Millicent Fawcett

by Radiyah Shakur

Millicent Fawcett is known for her dedication to women’s rights and equality. Also known for her pacifist methods, she rallied for change through constitutional means, based on persistent lobbying. Her main aim was to improve educational opportunities for women.

Millicent FawcettBorn in Aldeburgh, Suffolk in 1867, she married Henry Fawcett, a blind British Liberal MP and economist, in 1833. Millicent assisted her husband’s career for many years, acting as his secretary and sitting in on political meetings. From the 1870s, Millicent campaigned for female suffrage, with her husband's backing. Henry also encouraged his wife to pursue her own writing career. She began writing articles for journals and later publishing books such as Political Economy for Beginners and Essays and Lectures on Political Subjects.

Following her husband’s death in 1884, Fawcett focused her energy on politics. She co-founded Newnham College, Cambridge in 1871, as a result of her involvement in the organization of women’s lectures. After the death of Lydia Becker, she became the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), the main suffragist organisation in Britain. In addition to supporting women’s education, she was an advocate of the Married Women’s Property Act, and was an opponent of child marriage. She also called for the revocation of the Contagious Disease Act, which mandated all prostitutes be tested for sexually transmittable diseases, and if found guilty of transmitting to their client they were imprisoned. They could also be imprisoned for refusing examination, which was often invasive and painful. The Act, which Fawcett viewed as promoting sexual hypocrisy, was eventually repealed as a result of her and other’s campaigning.

Fawcett held her post with the NUWSS until 1919, a year after women over thirty had been granted the vote. Following, she devoted much of her time to writing books, including The Women's Victory in 1920, What I Remember in 1924 and a biography of Josephine Butler in 1927. In 1924 she was knighted, becoming a Dame of the British Empire.

Dame Millicent Fawcett died in London in 1929. Her legacy has been permanently preserved through the renaming of the NUWSS to the Fawcett Society, which today continues to campaign for equality between men and women.


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