The First Woman in Parliament Square

On 24 April 2018, suffragist Millicent Fawcett became the first woman in history to have a statue in Parliament Square.

Installed on the site of many demonstrations and protests, flanked by the Palace of Westminster, Fawcett is immortalised alongside statues of eleven men including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi.

Why Millicent Fawcett?

Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square
Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square. Image courtesy Garry Knight via Wikimedia Commons

Born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847 – 1929) dedicated her life to improving the lives of women in England.

She promoted tireless, peaceful campaigning and from 1907 – 1919 led the largest organisation for female suffrage, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

Hop over to our blog about how the vote was won to learn more.

Who else is on the statue?

Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square
The base of the statue shows 59 people that have supported women’s rights. Image courtesy Matt Brown via Flickr

The bronze cast, designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing (the first woman sculptor to have work displayed in the square), also makes reference to 59 people who supported the fight for women to be given the right to vote.

Here are six you may not have heard of: 

1. A Scottish barrister

Chrysal Macmillan
Chrysal Macmillan. Image courtesy LSE Library

Chrystal MacMillan (1872-1937) was the first woman to plead a case before the House of Lords when she argued for her right to vote in 1908.

She was the first female science graduate of The University of Edinburgh and dedicated suffragist, campaigning throughout Scotland as part of the Scottish Fedaration of Women’s Suffrage societies.

International Congress of Women in 1915. From left to right: 1. Lucy Thoumaian - Armenia, 2. Leopoldine Kulka, 3. Laura Hughes - Canada, 4. Rosika Schwimmer - Hungary, 5. Anika Augspurg - Germany, 6. Jane Addams - USA, 7. Eugenie Hanner, 8. Aletta Jacobs - Netherlands, 9. Chrystal Macmillan - UK, 10. Rosa Genoni - Italy, 11. Anna Kleman - Sweden, 12. Thora Daugaard - Denmark, 13. Louise Keilhau - Norway. Image courtesy LSE Library
International Congress of Women in 1915. From left to right: 1. Lucy Thoumaian – Armenia, 2. Leopoldine Kulka, 3. Laura Hughes – Canada, 4. Rosika Schwimmer – Hungary, 5. Anika Augspurg – Germany, 6. Jane Addams – USA, 7. Eugenie Hanner, 8. Aletta Jacobs – Netherlands, 9. Chrystal Macmillan – UK, 10. Rosa Genoni – Italy, 11. Anna Kleman – Sweden, 12. Thora Daugaard – Denmark, 13. Louise Keilhau – Norway. Image courtesy LSE Library

In 1915 she organised the International Congress of Women, at The Hague, to discuss a peaceful resolve of the First World War.

2. An Indian princess

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling subscriptions for the Suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court in London, April 1913
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling subscriptions for the Suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court in London, April 1913. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The goddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh (1876 – 1948) was a wealthy socialite and celebrity.

Born in London, she was the third daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh – the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. A visit to India with her sisters in 1909, where she experienced poverty and racism, compelled her to activism, and the militant action of the Suffragettes appealed.

Singh sold the suffragette newspaper outside her home at Hampton Court Palace and was one of 300 women who marched on the Houses of Parliament in a 1910 demonstration commonly referred to as ‘Black Friday’. Violent clashes broke out between protestors, police and bystanders, with many women beaten and molested. 115 men and women were arrested.

3. A radical novelist and playwright

Laurence Housman, 1915
Laurence Housman, 1915. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Founding member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, Laurence Housman (1865 – 1959) found literary success with his novel An Englishwoman’s Love Letters (1900) and play Victoria Regina (1934) about Queen Victoria.Depicting biblical characters and living royalty on stage was considered to be a scandal.

In 1909, Housman and his sister Clemence (a respected memer of the WSPU) formed the publication collective Suffrage Atelier to widely distribute information in support of the cause.

4. A pioneer of girls’ education

Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy watches the Women's Coronation Procession, 1911
Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy watches the Women’s Coronation Procession, 1911. Image via LSE Library

Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy (1833 – 1918) was an active campaigner throughout her life.

With little formal education herself, and a belief that education was vital for women, she purchased her own girls’ boarding school in Lancashire and formed the Manchester Schoolmistresses Association in 1865.

She was a founding member of the Kensington society, later the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. In 1868 Elizabeth became secretary of the Married Women’s Property Committee, with the aim give women the right to own, buy and sell property separate to her husband.

5. A woman doctor

Elsie Inglis, London 1918
Elsie Inglis, London 1918. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Elsie Inglis (1864 – 1917) was compelled towards the suffrage movement through dissatisfaction with the standard of medical care available to women.

While working on her medical degree in the 1890s, she was secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and worked closely with Millicent Fawcett.

During the First World War, Inglis was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service committee, sending teams to Belgium, France, Serbia and Russia. A memorial fountain in Mladenovac, Serbia, commemorates her work for the country.

6. A Mancunian councillor

Debate between Suffrage & Anti-Suffrage Societies held at Free Trade Hall, Manchester 1909. Sitting: Mrs Arthur Somerwell, Mrs Humphrey Ward, Miss Margaret Ashton, Mrs Helena Swanwick. Standing: Dean of Manchester. Miss - Gladstone, Mrs Margaret Hills (née Robertson). Image via LSE Library
Debate between Suffrage & Anti-Suffrage Societies held at Free Trade Hall, Manchester 1909. Sitting: Mrs Arthur Somerwell, Mrs Humphrey Ward, Miss Margaret Ashton, Mrs Helena Swanwick. Standing: Dean of Manchester. Miss – Gladstone, Mrs Margaret Hills (née Robertson). Image via LSE Library

Margaret Ashton (1856 – 1937) became Manchester’s first woman councillor in 1908, using her seat to voice her opinions on votes for women, health and education. She helped to found the Women’s Trade Union and was active in peace campaigns during the First World War.

Further Reading:

2 responses to The First Woman in Parliament Square

  1. keithbracey says:

    Reblogged this on keithbracey and commented:
    Millicent Fawcett the first woman to have a statue in #Parliament Square Millicent Fawcett was a Suffragist whose aim was to win #VotesforWomen by peaceful means in contrast to the Suffragettes who vowed to do anything peaceful or not to enfranchise women

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