© Rafa de Miguel
If you go to Parliament Square in London, you will see, among several statues of true heroes of our time, the statue of a woman holding a banner reading: “Courage calls to courage everywhere”. She is Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), intellectual, writer and suffragist whose believe in the need of granting higher education and Parliamentary representation to women led her to spend the best part of her long life – she lived to be 82 – fighting for the public recognition of women’s’ dignity. Much less prone to use violent methods than suffragettes as Emily Pankhusrt, she enjoyed a long and happy marriage to the intellectual and Liberal MP Henry Fawcett based on mutual respect and a communion of interests. Together with her sister Elizabeth, Britain’s first female doctor, she devoted herself to two tasks: facilitating the access of women to higher education (which was hindered, if not banned, at the time) and to demand publicly women’s right to vote, based on the principle that, if they had property and income, and paid direct and indirect taxes like men, they should equally have representation in Parliament. In a famous speech demanding women’s suffrage delivered at the Cambridge Reform Club in 1873, she pronounced a sentence that encapsulates her ideas: “It is sometimes assumed that the demand of women for representation, is a signal of a great battle to be fought out between men and women. Never was there any assumption more removed from the fact.” It is now widely understood that her campaigns were key in the passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 which granted finally the right to vote to more than 8.5 million women over 30 in Britain.
It is precisely Cambridge where her legacy will be more obvious: together with Henry Sidwick, she founded in 1871 Newnham College, the first college for women after the University had granted permission one year earlier to establish Lectures for Ladies. Still, women had to wait until 1948 before obtaining full membership of Cambridge, the last university in the United Kingdom to do so.
Among her works, the extremely popular Political Economy for Beginners (10 editions in 41 years) and Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects (co-authored with her husband).