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Millicent Fawcett's fight for women's suffrage

The struggle for Votes for Women took many forms. Despite the fame of the militant Suffragists, many thousands of people, known as Suffragists, peacefully campaigned for female equality. Let's explore the life and work of one of the most important, Millicent Fawcett, through a magnificent brooch on loan to the Museum of London.

Alwyn Collinson

Digital Editor

17 April 2020

Most well-known among those who fought for women's right to vote are the Suffragettes: militant campaigners who embraced civil disobedience, vandalism and even physical violence to try and force the British government to give them the vote. But equally important were the Suffragists: many thousands of women and men who legally and peacefully campaigned for female suffrage. And among the most important of these Suffragists was Millicent Fawcett.

Millicent spent her life campaigning for women’s suffrage and equal rights. At the age of 19, she organised signatures for the first petition for women’s suffrage even though she was too young to sign it herself. Between 1907 and 1919 Millicent was President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (the NUWSS) from 1907 -19, the largest non-militant suffrage campaign group. Her ’steadfastness and courage’ in the long struggle for the female suffrage played a key role in securing the first extension of voting rights to women in 1918. The commissioning of the brooch was the initiative of the London Society of the NUWSS with contributions from members and branches nationwide.

Social & Working History Curator Beverley Cook said: ‘The brooch enables us to represent the key role played by those women who fought constitutionally for the right to vote without taking direct militant actions. Thanks go to the Fawcett Society who have provided us with the opportunity to share the brooch with our visitors and represent the peaceful protests that many women advocated in the fight for suffrage.’

Fawcett Society Chief Executive, Sam Smethers, said: ‘Millicent Fawcett was awarded this brooch for steadfastness and courage in 1913. She built a movement of tens of thousands of people over more than 60 years of campaigning. That suffrage history belongs to all of us. We are delighted that this unique item will now be on display for thousands more to see it in it's fantastic new home at the Museum of London.’

Millicent regularly wore the brooch, often as a pendant and it is included on the statue of her by the artist Gillian Wearing unveiled in Parliament Square in April 2018. The brooch also featured on a commemorative edition of the popular programme Antiques Roadshow that marked the centenary of partial female suffrage.