Millicent Fawcett

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | April 24, 2018 0

The first statue of a woman in Parliament Square was unveiled today. Fittingly it is of Millicent Fawcett and marks 100 years since she won her long battle to win women the right to vote.

Parliament Square has 9 other statues, all of men. They range from the strange brutalism of the Churchill statue, which had to be modified because his head looked a bit like Mussolini to the weak statue of Nelson Mandela who is depicted strangely with his hand in the air like an extra in a zombie movie. Public sculpture is difficult and Gillian Wearing’s statue shows Millicent Fawcett holding aloft her banner with the slogan reading “Courage calls for courage everywhere” and wearing the finely detailed brooch she was awarded in 1913.

As the suffragist takes her place alongside 11 all-male heroes, including Sir Winston Churchill, Theresa May will pay a fulsome tribute. She is expected to say: “I would not be here as Prime Minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in Parliament, none of us would have the rights and protections we enjoy, were it not for Dame Fawcett.” 2018 marks 100 years since women first secured the right to vote, and Millicent Fawcett will be making history again. Thanks to a campaign led by Caroline Criado Perez, she is now the first woman commemorated with a statue in Parliament Square – a landmark moment for the wider suffrage movement, and for women everywhere.

On July 17, 1869, in the Mayfair building that is now home to the Sketch restaurant, the 22-year-old wife of a Brighton MP stood up to speak at a public meeting in London calling for the enfranchisement of women. It was the first time Millicent Garrett Fawcett had delivered a speech on the subject. But, from her Suffolk childhood to her old age in Bloomsbury, there was rarely a moment when she could not be found advocating for equality and fairness.

For decade after decade, in the face of often fierce opposition, she travelled the country and the world, campaigning not just for the vote but on a whole range of issues. At the age of 19, she organised signatures for the first petition for women’s suffrage, though she was too young to sign it herself. She became President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (the NUWSS) from 1907-19. With 50,000 members it was the largest organisation agitating for female suffrage at the time. Her powerful and peaceful mass campaign was instrumental in securing the first extension of voting rights for women in 1918.

In 1913 she was awarded a brooch engraved with “For Steadfastness and Courage”, which The Fawcett Society still has today. Millicent Fawcett died in 1929, a year after women were finally given universal suffrage. Her work has continued ever since, with The London Society for Women’s Suffrage renamed as The Fawcett Society in her honour in 1953.

The statue, which features a 50-year-old Fawcett holding a banner reading “Courage calls for courage everywhere”, took seven months to craft at the AB Fine Art Foundry in East London. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the bust, designed by artist Gillian Wearing, “should make us all incredibly proud.”

Dame Millicent’s statue is next to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, a spot Mr Khan believes is significant because they shared “peaceful” means of protesting. As a suffragist, Suffolk-born Fawcett was more moderate than the suffragettes but a ­tireless campaigner. She died in 1929 at the age of 82.

Gillian Wearing’s beautiful sculpture gives Dame Millicent a long-overdue and permanent place in the heart of London — a city that, almost a century after her death, is in many ways a living testament to her life’s work. The sculpture cast by the lost wax method is also special for the detail the artist has gone to faithfully depict the stitching and embroidery both on the dress and the banner, never has drapery been more meticulously depicted in bronze.

From the heads of the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade to the artistic director of the English National Ballet and the London chair of the Arts Council, this is a city in which women are no strangers to the top.

The setting in Parliament Square helps to address a gender imbalance and reminds us that her fight for women’s equality carried on today by the Fawcett Society has no finishing line. In this 100th year of women being granted limited voting rights it reminds us of the other great contributors to the movement for equality and civil rights for all: of Countess Constance Markievicz the Irish Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil politician, revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist who became the first Female MP in 1918, of her sister Eva Goore-Booth a prominent suffragette in Manchester, of Emmeline Pankhurst who was incarcerated in Aylesbury Prison with Constance Markievicz and of Hannah Sheehy Skeffington whose innocent journalist husband was murdered by a British Army Officer during the 1916 Rising in Dublin which began 102 years ago today.

These and the many who have followed since in Millicent Fawcett’s courageous footsteps remind us that Women’s Rights are our Civil Rights and equality is the goal of all.

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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