Millicent Fawcett: Suffragist becomes first woman honored in London’s Parliament Square

The statues of famous men in Britain’s Parliament Square have finally got female company. A memorial to an activist who fought for the right to let women vote has been unveiled to mark the centenatry of women’s suffrage.

A ceremony to unveil a new bronze statue of women’s rights campaigner Millicent Fawcett was held Tuesday outside Britain’s Parliament. Fawcett is the first woman to be commemorated there alongside statues of 11 men including Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.

Fawcett was president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and a key campaigner in the movement that got British women over 30 the right to vote in 1918. Although she died in 1929 at the age of 82, she lived to see women get the same voting rights as men.

Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister Theresa May said “Few of us can claim to have made an impact as significant and lasting as Dame Millicent, and it is right and proper that, today, she takes her place at the heart of our democracy.”

The statue was the result of a campaign launched by feminist Caroline Criado-Perez who said that her research had shown that there were more statues in Britain of men called John that there were statues of women. If you exclude memorials to Queen Victoria, less than 3 percent of statues in the UK are of women.

The statue, by Turner prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, is of Fawcett holding a placard reading “Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere.” The line is from a speech Fawcett gave upon the death of Suffragette Emily Wilding Davidson at the 1913 Epsom Derby horse race.

Fawcett’s life devoted to women’s rights

Fawcett herself was a Suffragist, which was part of part of a moderate movement that predated the more militant Suffragettes.

She was president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies between 1897 and 1901 and is best known for her campaign to improve women’s opportunities in higher education. She was a co-founder of the women-only Newnham College at Cambridge University.

The honoring of Fawcett is the high point of celebrations marking the centenary of women’s right to vote and comes at a time of revelations about the extent of the gender pay gap in Britain and other persistent inequalities.

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