London’s Parliament Square is dotted with the towering statues of 11 prominent statesmen—among them Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. Next year, a woman will join the ranks of the men honored there for the first time. As Steven Erlanger reports for The New York Times, Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced plans to erect a likeness of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, a dauntless women's suffrage leader, in the historic square.
An 11-month campaign led by writer and activist Caroline-Criado Perez, which included a Change.org petition signed by more than 84,000 people, secured Fawcett's place in the square, reports Eleanor Steafel for the Telegraph. The statue will be created as part of a national celebration of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which granted the vote to women over the age of 30, according to Rachel Thompson of Mashable. Fawcett played an important role in campaigning for the legislation, helping lay the groundwork for universal suffrage in the UK.
“It is right and proper that [Fawcett] is honored in Parliament Square alongside former leaders who changed our country,” May said, according to the BBC. “Her statue will stand as a reminder of how politics only has value if it works for everyone in society.”
A determined but stolid activist, Fawcett played a crucial role in the suffrage movement. In 1897, she formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which counted 50,000 members among its ranks by 1913, according to the British Library. The organization sought to convince the government—through public education, peaceful demonstrations and parliamentary lobbying—that the suffragist cause “was part of the progressive movement of British constitutional history," writes the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
The early suffragist movement gave rise to the suffragettes, writes the BBC. Frustrated by the crawling progression of their cause, the suffragettes espoused the use of violent protests to agitate for women’s rights. Fawcett opposed such radical politics, according to the Fawcett Society, preferring instead to use her “intimate knowledge of the democratic process” to secure women’s right to vote.
Fawcett and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies supported the 1918 Representation of the People Act, even though the legislation established a higher voting age qualification for women than men, who were able to cast a ballot at the age of 21. By the time this watershed moment in feminist history occurred, Fawcett was in her early 70s. She retired from active leadership of the union in 1919, writes the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Fawcett would live to see women achieve full voting rights in the UK. According to Erlanger of the Times, Fawcett died in 1929—one year after British government granted all female citizens the right to vote, on equal terms as men.