|Trumpington Local History Group
Millicent Garrett Fawcett and the
Campaign for Women's Suffrage
|'Hold fast, hold firm, hold OUT'
Dr Sutherland opened her talk by thanking her colleagues at Newnham College and The
Women's Library (London School of Economics) for advice and images.
Gill said that the primary purpose of her talk was to celebrate Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who had
for so long been the public face of the non-violent campaign for women's suffrage. She had
recently been honoured by the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square, which is
enormously impressive. In addition to portraying Millicent Fawcett, the statue by Gillian Wearing
has images of other campaigners set in the plinth. The statue carries a placard with the words
'Courage calls to courage everywhere', spoken by Millicent Fawcett after the death of Emily
|Copyright © Trumpington Local History Group, 2018. Updated 25 May 2018.
|Photograph of Dr Gill Sutherland by
|Dr Gill Sutherland, Newnham College, gave a fascinating and authoritative
talk about Millicent Garrett Fawcett at the Local History Group meeting
on 10 May 2018. Meeting report by Andrew Roberts, with thanks to Dr
Sutherland for permission to summarise her talk and use some of her
images. There are also pages with notes about Millicent Fawcett and the
life of Henry Fawcett.
|The statue of Millicent Fawcett in
Parliament Square. Photo:
Andrew Roberts, 18 May 2018.
|'Hold fast, hold firm, hold OUT' were also Millicent Fawcett's words, which Gill said she had
chosen for the title of her talk because they convey so much about the campaign for votes for
women. Millicent had been a supporter of votes for women since childhood, a campaign that
came into focus in 1866 when supporters added their signatures to a petition asking Parliament to
enfranchise women householders. Gill stressed that it took another 52 years before some women
gained the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. There were phases of campaigning, setbacks
and disappointments during the process. Millicent’s career represented a master class in peaceful
Millicent Garrett was born in 1847, one of 11 children of Newson Garrett and Louisa Dunnell.
Newson Garrett was a corn merchant, chandler and brewer, and the family lived in Snape,
London and Aldeburgh. Three Garrett sisters became remarkably successful, with the support of
their parents: Millicent, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who had an acclaimed medical career, and
Agnes Garrett, who set up a successful interior design business with her cousin, Rhoda Garrett.
In 1867, Millicent Garrett married Henry Fawcett, the blind radical liberal politician, who was
MP for Brighton and Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge. They spent six months of
each year in London and six in Cambridge, at first renting. They bought the house at 18
Brookside, Cambridge, in 1875. Gill mentioned the blue plaque to Millicent that had recently
been placed there, above the earlier plaque to Henry.
|Millicent Garrett Fawcett, c.
1867. Women’s Library
Henry and Millicent Fawcett,
1872. Newnham College
|Millicent and Henry had a daughter, Philippa, in 1868. Gill said that Millicent became the eyes of
Henry, reading for and with him, writing, speaking with him on public platforms and gaining an
intensive political education. Millicent was tiny, well dressed, with a mass of auburn hair, while
Henry was exceedingly tall.
In Cambridge, they worked together on a campaign for higher education for women, supporting
a programme of lectures for ladies. Millicent worked with the community of dons’ wives to
ensure their support. As the lecture series developed, the group realised that some residential
accommodation would be needed and Millicent encouraged Henry Sidgwick to lease a house to
accommodate five students, the beginning of what became Newnham College. After a few years,
the committee leased land on which to build Newnham Hall, 1875. The committee became a
limited not-for-profit company in 1881, turning into a College, a self-governing academic
community, with a Charter and Statutes in 1917. Millicent served on the Council of the
Newnham Hall Company from 1881 to 1909.
By 1881, London was increasingly the family base, with Henry a government minister and
Philippa at secondary school. Gill said that Henry was ill in 1882 and then in 1884 he had
pneumonia which put a strain on his heart. Henry died, leaving Millicent a widow at the age of
37. He was buried at Trumpington Church, and a window was installed in the Church in his
Gill said that Millicent established a new pattern of life after a period of grief.
|Blue plaques to Henry and Millicent Fawcett, 18
Brookside, Trumpington Road. Photo: Andrew
Roberts, April 2018.
|Millicent Garrett Fawcett, 1892. Newnham College
|Millicent and Phillipa moved to live with her sister Agnes at 2 Gower Street, London. Rhoda
Garrett had died, leaving Agnes to continue the interior design firm. The two sisters continued
their commitment to the suffrage cause. In 1887, Philippa went to Newnham College to study
mathematics, topping the mathematical tripos in 1890, and later being appointed a lecturer at
|The blue plaque to Millicent Fawcett, 2
Gower Street, London. Photo: Andrew
Roberts, 18 May 2018.
|Gill said that the suffrage campaign became the centre of Millicent's life. In the 1880s, the
National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was a loose federation and it remained
so until the 1900s. It established a more discipline structure by 1907 and Millicent was elected
President. In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst had launched the Women's Social and Political Union
(WSPU), moving to militancy from 1905, leading to the rough treatment of members, ejection
from meetings and short periods in prison. Initially, Millicent was supportive and deplored the
violence shown to the protesters but as the militancy led to attacks on property in which people
were sometimes also caught up, the NUWSS distanced itself from the WSPU, with a total
separation from late 1909.
The NUWSS organised a great march in 1908, when the students of Newnham and Girton made
and carried a banner, used again in subsequent processions and now held at Newnham. In the
1908 march, women moved in eight blocks according to their professions. There were
patronising and dismissive male comments about the march and Millicent herself, but the women
insisted on their professional standing.
|Cambridge Alumnae banner, 1908. Newnham College
Cambridge Alumnae banner in procession, 1912. Newnham
|There were other peaceful processions, including a pilgrimage caravan from different parts of the
country to London in 1913. Gill explained that the NUWSS was very effective at fundraising,
producing a weekly journal with a circulation of 12,000 in 1912, having 32 full-time paid
organisers and 52,000 members in 1913 and over 600 affiliated branches and societies in 1914.
The NUWSS adopted the colours of red, green and white.
|National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies pamphlet,
1913. Women’s Library Archives.
|By 1913, the NUWSS recognised that the Liberal party would not give women the vote and
began making approaches to the Labour party. The start of the 1914 War led to a crisis within
the organisation, with conflicting interests including patriotism and pacificism. Gill said that
Millicent thought it would be a disaster if the movement failed to give its full energy to the war
effort and this became the public position of the NUWSS. As a result, the movement supported
refugees, women workers, activity by local councils and medical commitments such as units of
the Scottish Women's Hospitals Group (SWHG). The students of Newnham and Girton
supported their work and a number went to work for them after completing their courses. The
SWHG worked in Russia (until the 1917 revolution) and on the Eastern Front. Gill noted that
there were few memorials to the role of women in the War.
|A Scottish Women's Hospital Unit
en route to Archangel, Moscow and
Serbia, 1916. Women’s Library
|Gill described how the pressure for suffrage continued during the War, but a Speaker's
Conference in 1916 resulted in the recognition of the case for the full franchise for men. When
Lloyd George became Prime Minister in December 1916, it was hoped that the change would
carry women forward as well, but the proposal was for votes for all males over 21 and women
over 30 with property owning and educational qualifications. Gill said that women felt it was
highly offensive that women were not regarded as grown up at 21 to justify the vote but
Millicent's response was pragmatic. The draft bill was published in 1917 and received Royal
Assent on 6 February 1918, with the NUWSS organising a victory celebration.
In 1918, Millicent was now 70 years old. Gill said that Millicent looked benign but was extremely
tough. She managed her own correspondence, travelled alone and had legendary self control.
After standing down from the Presidency of the NUWSS, she travelled widely, usually with
Agnes, including Palestine, the Far East. She was awarded honorary degrees and made a DBE in
1925. There is a portrait of her in the 1920s in the Newnham Senior Common Room, in the
robes of an honorary doctorate from St Andrews and wearing a pendant in the NUWSS colours
given to her by the NUWSS in 1913.
|Portrait of Millicent Fawcett by William Dring, c. 1920s.
Newnham College Archives.
|Gill said that Millicent Fawcett continued to battle for education, advising the Cambridge women
who hoped to use the first provision of public funding for Oxford and Cambridge as a lever to
improve the position of women in the University. In 1928, she shared a platform with Emmeline
Pankhurst when a further Representation of the People Bill, at last giving women the vote on the
same terms as men, was under discussion. She celebrated the Royal Assent on 2 July 1928.
|Philippa and Millicent Fawcett with
Agnes Garrett and Ray Strachey, 2
July 1928. Women’s Library
|Millicent Fawcett died on 5 August 1929. There is a bronze memorial to Henry and Millicent
Fawcett in St George's Chapel, Westminster Abbey, with roundels added in memory of Millicent
in 1932. The inscription reads " Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett 1847-1929. A wise constant and
courageous Englishwoman. She won citizenship for Women".
Questions asked at the meeting on 10 May 2018
Q: I had not realised there were militant and non-militant movements. Which took the credit for
the 1918 Act?
A: Everyone should have credit, it is not fruitful to weigh the contributions. The NUWSS skills
and resources were mobilised very effectively during the War and this outweighed the role of the
WSPU which was more top heavy. In the late 1920s, Emmeline Pankhurst stood as a
Conservative candidate. The activities of the WSPU militants made the NUWSS caravans, etc.,
a target for objection.
Q: How did women become influential in politics?
A: Women increasingly had the vote and an involvement in local government from the 1870s.
They were increasingly influential and cut their teeth at the local level as social issues, the
education system and the poor law became more important, and as these became national
Q: Did the pilgrimage come through Cambridge.
A: I do not know, but would be surprised if it did not. (See below, the pilgrimage did come
through Cambridge in July 1913.)
Q: Voting rights at the local level?
A: Voting rights were acquired incrementally, with school boards after the 1870 Education Act,
to County Councils in 1888 and Parish Councils in 1894. Women were firmly embedded in local
Q: It is interesting to hear about the Scottish Women's Hospital Units, presumably there were no
similar ventures in England and Wales?
A: The Scottish Women's Hospital Units were well organised, there were many women in
medical training in Scotland but they also recruited from across the country. The British Army
would not allow the units to work at the Front in France, even though the French and Belgium
governments did. The British Army did send convalescents to the hospital in Endell Street in
London run entirely by women and headed by Louisa Garrett Anderson, Millicent’s niece and
Q: What were the arguments for not giving women the vote?
A: It was claimed that women could not be trusted to handle the vote effectively, particularly
with foreign affairs.
Q: Was the NUWSS only middle class?
A: The NUWSS had very solid working class representation, for example in the Women's Textile
Unions in the north west, but was more middle class in Cambridge.
Q from Gill Sutherland: Why was Henry Fawcett buried in Trumpington, what was the initiative
behind that and the window in the Church?
A from Wendy Roberts: at the time of Henry's burial, it was reported in the local newspaper that
it was understood that Henry had given instructions in his will that if he died in London he was
to be buried in Salisbury whereas if he died in Cambridge he was to be buried in Trumpington.
Howard Slatter added that we were not aware of any record of him attending Trumpington
Church. (See the report on the funeral.)
Suffrage pilgrimage, July 1913
In the Cambridge Independent Press, 30 May 1913, there was an item about a planning meeting
having been held to discuss and assist the women's pilgrimage being organised by the National
Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, which aimed to arrive at Hyde Park, London, on
Saturday 26 July. In the Cambridge Independent Press, 18 July 1913, there was a notice and a
report that the Cambridge Women's Suffrage Association was organising a procession on
Saturday 19 July in connection with the Suffrage Pilgrimage, to welcome pilgrims who were
marching from Norfolk. The procession was to assemble on Midsummer Common and march
through the centre of Cambridge. The pilgrims were then going to leave Cambridge on Monday
21 July, to continue to Royston. There were two extensive reports on the 'successful procession
in Cambridge' in Cambridge Independent Press, 25 July 1913, p. 5, naming the people who
joined the pilgrimage to Royston and on to London. One of the participants on the pilgrimage
from Cambridge was Mrs Rackham, who, with Millicent Fawcett, was part of a deputation who
met with Mr Asquith, the Prime Minister, in August 1913, to 'discuss the present position of the
suffrage question' (Cambridge Independent Press, 15 August 1913, p. 6). Gill Sutherland adds
that Clara Rackham, another Newnhamite, became a celebrated figure in local government in
Cambridge. Clara Rackham Close is named after her and the City is planning to celebrate her in
late 2018. See also Jane Robinson (2018). Hearts and Minds: the untold story of the Great
Pilgrimage and how women won the vote, pages 197-99.
|Cambridge Independent Press, 18 July
1913, p. 1.