Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847 – 1929) was a leading Suffragist and campaigner for equal rights for women.
She led the biggest suffrage organisation, the non-violent (NUWSS) from 1890-1919 and played a key role in gaining women the vote.
In her book ‘Women's Suffrage; A Short History of a Great Movement’, Fawcett chronicles the history of the campaign for women’s rights, comparing the tactics of the (pacifist) NUWSS and the (militant) WSPU.
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.
Millicent Fawcett was involved from an early age in the women's movement through her sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her friend Emily Davies.
She was on the first suffrage committee in 1867, and also worked for the Married Woman's property Act, while her house in Cambridge was the base for the women's lecture scheme from which Newnham College developed.
In 1897 she became President of the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). During these years she was also known as a national political figure, a member of the Liberal-Unionist group (1887-1903), a frequent visitor to Ireland and speaker against Home Rule, and leader of a women's commission to investigate concentration camps in South Africa in the Boer War.
After the Boer War, interest in the suffrage question was revived with the Pankhursts' militant campaigns, and Millicent strengthened the constitutionalist campaign with tireless national speaking tours, parliamentary lobbying, and party alliances.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, although opposed by pacifists in the NUWSS, she urged the membership to devote its energies to the War effort; but in 1916 she pressed again for enfranchisement, which was recommended by a Parliamentary Conference (1917) and passed by both Houses (1918).
She then resigned her presidency but continued to campaign for full suffrage (1928) and for professional opportunities and legal rights.
She wrote several books on famous women, including ‘Life of Queen Victoria’ and ‘Women's Victory and After’. She was created DBE in 1925.
‘Women’s Suffrage’ is an essential short history for anyone interested in British politics, and women’s history.
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