Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which extended the vote to some women over the age of 30 for the first time. In yesterday’s post we saw the beginnings of the struggle for the vote in the 19th century. The campaign continued after the reform acts of 1867 and 1884. A key date in the history of the vote was 1897 when the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was formed. The NUWSS was founded and led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett.
Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett
The first statue of a women to be located in Parliament Square, London, is to be unveiled in April. Millicent Fawcett will be portrayed with a banner reading ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’. Her significance was recognised by St Andrews at an early date with the award of an honorary degree. She was to be seen campaigning wearing her doctoral robes. She might have had a greater accolade yet. A letter from author and University Rector JM Barrie to Principal James Irvine in 1925 suggested that Dame Millicent would make a perfect candidate for the first women rector at St Andrews. Sadly it was not until 1982 that this became a reality.
13 Oct 1925
My dear Irvine,
My telegram would tell you it was
no good. He is too much against universities, [&c],
he says, and has been attacking them and rectorial
elections generally. I did my best but could
not move him. I am wondering whom they* * [the students]
will turn to. Not literary presumably but political
would seem a pity. Science forward! Wouldn’t it
be in St A tradition of late years to have the
first woman rector? Mrs Fawcett stands out as
the real head of the great woman movement. Too
old perhaps, yet I believe she would shoot into
her proper prominence if chosen and be immensely
acclaimed and St A for doing it.
I’m a good deal better,
Millicent Garrett (1847-1929), one of the eleven children of Newson Garrett and Louise Dunnell, was part of a family of impressive women. Her sister Elizabeth Garrett was the first women to qualify as a doctor in Britain. Her sisters Agnes and Rhoda, originally intending to be architects, became influential interior designers who exhibited their designs at the 1878 Universal Exhibition in Paris and ran a school of interior design. Her daughter Philippa was an excellent mathematician who lectured at Newnham College, London, worked in South Africa to help in the aftermath of the Boer War and worked for almost 30 years in the development of schools for the London County Council.
Millicent was introduced early in life to a number of individuals with progressive views, such as John Stuart Mill and Emily Davis, by her elder sisters Elizabeth and Louise Garrett in London. In 1867 Millicent married Henry Fawcett, MP for Brighton, a supporter of universal suffrage and of the 1866 petition to parliament. Millicent assisted her husband in his work as MP and wrote a number of articles on her views of women’s education and political rights, such as Political Economy for Beginners. Millicent began travelling to speak in support of women’s rights.
After her husband’s early death aged 51 in 1884, Millicent continued her campaigning work, which was acknowledged by the University of St Andrews in January 1899 when she was awarded only the second honorary degree for a woman ‘for her splendid services in the cause of women’s education’.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Millicent Fawcett’s elder sister, Elizabeth (1836-1917) has been highlighted on this blog before. While not as prominent in the suffragist movement, she was a key figure in the fight for women’s access to University education and was at the core of the Victorian women’s movement. With the support of her father, Elizabeth applied to several Universities and medical schools around the country, including St Andrews. Elizabeth is the first women to sign the University’s matriculation register in 1862. Her name was struck out however as many protested to her admission. Although Elizabeth’s father had met with the medical professor Dr Day and the Vice Chancellor had agreed to her admission, many professors objected to women studying medicine on the grounds that the
“proposal was monstrous, and that, independent of any legal subtleties, it ought to be resisted on the head grounds of public decency”, for she might, in anatomy classes, “be surrounded by a crowd of very young men – many of them altogether destitute of any kind of delicacy or refinement. The idea is so revolting that it is difficult to image that it could have been seriously entertained”.
William Ramsay (msdep7 – Incoming letters 1862, no.175 (a,b))
Letter from Elizabeth Garrett to J D Forbes, referring to her father’ visit to St Andrews (msdep7 – Incoming letters 1862, no.162 (a,b)).
Undeterred, Elizabeth obtained her licence from the Society of Apothecaries in 1865, was entered onto the medical register and was the first women to obtain the MD from the University of Paris.
She was also the first women to be elected to the London School Board in 1870 and, in her retirement, was the first woman mayor in England, elected in 1908 to succeed her husband as the Mayor of Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
Dame Louisa Lumsden
The first warden of the first hall of residence in Scotland for women, University Hall, was Louisa Lumsden (1840-1935). Lumsden was one of the Girton pioneers, an early student and later tutor at Girton College, Cambridge, founded in 1869 as a women’s college by Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon (of the Langham group). Lumsden went on to teach at Cheltenham Ladies College and became first headmistress of St Leonards School, St Andrews from 1877. There were close links between these like-minded women. Louisa Garrett Anderson, daughter of Elizabeth, and niece of Millicent Fawcett, was educated at St Leonards School under Louisa Lumsden. As an activist for women’s education, Lumsden was the perfect candidate for Warden of University Hall and fought hard to establish it.
She was also a suffragist and in retirement served as president of the Aberdeen Suffrage Association from 1908. As representative of the Scottish branch of the NUWSS, she gave a speech at the 1913 rally in Hyde Park.
She was awarded an honorary LLD by St Andrews in the Quincentenary celebrations of 1911, perhaps an acceptance that women were by that time here to stay!
Frances Helen Melville
Melville was one of the first women to matriculate at the University of Edinburgh and the first woman in Scotland to graduate with a Bachelor of Divinity degree, awarded by St Andrews in 1910. While studying for that degree Melville was Warden of University Hall from 1900 to 1909. In addition to Melville’s stellar academic career, she was also an active campaigner for women’s education and women’s right to vote.
In 1906, Melville with fellow Edinburgh and St Andrews women graduates, including Dr Elsie Inglis and Chrystal Macmillan (former student of St Leonards), petitioned the Court of Session for their right to vote in the election for the MP for the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews. As members of the General Councils of these universities they argued that they were entitled to vote. They lost their case and their later appeal to the House of Lords in 1908. The Lords Opinion dismissed the appeal on the basis that:
Women are by reason of their sex incapacitated from voting in the election of a member of parliament.
Melville did not give up though and after the franchise had been extended to women, stood as the candidate for the Scottish Universities seat in 1938. Melville came in second to Sir John Anderson with 5618 votes.
The struggle for women’s suffrage was partially granted in 1918. We can see evidence of this in the University voting papers for Parliamentary Elections in 1918, to be sent out to eligible women graduates to vote for the University seat.
In tomorrow’s instalment, we will have a closer look at the suffragist movement in Fife.
Principal Archives Assistant
Information taken from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, where entries are available.