Janet Howarth has pointed out that "Never before had women been charged with such a responsible mission in wartime". The Fawcett Commission confirmed almost everything that Hobhouse had reported. After the war a report concluded that 27,927 Boers had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps. In all, about one in four of the Boer inmates, mostly children, died. (34)
In the 1906 General Election the Liberal Party won 399 seats and gave them a large majority over the Conservative Party (156) and the Labour Party (29). Fawcett hoped that Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the new prime minister, and his Liberal government, would give women the vote. However, several Liberal MPs were strongly against this. It was pointed out that there were a million more adult women than men in Britain. It was suggested that women would vote not as citizens but as women and would "swamp men with their votes". (35)
Campbell-Bannerman gave his personal support to Millicent Fawcett, though he warned her that he could not persuade his colleagues to support the legislation that would make their aspiration a reality. Despite the unwillingness of the Liberal government to introduce legislation, Fawcett remained committed to the use of constitutional methods to gain votes for women. (36)
Fawcett, like other members of the NUWSS, feared that the militant actions of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) would alienate potential supporters of women's suffrage. However, Fawcett admired the courage of the suffragettes and was restrained in her criticism of the WSPU. In 1906 she joined with Lilias Ashworth Hallett in organizing the banquet at the Savoy to celebrate the release from Holloway Prison of WSPU prisoners. (37)
Millicent Fawcett's sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her daughter, Louisa Garrett Anderson, joined the WSPU. During this period she was willing to defend the actions of the suffragettes. She wrote to The Times, hoping "the more old-fashioned suffragists" would stand by the suffragettes, since in her opinion, "far from having injured the movement, they have done more during the last twelve months to bring it within the region of practical politics than we have been able to accomplish in the same number of years." (38)
Henry Campbell-Bannerman resigned in April 1908 and was replaced by Herbert Asquith. He had always been hostile to the idea of women's suffrage and made it clear that his government would not introduce legislation to give women the vote. "He refused to see or hear anyone connected with the suffrage societies, and pretended to be unable to distinguish between those who were attacking him and his Party and those who were merely pressing their cause." (39)
In 1909 David Lloyd George announced what became known as the People's Budget. This included increases in taxation. Whereas people on lower incomes were to pay 9d. in the pound, those on annual incomes of over £3,000 had to pay 1s. 2d. in the pound. Lloyd George also introduced a new supertax of 6d. in the pound for those earning £5000 a year. Other measures included an increase in death duties on the estates of the rich and heavy taxes on profits gained from the ownership and sale of property. Other innovations in Lloyd George's budget included labour exchanges and a children's allowance on income tax. (40)
The Conservative Party had a large majority in the House of Lords, strongly objected to this attempt to redistribute wealth, and made it clear that they intended to block these proposals. Lloyd George reacted by touring the country making speeches in working-class areas on behalf of the budget and portraying the nobility as men who were using their privileged position to stop the poor from receiving their old age pensions. After a long struggle with the House of Lords, Lloyd George finally got his budget through parliament. (41)
In January 1910, Asquith called a general election in order to obtain a new mandate. However, the Liberals lost votes and was forced to rely on the support of the 42 Labour Party MPs to govern. Henry Brailsford, a member of the Men's League For Women's Suffrage wrote to Millicent Fawcett, suggesting that he should attempt to establish a Conciliation Committee for Women's Suffrage. "My idea is that it should undertake the necessary diplomatic work of promoting an early settlement". (42)
Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst both agreed to the idea and the WSPU declared a truce in which all militant activities would cease until the fate of the Conciliation Bill was clear. A Conciliation Committee, composed of 36 MPs (25 Liberals, 17 Conservatives, 6 Labour and 6 Irish Nationalists) all in favour of some sort of women's enfranchisement, was formed and drafted a Bill which would have enfranchised only a million women but which would, they hoped, gain the support of all but the most dedicated anti-suffragists. (43) Fawcett wrote that "personally many suffragists would prefer a less restricted measure, but the immense importance and gain to our movement is getting the most effective of all the existing franchises thrown upon to woman cannot be exaggerated." (44)
The Conciliation Bill was designed to conciliate the suffragist movement by giving a limited number of women the vote, according to their property holdings and marital status. After a two-day debate in July 1910, the Conciliation Bill was carried by 109 votes and it was agreed to send it away to be amended by a House of Commons committee. However, before they completed the task, Asquith called another election in order to get a clear majority. However, the result was very similar and Asquith still had to rely on the support of the Labour Party to govern the country. (45)
A new Conciliation Bill was passed by the House of Commons on 5th May 1911 with a majority of 167. The main opposition came from Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, who saw it as being "anti-democratic". He argued "Of the 18,000 women voters it is calculated that 90,000 are working women, earning their living. What about the other half? The basic principle of the Bill is to deny votes to those who are upon the whole the best of their sex. We are asked by the Bill to defend the proposition that a spinster of means living in the interest of man-made capital is to have a vote, and the working man's wife is to be denied a vote even if she is a wage-earner and a wife." (46)
David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was officially in favour of woman's suffrage. However, he had told his close associates, such as Charles Masterman, the Liberal MP in West Ham North: "He (David Lloyd George) was very much disturbed about the Conciliation Bill, of which he highly disapproved although he is a universal suffragist... We had promised a week (or more) for its full discussion. Again and again he cursed that promise. He could not see how we could get out of it, yet he regarded it as fatal (if passed)." (47)
Lloyd George was convinced that the chief effect of the Bill, if it became law, would be to hand more votes to the Conservative Party. During the debate on the Conciliation Bill he stated that justice and political necessity argued against enfranchising women of property but denying the vote to the working class. The following day Herbert Asquith announced that in the next session of Parliament he would introduce a Bill to enfranchise the four million men currently excluded from voting and suggested it could be amended to include women. Paul Foot has pointed out that as the Tories were against universal suffrage, the new Bill "smashed the fragile alliance between pro-suffrage Liberals and Tories that had been built on the Conciliation Bill." (48)
Millicent Fawcett still believed in the good faith of the Asquith government. However, the WSPU, reacted very differently: "Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst had invested a good deal of capital in the Conciliation Bill and had prepared themselves for the triumph which a women-only bill would entail. A general reform bill would have deprived them of some, at least, of the glory, for even though it seemed likely to give the vote to far more women, this was incidental to its main purpose." (49)
Christabel Pankhurst wrote in Votes for Women that Lloyd George's proposal to give votes to seven million instead of one million women was, she said, intended "not, as he professes, to secure to women a larger measure of enfranchisement but to prevent women from having the vote at all" because it would be impossible to get the legislation passed by Parliament. (50)
On 21st November, the WSPU carried out an "official" window smash along Whitehall and Fleet Street. This involved the offices of the Daily Mail and the Daily News and the official residences or homes of leading Liberal politicians, Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Edward Grey, John Burns and Lewis Harcourt. It was reported that "160 suffragettes were arrested, but all except those charged with window-breaking or assault were discharged." (51)
The following month Millicent Fawcett wrote to her sister, Elizabeth Garrett: "We have the best chance of Women's Suffrage next session that we have ever had, by far, if it is not destroyed by disgusting masses of people by revolutionary violence." Elizabeth agreed and replied: "I am quite with you about the WSPU. I think they are quite wrong. I wrote to Miss Pankhurst... I have now told her I can go no more with them." (52)
Henry Brailsford went to see the Emmeline Pankhurst and asked her to control her members in order to get the legislation passed by Parliament. She replied "I wish I had never heard of that abominable Conciliation Bill!" and Christabel Pankhurst called for more militant actions. The Conciliation Bill was debated in March 1912, and was defeated by 14 votes. Asquith claimed that the reason why his government did not back the issue was because they were committed to a full franchise reform bill. However, he never kept his promise and a new bill never appeared before Parliament. (53)
Ray Strachey, the author of The Cause: A History of the Women's Movement in Great Britain (1928) pointed out that Millicent Fawcett now lost complete confidence in the Liberal Party to give women the vote: "Nothing more was ever hoped for the Liberal Party. The only prospect of successful lay in a change of Government, and to this end the women now devoted their energies." (54)
In early 1912 Millicent Fawcett and the NUWSS took the decision to form an electoral alliance with the growing Labour Party, as the only political party which really supported women's suffrage. "It soon strengthened that alliance, setting up a special Election Fighting Fund in May-June so that the NUWSS could help Labour candidates more effectively at by-elections." (55)
In March 1912 the WSPU organised a new campaign that involved the large-scale smashing of shop-windows. Her niece, Louisa Garrett Anderson, was arrested during this demonstration and was sentenced to six weeks in Holloway Prison. Millicent Fawcett was upset when she heard the news and wrote to her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: "I am in hopes she will take her punishment wisely, that the enforced solitude will help her to see more in focus than she always does." (56)
In 1913 the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) nearly had 100,000 members. Katherine Harley, a senior figure in the NUWSS, suggested holding a Woman's Suffrage Pilgrimage in order to show Parliament how many women wanted the vote. According to Lisa Tickner, the author of The Spectacle of Women (1987) argued: "A pilgrimage refused the thrill attendant on women's militancy, no matter how strongly the militancy was denounced, but it also refused the glamour of an orchestrated spectacle." (57)
Members of the NUWSS set off on 18th June, 1913. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "Pilgrims were urged to wear a uniform, a concept always close to Katherine Harley's heart. It was suggested that pilgrims should wear white, grey, black, or navy blue coats and skirts or dresses. Blouses were either to match the skirt or to be white. Hats were to be simple, and only black, white, grey, or navy blue. For 3d, headquarters supplied a compulsory raffia badge, a cockle shell, the traditional symbol of pilgrimage, to be worn pinned to the hat. Also available were a red, white and green shoulder sash, a haversack, made of bright red waterproof cloth edged with green with white lettering spelling out the route travelled, and umbrellas in green or white, or red cotton covers to co-ordinate civilian umbrellas." (58)
Members of the NUWSS publicized the Women's Pilgrimage in local newspapers. Helen Hoare, for example, sent a letter to The East Grinstead Observer: "It is no doubt true that some men were formerly inclined to support it have been alienated by the doings of the militant party. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society (that is the law-abiding, non-militant party), in order to show the world that it is alive, and to encourage its members in a long and disheartening struggle, has organised a great pilgrimage from all parts of England to London." (59)
Millicent Fawcett, now aged 66 years old, took a very active part in the pilgrimage, walking with the East Anglican pilgrims between speaking engagements and the other routes. An estimated 50,000 women reached Hyde Park in London on 26th July. Fawcett was the main speaker and she made it clear that she dissociated herself with the tactics of the Women Social & Political Union. (60)
As The Times newspaper pointed out, the march was part of a campaign against the violent methods being used by the WSPU: "On Saturday the pilgrimage of the law abiding advocates of votes for women ended in a great gathering in Hyde Park attended by some 50,000 persons. The proceedings were quite orderly and devoid of any untoward incident. The proceedings, indeed, were as much a demonstration against militancy as one in favour of women's suffrage. Many bitter things were said of the militant women." (61)
Millicent Fawcett wrote to Herbert Asquith "on behalf of the immense meetings which assembled in Hyde Park on Saturday and voted with practical unanimity in favour of a Government measure." (62) Asquith replied that the demonstration had "a special claim" on his consideration and stood "upon another footing from similar demands proceeding from other quarters where a different method and spirit is predominant." A meeting was held and afterwards commented that she felt that there had been "a notable improvement in his attitude and language". (63)
With growing political tension growing between Britain and Germany, Millicent Fawcett issued a statement on behalf of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. "We, the women of the world, view with apprehension and dismay the present situation in Europe, which threatens to involve one continent, if not the whole world, in the disasters and horrors of war... We women of twenty-six countries, having bonded ourselves together in the International Woman Suffrage Alliance with the object of obtaining the political means of sharing with men the power which shapes the fate of nations, appeal to you to leave untried no method of conciliation or arbitration for arranging international differences to avert deluging half the civilised world in blood." (64)
Two days after the British government declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914, the NUWSS declared that it was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. That night Millicent Fawcett chaired a meeting against the war. Speakers included Helena Swanwick, Olive Schreiner, Mary Macarthur, Mabel Stobart and Elizabeth Cadbury. Fawcett said there were millions of women who thought that was was a "crime against society". She added: "A way must be found out of the tangle... In the first place they should try and avoid bitterness of national feeling. They should on the one hand keep down panic and on the other the war fever and Jingo feeling." (65)
Although Fawcett supported the war effort she refused to become involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces. This WSPU took a different view to the war. It was a spent force with very few active members. According to Martin Pugh, the WSPU were aware "that their campaign had been no more successful in winning the vote than that of the non-militants whom they so freely derided". (66)
The WSPU carried out secret negotiations with the government and on the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort. Christabel Pankhurst, arrived back in England after living in exile in Paris. She told the press: "I feel that my duty lies in England now, and I have come back. The British citizenship for which we suffragettes have been fighting is now in jeopardy." (67)
After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must Work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men. She told the audience: "What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!". (68)
Despite pressure from some members of the NUWSS, Fawcett refused to argue against the First World War. At a Council meeting of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies held in February 1915, Fawcett attacked the peace efforts of people like Mary Sheepshanks. Fawcett argued that until the German armies had been driven out of France and Belgium: "I believe it is akin to treason to talk of peace." Her biographer, Ray Strachey, argued: "She stood like a rock in their path, opposing herself with all the great weight of her personal popularity and prestige to their use of the machinery and name of the union." (69)
After a stormy executive meeting in Buxton in 1915 all the officers of the NUWSS (except the Treasurer) and ten members of the National Executive resigned over the decision not to support the Women's Peace Congress at the Hague. This included Chrystal Macmillan, Margaret Ashton, Kathleen Courtney, Catherine Marshall, Eleanor Rathbone and Maude Royden. "Wounding language was used on both sides. Mrs Fawcett did not normally turn disagreements among friends into quarrels but this one she experienced as a personal betrayal. It became the only episode in her life that she wished to forget". (70)
Kathleen Courtney wrote when she resigned: "I feel strongly that the most important thing at the present moment is to work, if possible on international lines for the right sort of peace settlement after the war. If I could have done this through the National Union, I need hardly say how infinitely I would have preferred it and for the sake of doing so I would gladly have sacrificed a good deal. But the Council made it quite clear that they did not wish the union to work in that way." According to Elizabeth Crawford: "Mrs Fawcett afterwards felt particularly bitter towards Kathleen Courtney, whom she felt had been intentionally and personally wounding, and refused to effect any reconciliation, relying, as she said, on time to erase the memory of this difficult period." (71)
In May 1916 Millicent Fawcett wrote to Herbert Asquith that women deserved the vote for their war efforts. In August he told the House of Commons that he had now changed his mind and that he intended to introduce legislation that would give women the vote. On 28th March, 1917, the House of Commons voted 341 to 62 that women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates of British universities. MPs rejected the idea of granting the vote to women on the same terms as men. Lilian Lenton, who had played an important role in the militant campaign later recalled: "Personally, I didn't vote for a long time, because I hadn't either a husband or furniture, although I was over 30." (72)
The Qualification of Women Act was passed in February, 1918. The Manchester Guardian reported: "The Representation of the People Bill, which doubles the electorate, giving the Parliamentary vote to about six million women and placing soldiers and sailors over 19 on the register (with a proxy vote for those on service abroad), simplifies the registration system, greatly reduces the cost of elections, and provides that they shall all take place on one day, and by a redistribution of seats tends to give a vote the same value everywhere, passed both Houses yesterday and received the Royal assent." (73)
The First World War ended in November 1918. Millicent Fawcett lost "no fewer than twenty-nine members of her extended family, including two nephews" in the war. Whereas the WSPU "were prepared to accept votes for women on any terms the government had to offer... the NUWSS continued to press its old case for equality with men". She was urged to stand for Parliament in the 1918 General Election, but aged seventy-one, she decided to retire from politics. (74)
On the resignation of Millicent Fawcett in 1919, Eleanor Rathbone became president of the NUWSS. A new organisation called the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship was established. Later that year Rathbone persuaded the organization to accept a six point reform programme. (i) Equal pay for equal work, involving an open field for women in industry and the professions. (ii) An equal standard of sex morals as between men and women, involving a reform of the existing divorce law which condoned adultery by the husband, as well as reform of the laws dealing with solicitation and prostitution. (iii) The introduction of legislation to provide pensions for civilian widows with dependent children. (iv) The equalization of the franchise and the return to Parliament of women candidates pledged to the equality programme. (v) The legal recognition of mothers as equal guardians with fathers of their children. (vi) The opening of the legal profession and the magistracy to women. (75)
Millicent Fawcett did not completely retire from politics. She became vice-president of the League of Nations Union. She also continued to work on behalf of women's rights and participated in its campaigns to open the legal profession and the civil service to women and for equal access for women to divorce. Other issues she cared a great deal about was to open Cambridge University degrees to women. She also wrote several books including The Women's Victory and After (1920) and What I Remember (1924). Fawcett was accused of lacking in generosity towards those who identified feminism with the cause of peace, omitting the names of those members of the NUWSS who resigned in February 1915. (76)
A bill was introduced in March 1928 to give women the vote on the same terms as men. There was little opposition in Parliament to the bill and it became law on 2nd July 1928. As a result, all women over the age of 21 could now vote in elections. Many of the women who had fought for this right were now dead, including Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy, Constance Lytton and Emmeline Pankhurst.
Millicent Fawcett had the pleasure of attending Parliament to see the vote take place. That night she wrote in her diary that she was reminded of seeing John Stuart Mill making a speech in the House of Commons: "It is almost exactly 61 years ago since I heard John Stuart Mill introduce his suffrage amendment to the Reform Bill on May 20th, 1867. So I have had extraordinary good luck in having seen the struggle from the beginning." (77)
Millicent Garrett Fawcett died after a short illness on 5th August 1929. Fran Abrams has argued: "Millicent Garrett Fawcett did more than any other individual to win the vote for women. Unquestionably she worked longer and more consistently at the heart of the struggle than anyone else involved. When Emmeline Pankhurst first joined the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage in 1880, Millicent had already been campaigning steadily for more than a decade. When Emmeline was on the verge of ditching women in favour of votes for soldiers in 1917, Millicent was contemplating the progress made during more than a year of wartime ministerial lobbying. Yet it was Emmeline, not Millicent, who was honoured with a statue outside the Houses of Parliament. It was Emmeline, not Millicent, who entered the public consciousness as the architect of votes for women. In some respects, it is fitting that this should be so. For as leader of the non-militant suffragists, Millicent Fawcett was never a woman who demanded public adulation. Her memorial, in contrast to Emmeline's, stands in the calm shade of Westminster Abbey. What she lacked in glamour she amply made up in understated efficiency." (78)
Over the years there has been a campaign to get more public recognition of Millicent Garrett Fawcett's achievements. On 10th May, 2016 a letter, signed by nearly 50 well-known women, appeared in The Daily Telegraph, that stated: "In Parliament Square, outside the home of one of the world’s oldest democracies, stand eleven statues. Not a single one of these statues is of a woman." The letter goes on to state that "In two years time, it will be nearly 100 years since women won the argument that our sex does not render us incapable of participating in the running of our country. Nearly a century has gone by, and yet Parliament Square continues to tell us that democracy is a man’s world. This needs to change - and now is the time to start working on that. The women who fought for our rights - the suffragettes - deserve to be commemorated in front of the building they were locked out of for centuries." (79)
In fact, the suffragettes were recognised when a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst was erected in Victoria Tower Gardens, close to the Sovereign’s Entrance of the Houses of Parliament. It was unveiled in 1930 and in 1958, a bronze relief commemorating Christabel Pankhurst was added. It is in fact, the suffragists, who numbered over 100,000, compared to the 2,000 suffragettes, who have not been recognised.
On 2nd April 2017 it was announced that a statue of Millicent Garrett Fawcett was to be erected in Parliament Square outside the Palace of Westminster, and will become the first statue of a woman to appear there. Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which is named in Millicent’s honour and campaigns for greater representation of women in public life, said: "Her contribution was great but she has been overlooked and unrecognised until now. By honouring her we also honour the wider suffrage movement.”
The statue of Millicent Garrett Fawcett was unveiled on 24th April 2018 It joined the eleven men in Parliament Square. This includes statues of Robert Peel, George Canning, Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, Benjamin Disraeli, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. Seven men who during their political careers did what they could to stop women getting the vote.
Emily Davies, the story runs, went to stay with the Garretts at Aldburgh, and at night the two friends sat talking together by Elizabeth Garrett's bedroom fire. Millicent Garrett, then quite a small girl, sat nearby on a stool, listening, but saying nothing. After going over all the great causes they saw about them, and in particular the women's cause, to which they were burning to devote their lives, Emily summed the matter up. "Well, Elizabeth," she said, "it's 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," she added, "we must see about getting the vote." And then she turned to the little girl who was still sitting quietly on her stool and said, "You are younger than we are, Millie, so you must attend to that."
Men were believed to dislike "blue-stockings", so that parents thought the serious education of their daughters superfluous: deportment, music and a little French would see them through. 'To learn arithmetic will not help my daughter to find a husband was a common point of view. A governess at home, for a short period, was the usual fate of the girls. Their brothers might go to public schools and university but home was considered the right place for their sisters. Some parents sent their daughters to a finishing school, but good schools for girls did not exist. Their teachers were untrained and ill-educated. No public examinations accepted female candidates.
To his daughters, Newson Garrett opened up the windows of the world by sending them to boarding school… He took trouble in the choice of school. Finally it was decided that Louie and Elizabeth should go on to an 'Academy for the Daughters of Gentlemen' at Blackheath, kept by Miss Browning and her sister. After two years at Blackheath, Louie and Elizabeth left, their education considered to be at an end.
From the point of view of children, Lewes, where we settled, was a delightful place to live in. It was impossible to forget the old rambling house in the High Street and the great green Downs rising so steeply above the little town, and the wide meadows below. It had not the same appeal for my mother. Lewes was a Conservative town in those days, narrow in outlook both socially and religiously, and unfortunately not interested in education. My mother approved neither of the old-fashioned private schools nor of half-taught governesses. She tried hard to get a High School for Girls established in Lewes but was met with opposition on all sides. At Brighton there was such a school, so, in 1885, she decided to move there.
Mother forecast the time when every boy or girl would be trained for his or her vocation without regard to sex, so that it would seem equally natural to train a boy for cooking and housework and a girl for carpentry as vice versa, and the only unnatural thing would be to refuse training to any of one's children, or to consider the domestic arts as "menial work".
Seeing you have been on a public platform again and have made some clever remarks about a certain M.P and a special correspondent of the New York Herald being at the meeting I wish to observe that if you purchase a Bible and carefully read its teaching you will arrive at a better conclusion as to the intentions of the Great Creator as to the relation which should exist between the sexes than you will by reading the writings of J.S. Mill who seems to be the chief apostle of the woman suffrage question. I can only say that in my estimation no Christian woman who properly considered her sex and the Divine intention respecting her would take any direct part in politics nor would she be "spouting" on public platforms.
Depend on it if you wish to live a happy and useful life, you can only do so by keeping in the sphere God intended you to occupy and performing well your own duties Believe me the sincere well wisher of yourself and sex.
We write on behalf of more than a hundred women of liberal opinions, whose names we index, who are ready and anxious to take part in a deputation to you, to lay before you their strong conviction of the justice and propriety of granting some representation to women. Believing our own claim to be not only reasonable, but also in strict accord with the principle of your Bill, we are persuaded that if you are able to give any recognition to it, there is no act of your honourable career which will in the future be deemed more consistent with a truly liberal statesmanship.
We are, dear Mr Gladstone, your faithful & earnest friends,
He (William Gladstone) is most unwilling to cause disappointment to yourself & your friends, whose title to be heard he fully recognises; and he can assure you that the difficulty of complying with a request so referred does not proceed from any want of appreciating the importance of your representation, or of the question itself. His fear is that any attempt to enlarge by material changes the provisions of the Franchise Bill now before Parliament might endanger the whole measure. For this reason, as well as on account of his physical inability at the present time to add to his engagements, he is afraid he must ask to be excused from acceding to your wishes.
In 1857 the Divorce Act was passed, and, as is well known, set up by law a different moral standard for men and women. Under this Act, which is still in force, a man can obtain the dissolution of the marriage if he can prove one act of infidelity on the part of his wife; but a woman cannot get her marriage dissolved unless she can prove that her husband has been guilty both of infidelity and cruelty.
Before the bedroom fire, the girls were brushing their hair. Emily was twenty-nine, Elizabeth twenty-three and Millicent thirteen. As they brushed, they debated. "Women can get nowhere", said Emily, "unless they are as well educated as men. I shall open the universities." "Yes," agreed Elizabeth. "We need education but we need an income too and we can't earn that without training and a profession. I shall start women in medicine. But what shall we do with Milly?" They agreed that she should get the parliamentary vote for women.
They threw flour over his waxed moustache and in his eyes and down the back of his neck. They pinned a paper on his back, and made him the derision of a crowded street... in the sequel he was turned out of a club, and cut by a few lady friends - among them a young lady of some means to whom he was engaged at the time when he planned to ruin the country lass. Mrs Fawcett had no pity; she would have cashiered him if she could.
The meeting of the Women's Suffrage Society… was in the Hanover Square Rooms. I sat on the platform in front between Lord Amberley and Miss Taylor. The room was full of well-dressed people… Miss Helen Taylor made a long and much studied speech; it was good but too much like acting. Mrs. Harriet Grote's was short but natural - Mrs. Millicent Fawcett's uninteresting and Mrs Taylor was inaudible from a sore throat. It went off very well and was a great success.
The NUWSS and the WSPU between 1905 and 1911 adopted different election policies… The WSPU cry in every election was "Keep the Liberal out," not, as they asserted, from party motives, but because the Government of the day, and the Government alone, had the power to pass a Suffrage Bill; and as long as any government declined to take up suffrage they would have to encounter all the opposition which the militants could command… The NUWSS adopted a different election policy - that of obtaining declarations of opinion from all candidates at each election and supporting the man, independent of party, who gave the most satisfactory assurances of support.
After 1903 the whole country, indeed we might almost say the whole world, rang with the doings of the Suffragettes, as the violent Suffragists came to be called. I would point out, however, that for at least two years of their activity, 1906-1908, while the suffered extraordinary acts of physical violence, they used none, and all through, from beginning to end of their campaign, they took no life, and shed no blood, either of man or beast.
The first organised opposition by women to women's suffrage in England dates from 1889, when a number of ladies led by Mrs Ward appealed against the proposed extension of the Parliamentary suffrage to women… Women anti-suffragists formed themselves into a society in July 1908 under the leadership of Mrs. Ward, and a men's society was shortly afterwards formed. These two societies were amalgamated in December 1910.
A great meeting, under the joint auspices of many women's organisations, was held last night at Kingsway Hall to call attention to the horrors of slaughter and to urge that the war should be speedily brought to an end.
Mrs. Henry Fawcett (Millicent Fawcett) occupied the chair, and an interesting figure on the platform was Mrs. Olive Schreiner, the distinguished novelist.
Mrs. Fawcett said there were millions of women whose antipathies would be intensified by the present crime against society. A way must be found out of the tangle...
In the first place they should try and avoid bitterness of national feeling. They should on the one hand keep down panic and on the other the war fever and Jingo feeling. She hoped the people would learn some of the lessons taught by the war, and would realise that a cause which led to war was the spending of millions on more armament...
Other speakers including Mrs. Swanwick, Miss Mary Macarthur, Mrs. St. Clair Stodart, Mrs. George Cadbury (Elizabeth Cadbury), and delegates from France, Germany, Hungary, and Switzerland.
Arguably, Millicent Garrett Fawcett did more than any other individual to win the vote for women. Unquestionably she worked longer and more consistently at the heart of the struggle than anyone else involved. When Emmeline Pankhurst first joined the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage in 1880, Millicent had already been campaigning steadily for more than a decade. When Emmeline was on the verge of ditching women in favour of votes for soldiers in 1917, Millicent was contemplating the progress made during more than a year of wartime ministerial lobbying. Yet it was Emmeline, not Millicent, who was honoured with a statue outside the Houses of Parliament. It was Emmeline, not Millicent, who entered the public consciousness as the architect of votes for women. In some respects, it is fitting that this should be so. For as leader of the non-militant suffragists, Millicent Fawcett was never a woman who demanded public adulation. Her memorial, in contrast to Emmeline's, stands in the calm shade of Westminster Abbey. What she lacked in glamour she amply made up in understated efficiency.