Born in 1847, Millicent Fawcett joined the London Suffrage Committee, in 1868 and in 1869 she spoke at the first public pro-suffrage meeting to be held in London.
The death of her husband on 6 November 1884 made Millicent temporarily withdraw from public life. She sold both family homes and moved into the house of Agnes Garrett, her sister. She resumed work in 1885, and began to concentrate on politics.
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. She held this post until 1919, a year after the first women had been granted the vote.
After that, she left the suffrage campaign for the most part, and devoted much of her time to writing books.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, while the WSPU (Emily Pankhurst Suffragettes) ceased all of their activities to focus on the war effort, Fawcett’s NUWSS did not.
Gillian Wearing’s statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock
This was largely because as the organisation was significantly less militant than the WSPU, it contained many more pacifists, and general support for the war within the organisation was weaker.
The WSPU, in comparison, was called jingoistic as a result of its leaders’ strong support for the war. While Fawcett was not a pacifist, she risked dividing the organisation if she ordered a halt to the campaign, and the diverting of NUWSS funds from the government, as the WSPU had done.
The NUWSS continued to campaign for the vote during the war, and used the situation to their advantage by pointing out the contribution women had made to the war effort in their campaigns.
Fawcett is considered instrumental in gaining the vote for six million British women aged over 30-years of age in 1918.