FAWCETT, Dame Millicent Garrett (1847-1929)

Plaque erected in 1954 by London County Council at 2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 6DP, London Borough of Camden

blue plaque to Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett House with plaque to Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett

All images © English Heritage

Profession

Author

Category

Philanthropy and Reform, Politics and Administration

Inscription

Dame Millicent Garrett FAWCETT 1847-1929 pioneer of women's suffrage lived and died here

Material

Ceramic

Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett was the leader of the peaceful campaign for women’s suffrage and the co-founder of Newnham College, Cambridge. She lived at 2 Gower Street in Bloomsbury for 45 years, and it was while there in 1928 that she saw women finally achieve equal voting rights with men.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Millicent Garrett Fawcett in the 1880s. It was about this time she moved into 2 Gower Street in Bloomsbury, which was to be her home for the rest of her life
© National Portrait Gallery, London

NEWNHAM COLLEGE

Inspired by the efforts of her elder sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, to study medicine, Fawcett co-founded Newnham Hall (later College) in Cambridge with the philosopher Henry Sidgwick in 1875. Like Emily Davies’s Girton Hall, it provided women with access to university education, though unlike Davies, Fawcett and Sidgwick did not insist that women sit the same exams as men.

Fawcett’s daughter, Philippa, would later go on to study at the college, where she achieved the highest score of all candidates in Cambridge University’s prestigious mathematical tripos – the first woman to do so.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Millicent Garrett Fawcett addressing a meeting in Hyde Park in about 1913 as President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies
© Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

LEADER OF THE SUFFRAGISTS

Fawcett gave her first public speech in favour of votes for women in 1869 and presided over the campaign leading up to the foundation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897, of which she was president from 1907 to 1919.

She took a pragmatic, constitutional approach to promoting the cause, and her attitude to the more militant suffragettes led by the Pankhursts was ambivalent. Fawcett was a more conservative figure, being opposed to Home Rule for Ireland and a strong supporter of the war effort in 1914–18. A moralist in personal matters, she once tore up a ‘mischievous and objectionable’ pamphlet advocating free love, though came to advocate divorce by mutual consent.

During the First World War Fawcett redirected the NUWSS towards the war effort– ‘Let us prove ourselves worthy of citizenship whether our claim is recognised or not’. She accepted the compromise in 1918 under which the vote was extended to women over 30 who met a property qualification.

AFTER THE VOTE

After this victory she retired from the presidency of the NUWSS, but still worked tirelessly in support of women’s rights. She campaigned, for instance, for women’s access to the legal profession and the civil service, for equal divorce rights and for the education of women and girls in India. She didn’t approve of Eleanor Rathbone’s ‘new feminism’, but in 1927 wrote a glowing account of the work of social reformer Josephine Butler. The complete enfranchisement of women on an equal footing with men in 1928 gave her great joy.

GOWER STREET

Millicent had moved to Gower Street in 1884 – following the death of her husband, Henry Fawcett, who had been a Liberal minister – and died there 45 years later. When she moved in – together with her daughter Philippa (1868–1948), a fellow suffrage campaigner – it was already the residence of her sister Agnes (1845–1935), who was well known as an interior designer, and was responsible for two decorated ceilings at the house. She proved a supportive and strong companion for the widowed Millicent, who, in her own words, ‘always loved the Gower Street house and all its associations’.

Nearby Blue Plaques

Nearby Blue Plaques


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