The decision to raise a statue to Dame Millicent Fawcett, the campaigner for votes for women, in London’s Parliament Square (where there are 11 statues of men) is not just a victory for feminism: it’s also a recognition of the achievements of change through constitutional and peaceful means.
The more flamboyant lives of the Suffragettes have hitherto claimed the greater claim to fame. Mrs Pankhurst has been portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep. The movie Suffragette gives much historical credit for winning votes to Emily Wilding Davison, the unbalanced extremist who threw herself under the king’s horse at the 1913 Derby (years later, the jockey committed suicide, unable to forget the trauma).
By contrast, Millicent Fawcett – working steadily and persistently for votes, education and property rights for women – has often been overlooked. Dame Millicent – whose sister was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first British woman doctor – disapproved of the violence that the Suffragettes embraced, posting bombs in letter boxes and attempting to set theatres on fire.
So it’s good that Dame Millicent’s achievements should now be commemorated. By the same token, Christian feminists should reclaim their history, underlining what a strong role religious faith played in the advancement of women’s status.
Many of the first modern feminists drew their values from Christianity, starting with Florence Nightingale (who is acknowledged as a true pathfinder by Ray Strachey in her authoritative account of the women’s movement, The Cause). In her writings, Flo Nightingale sees the example of Christ leading her in all her endeavours.
Other founding feminists who were influential with Dame Millicent and her sister were the religious writers Hannah More and Harriet Martineau, and especially the anti-slavery campaigner and vicar’s wife Josephine Butler (who took prostitutes into her own home). The values of Christian Socialism were embedded in these campaigners for women’s suffrage and advancement.
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