Millicent and Henry Fawcett by Ford Madox Brown
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Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847–1929) is best remembered as a leading campaigner for Women’s suffrage The right of women to vote in political elections. and the first leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). This was the largest organisation to campaign for ‘votes for women’.
In the mid 1800s, life in Britain for women was very different to today. There was very little education available to them, they could not work as doctors, lawyers or politicians. And, if they got married, everything belonged to their husband, including any money they earned and any property they owned.
Women were also not allowed to vote in national elections. This meant they had no say in the important laws and decisions that affected their everyday lives.
The campaign for women’s suffrage was one of the most important movements in the long fight for Gender equality When people of all genders have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. . A fight that is still going on today.
Analysing the portrait
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Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?
- Henry is sitting in an armchair and Millicent is perched on one of its arms. She is leaning in towards him with her arm around his shoulder.
- Millicent is gazing at Henry and looks as if she is paying close attention to what he is saying.
- Henry is holding Millicent’s hand.
- The couple had a close bond and often worked together.
- They are both wearing smart, fashionable clothes, the clothes of respectable people of the time.
- Henry looks to be wearing a ‘lounging robe’ – a sort of dressing gown – which suggests the couple are at home.
- Millicent is holding a pen and a piece of paper.
- Henry’s eyes are closed. He is pointing towards the paper and looks as if he is speaking in an animated way.
- Millicent appears to be writing down what Henry is saying.
- Henry was the first blind person ever to become an MP. Millicent acted as Henry’s guide and secretary, often making notes for him in the House of Commons The part of Parliament whose members, MPs, are elected by the people of the country. . Henry supported Millicent in her work as a writer. They both campaigned for Women’s suffrage The right of women to vote in political elections. .
Who was Millicent Fawcett?
- Millicent Fawcett became involved in the campaign for Women’s suffrage The right of women to vote in political elections. from a young age. She was one of the few women involved from the beginning to its end in 1928.
- In 1867, Millicent married Henry Fawcett. He was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage.
- Millicent became a well-known writer and speaker, not only on women’s right to vote, but also their right to education, employment and divorce, as well as on political and academic subjects. This was at a time when few women expressed their views on public platforms.
- In 1871, Millicent Fawcett co-founded Newnham College at the University of Cambridge. This made it possible for women to attend lectures, although they would not be allowed to gain university degrees there until 1948.
- In 1897, Millicent became leader of the NUWSS, the main Suffragist A person who campaigns for a group of people who do not have the right to vote in elections, in order to get this right for them. organisation. She was committed to a law-abiding approach and distanced herself from the more violent campaigning inspired by Suffragettes A group of women who organised a campaign in the early 1900s for the right of women to vote in political elections. like Emmeline Pankhurst. But she acknowledged the impact their actions had and is said to have praised the bravery of the women who went to prison for the cause.
- In 1918, wealthy women over 30 were granted the right to vote.
- In 1928, Millicent witnessed the passing of the Equal Franchise Act in Parliament The group of people who are elected to make and change the laws of a country. , more than 60 years after her first involvement in the struggle. This meant all men and women over 21 were finally given the right to vote on equal terms.
Why is this portrait significant?
- The idea for the double portrait appears to have come from the artist, Ford Madox Brown, who was Commission A formal request made to an artist to create an artwork. to paint Henry Fawcett. He is quoted as saying ‘My idea of painting Fawcett and his wife seems to me the most interesting’ and that ‘a group might be made of them full of character and Pathos A feeling of sympathy or sadness, that may be provoked by a performance, description, or situation. .’
- The artist, Ford Madox Brown, was part of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of young British artists who came together in 1848. They believed that art should be true to nature and morally enriching. They also explored social issues. Their work became highly influential.
- At this time, it was unusual for portraits to show people with disabilities. This is a rare example.
- Why might Millicent Fawcett have chosen not to use violent tactics, like the suffragettes, in her campaigning work for women’s suffrage?
- Is there a cause or issue that you believe in strongly? How far would you go to show your support?
- Millicent Fawcett was the younger sister of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain. What can you find out about Millicent and Elizabeth’s early roles in the campaign for women’s suffrage?