Millicent Garrett Fawcett: Selected Writings

Posted on June 09, 2022 by Alison Fox

Today sees the publication of a brand new open access book of Millicent Garrett Fawcett's writings edited by Prof Melissa Terras and Elizabeth Crawford. The first scholarly appraisal of Fawcett in over 30 years, this is essential reading for those wishing to understand the varied political, social and cultural contributions of Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett. 

In an excerpt from the foreword, Fiona Mactaggart, a former chair of the Fawcett Society, explains exactly why Millicent Garret Fawcett matters...

As the former chair of the Fawcett Society, I am pleased to welcome this volume, which brings together many of the writings and speeches of our eponymous predecessor Millicent Fawcett. We aim to continue in the tradition she built of campaigning for equality between women and men, focusing particularly on political power, education and work. Like her, we depend on robust research, clear argument and building alliances with women and men to advance our cause. It is a joy to present this collection, which will increase understanding of the role Millicent Fawcett played, not only in the struggle for the women’s franchise but in the series of other causes which she promoted.

The quality I have always most admired in Millicent Fawcett is persistence. She gathered signatures on the petition for women’s suffrage at the age of 18 in 1866, and she persisted with the cause, becoming its leader for many years, until the women of Britain had achieved her aim of the right to vote on the same terms as men, 62 years later in 1928. The Fawcett Society is the successor to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which Millicent Fawcett led for many years. We inherited the brooch that appears in pictures reproduced in this volume, which was given to her by members of the society to recognise her leadership. It is engraved on the reverse with the words ‘Steadfastness and Courage’ and is now in the Museum of London.

This scholarly work, peppered with pictures of Millicent, shows her persistence in making the argument for the vote to audiences, many of whom were deeply hostile, and her determination to advance the cause of women through education. When women did gain a limited franchise, she was careful to record how this change had led to many new laws which benefitted women, from protection from forced marriage to the right to join the police. Fawcett’s words on her statue, a comment made relating to the death of Emily Wilding Davison, who was fatally injured by the King’s horse while carrying a banner that demanded votes for women (see Section 46), were a declaration of fact rather than a rallying call. While Fawcett recognised that the militant suffragettes had put the issue on the public agenda (‘They’ve rose the country’, in the words of an audience member at one of her speeches – see Section 25), she was critical of their tactics. And in some ways, the record of her doggedly persistent campaign to advance the cause of women without resorting to the violent tactics of the suffragettes is a lesson for feminists in the twenty-first century.

When I find myself disagreeing with other people who are concerned about issues facing women today, I take inspiration from Millicent. She was often generous in her appreciation of what the militant suffragists had done, while always rejecting their tactics. For universities and public platforms to exclude people because they take one side of a debate is unacceptable in a democratic society. I hope that the middle way which the Fawcett Society adopts can win wider acceptance, so that we can all stop being angry and upset with each other and carry on the dogged work which is still needed to build a society where women and men are truly equal.

The approach to the campaign for votes for women which Millicent Fawcett led has lessons for us today: be clear in your arguments, do not abuse those who disagree with you, build alliances and, above all, be persistent in working towards the changes we need.

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