Millicent Fawcett Facts & Worksheets

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    • Early Years and Personal Life
    • Activism and Suffrage Movement
    • Notable Writings and Speeches
    • Political Achievements
    • Later Years and Death

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s know more about Millicent Fawcett!

    Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett was a prominent British suffragist and political leader in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She dedicated her life to advocating for women's rights and played an influential role in the campaign for women's right to vote in the United Kingdom. As the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, she employed peaceful, non-violent tactics, contributing to the passage of the Representation of People Act in 1918. Her legacy continues to inspire women and activists globally as a pioneer in gender equality and political empowerment advocacy.

    Millicent Fawcett
    Millicent Fawcett

    Early Years and Personal Life

    • Millicent Fawcett was born Millicent Garrett on 11 June 1847, in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England, to Newson and Louisa Garrett. As the eighth of ten children, she grew up in an environment that encouraged activity, extensive reading and engagement with political matters, much like her father's own interests.
    • Fawcett's sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who later became Britain's first female doctor, introduced her to Emily Davies, a prominent English suffragist, during her childhood. This early exposure to influential figures in the movement for women's rights left a lasting impression on Fawcett.
    • At the age of 12, Fawcett attended Blackheath, a private boarding school in London, furthering her education and intellectual development.
    • Fawcett's engagement with the suffrage movement began in earnest in 1865 when she attended a speech by John Stuart Mill and subsequently assisted the Kensington Society in gathering signatures for a petition advocating for women's voting rights in parliamentary elections.
    • On 23 April 1867, Fawcett married Henry Fawcett, an academic and politician. While she supported her husband and managed their residences in Cambridge and London, Millicent also pursued her own writing career.
    • Her progressive thinking was evident in her works advocating for proportional representation, individualism, free trade and women's equal opportunities.
    • The Fawcetts' only child, Philippa, was born in 1868 and distinguished herself by obtaining the highest mark in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos exams in 1890, a first for a woman.
    • Tragically, Fawcett endured the loss of her husband in 1884, which led her to temporarily withdraw from public life. She and her daughter moved into her sister Agnes Garrett's home. During this period of retreat, she continued to nurture her intellectual and political interests.

    Activism and Suffrage Movement

    • The suffrage movement in the United Kingdom has a long and complex history, dating back to the 19th century. The demand for women's right to vote gained momentum during the mid-1800s, when various women's suffrage societies were established. One of the earliest organisations advocating for suffrage was the Kensington Society, where Fawcett actively participated, collecting signatures for petitions.
    • In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the suffrage movement faced opposition from both the government and conservative groups in the UK. After her husband passed away, Fawcett's activism and participation in the suffrage movement grew stronger.
    • Fawcett's philosophy was deeply rooted in the belief in universal equality and the importance of equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of gender. She advocated for the principle of proportional representation, recognising the need for fair and just representation of diverse voices in the political landscape.
    • Her philosophy also included individuality, highlighting the importance of one's own initiative and autonomy. Fawcett believed in the power of the individual to effect change and make meaningful contributions to society.
    • She was also a proponent of free trade, understanding the role it played in economic development and the exchange of ideas and resources on a global scale.
    • Fawcett's progressive thinking extended to her support for women's equal opportunities, advocating for access to education, employment, and the right to participate in the democratic process through voting rights.
    • As Fawcett continued to manage her personal and professional affairs, her commitment to the suffrage movement and her advocacy for women's rights persisted. In 1897, she became the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), an organisation dedicated to achieving women's suffrage through peaceful and non-violent means.
    • Fawcett improved women's chances of getting the vote by adopting a moderate stance and distancing herself from the Women's Social and Political Union's militant tactics and direct actions. Despite the WSPU's exposure, the NUWSS managed to gain greater support thanks to their catchphrase, 'law-abiding suffragists'. Under Fawcett's guidance, the NUWSS became the largest and most influential women's suffrage organisation in the United Kingdom.

    Hallmarks of Millicent Fawcett's Activism

    Non-violent Tactics: 

    She advocated for peaceful methods in the suffrage campaign, contrasting with the more militant tactics of the suffragettes led by the Pankhursts.

    Collaboration and Coalition-Building: 

    She recognised the importance of alliances and worked alongside various social and political movements to strengthen the voices of women.

    Emphasis on Education: 

    She believed in the role of education for women's advancement and often emphasised its importance in her work.

    International Advocacy:

    Her influence went beyond the UK as she engaged with suffragists globally to share strategies for women's enfranchisement.

    Legislative Reform: 

    She focused on achieving change through legislative means, working towards the passing of laws that would grant women the right to vote and improve their social status.

    Intellectual Insight and Writing: 

    She contributed to the movement with her intellectual insights, writing and speeches that brought attention to women's issues.

    Broad Focus on Women's Rights: 

    Although suffrage was her main objective, she also advocated for gender equality in other spheres, such as job and educational prospects.

    Political Engagement: 

    She was actively involved in politics, including joining the Liberal Unionist Party, which demonstrated her belief in participating within the political system to advocate for change.

    Officers and members of NUWSS
    Officers and members of NUWSS

    Notable Writings and Speeches

    • Fawcett's legacy as an influential writer and speaker is exemplified through her notable writings and speeches, which continue to inspire and resonate with activists and scholars alike.
    • Her notable writings and speeches include:
      • Political Economy for Beginners: Published in 1870, this book aimed to make economic principles accessible to a wider audience. It was particularly successful, going through 10 editions over 41 years, reflecting the public's appreciation for her clear and concise presentation of complex topics.
      • Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects: In 1872, she co-authored this collection of essays with her husband, Henry Fawcett. Her contributions to this volume showcased her intellectual partnership with her husband and her own capabilities as a thinker and writer on social and political issues.
      • Introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft: She wrote an influential essay as an introduction to an 1891 edition of Wollstonecraft's work, which is considered a fundamental text in feminist philosophy. Her introduction was important in reviving Wollstonecraft's reputation and introducing her ideas to a new generation.
      • Speech at the First Public Pro-Suffrage Meeting in London: In 1868, she demonstrated her oratory skills and commitment to the suffrage movement. Her participation as a speaker at this event marked her as a notable public figure in the campaign for voting rights.
      • Address to the Husband's Constituency in Brighton: In 1870, she took the unusual step for a woman of her time to address a political constituency, providing evidence of her leadership and courage in challenging traditional gender roles.

    Political Achievements

    • Fawcett's activism and leadership extended beyond her work with the NUWSS and included several notable political achievements, including her advocacy for Uitlanders' rights, her opposition to the Contagious Diseases Acts, her role in the passage of the Representation of the People Act, her contribution to Women's Local Government Society, and her engagement with party politics.
    • During the South African War, also known as the Second Boer War, Fawcett advocated for the civil rights of Uitlanders, who were foreign residents in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. 
    • She voiced concerns about the treatment of non-citizen residents and lobbied for their political and legal rights. This highlighted the importance of equality and fair treatment for all individuals, regardless of their nationality or background.
    • Fawcett was an activist who challenged the Contagious Diseases Acts, which subjected women to medical examinations for sexually transmitted infections. 
    • She vehemently opposed these acts, arguing that they violated women's bodily autonomy and perpetuated gender-based discrimination. Her advocacy contributed to the eventual repeal of these oppressive laws.
    • Fawcett was instrumental in the passage of the Representation of the People Act of 1918. This legislation granted limited voting rights to women over the age of 30 who met certain property qualifications, as well as all men over the age of 21. Her advocacy and unwavering dedication to suffrage and women's rights were influential in shaping the public discourse and garnering support for the legislation. 
    • In 1886, she joined the Liberal Unionist Party, a political party formed by a faction of the Liberal Party that opposed Irish Home Rule. By aligning herself with this party, she demonstrated her belief in participating within the political system to advocate for change and further women's rights.
    • Her contribution to the Women's Local Government Society (WLGS) advanced women's representation and participation in local governance. Through the WLGS, she advocated for women's involvement in local politics and worked towards increasing the number of female candidates and elected officials in local government positions.

    Later Years and Death

    • In recognition of her impact on society, Fawcett was made Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1925, a prestigious honour that showcased national appreciation for her advocacy efforts. Additionally, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham in 1919, reflecting the academic community's respect for her contributions to social reform and women's rights.
    • As she grew older, Fawcett continued to participate in public speaking events and writing to advocate for the rights of women and promote gender equality. Her health, however, began to decline in later years. She passed away on 5 August 1929 at her house in London. To honour her legacy, she was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.
    • Her influential role in the suffrage movement and social reform continued to resonate after her death. In 1932, a monument honouring both Millicent Fawcett and her husband, Henry Fawcett, was unveiled in Westminster Abbey. This monument stands as a testament to the influence that both had on British public life, and it serves as a symbol of the impact of Fawcett's advocacy for women's rights and suffrage.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • Who was Millicent Fawcett?

      Millicent Fawcett was a British suffragist, feminist, and political leader who played a crucial role in the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom.

    • What was Millicent Fawcett's contribution to the suffrage movement?

      Fawcett was a prominent advocate for women's rights and suffrage. She led the peaceful suffrage campaign, focusing on nonviolent methods such as lobbying, petitions, and public speeches.

    • What organisations was Millicent Fawcett associated with?

      Fawcett was closely associated with the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which she led from 1897 until 1919.