About Millicent Fawcett (Garrett)
<The Times, August 5, 1929>
<DAME MILLICENT FAWCETT>
As announced on page six the death occurred early this morning of Dame Millicent Fawcett.
Millicent Garrett was born on June 11, 1847, the seventh child of Newson Garrett, J.P., of Aldburgh, in Suffolk. When only twenty years of age she married Henry Fawcett, who had been blinded by an accident in his youth and who became a member of Parliament, Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge University, Postmaster General in the Liberal Administration from 1880 to 1884 when he died.
Four months after her marriage Mrs. Fawcett made her first speech at a public meeting on women's suffrage, in company with her husband, Sir Charles Dilke, Lord Houghton, Charles Kingsley, John Stuart Mill, John Morley, and James Stansfield. From that time forward she pursued an exceedingly active political career, concentrating almost entirely on the emancipation of women and, although she had strong political opinions, refraining from party entanglements.
To her the cause of women's freedom was the most pressing, and "they are my friends", she said, "who work for women." It is perhaps difficult for young women now to understand the intense concentration of their grandmothers and mothers upon feminism and for ten years almost exclusively upon the attainment of the franchise. It would scarcely be possible nowadays for a woman so politically minded as Mrs. Fawcett and so distinguished among women to remain almost entirely outside the world of Parliamentary politics and men's organisations. There was both loss and gain in this concentration. It made her undeniably the centre of the feminist movement in England for more years than any other contemporary, but it handicapped her in dealing with politicians, and she was always more a teacher or a heartener of her party than a tactician or organiser.
Until the death of her husband in 1884, Mrs. Fawcett lived in Cambridge, and it was in her house that the first meeting was held to promote the foundation of Newnham College. It was from Newnham that her only child, Phlippa, in 1890, passed the Mathematical Tripos and was placed "above Senior Wrangler". Mrs. Fawcett was also intimately concerned in the opening of the medical profession to women, and she took her stand by the side of Josephine Butler in her long struggle against the State regulation of vice. Mrs. Fawcett did not envisage this matter from the emotionally religious point of view of that remarkable woman; in this, as in all others concerning the relations of the sexes, she appealed to the simple test whether men and women were equally treated, and she interpreted the word "equality" in the highly common-sense way characteristic of her.
She did a prodigious amount of speaking and writing during her long life, and all she said and wrote was sane and correct. Her little "Political Economy for Beginners," appearing in 1870, was widely used in schools, and she also published "Tales in Political Economy" (1875), "Essays and Lectures" (with Henry Fawcett, 1872), "Some Eminent Women of Our Time" (1889), "Life of Queen Victoria" (1895), "Life of Sir William Molesworth" (1901), "Five Famous Frenchwomen" (1906), and two little histories of women's suffrage (1912 and 1920).
But her chief record was her leadership of the suffrage movement from 1867 to 1918. After many years of work on the part of individual societies and amalgamations the membership was consolidated in a National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, and Mrs. Fawcett became and remained president of the union for the whole of its existence. When the "militant movement" broke out in the first decade of this century Mrs. Fawcett's attitude was again most characteristic. She admired the pluck of the militants; she loved their keenness; she recognised the impetus they gave gave (sic); she was indignant at the mishandling of them by the Government, and she was always most generous towards them. As time went on she believed that they were very seriously injuring the movementm and she said so and consistently stood for constitutional methods. But she was bored by the incessant clamour that she should spend her time in "protesting" against militancy instead of getting on with the work of educating the electorate.
Mrs.Fawcett had courage of a peculiar dogged and tenacious king. Her conscious and deliberate optimism was really the result of this courage and had a very fine side, although some of its manifestations were repugnant to those who could not share it. When, for instance, she was sent by the Government to South Africa, to inquire into the allegations concerning the concentration camps, there were many who were grieved to the heart by her report. When the Great War broke out she could edure only by energetically willing to believe nothing but the best of her own "side". She was a partisan, in fact; but she was a most gallant colleague in a tight place.
She did not enjoy public speaking, and she hated displays and fusses; she must have shrunk inwardly from the horrid rudeness, abuse, and even physical violence which she frequently faced without any outward sign of discomposure. Her sense of humour not only lightened the path of her colleagues but certainly helped her to keep the serene front she always showed. She was fond of quoting from the memoirs of Caroline of Anspach, that it was the duty of princes "to make the whole go on", and she took that duty as her guide. She constantly subordinated her personal tastes and even judgement to the supreme object of "making the whole go on". She was even brought to sign, with a comical grimace, a document drawn up by another hand which declared that she was as "passionately" devoted to the cause as some other people. "Must I say 'passionately'?" she asked. But she yielded, when she found that some of the young people wanted her, for once, to waer her heart on her sleeve. This was unnatural to her. She was deeply unsentimental and could be caustic. None the less, it was a true passion that informed her whole life.
She was full of material kindness, visited her sick friends assiduously. bought presents to them, and gave uncounted help to people in trouble. She was full of enjoyment of life and was a capital story-teller. She tried hard to be nice to foreigners but remained completely foreign to them. She was never eloquent; her speeches were generally a record of recent events relevant to her subject and always optimistically interpreted, together with shrewd digs at her opponents. Curiously enough, although she presided at so many meetings, she never mastered the rules of procedure; but there are other qualities that go to make success in conferences and she had them.
In 1925 she was created a Dame of the Order of the British Empire and also received the honorary degree of LL.D from St. Andrew's University.