Millicent Fawcett statue is a first for women

Momentous Crowds gather at statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett created by Gillian Wearing in Parliament Square yesterday

Fawcett led campaigning for women to be given the vote in Britain, and the unveiling of the statue was the high point in a series of events marking 100 years since some women were granted that right for the first time in 1918.

Millicent Fawcett is the second unveiling of a female statue I have attended, the first being Mary Seacole - the first named black woman to have a statue.

"The struggle to achieve votes for women was long and arduous and Dame Millicent was there from the beginning", British Prime Minister Theresa May said at the unveiling.

"It is right and proper that, today, she takes her place at the heart of our democracy", May said, whilst warning that the fight for equality was "far from won". She dedicated the following six decades of her life to the cause, leading what was then known as the suffragist movement - as opposed to the suffragettes who adopted more militant methods of activism.

The statue marks February's centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which extended the vote to around eight million women aged over 30.

Millicent Fawcett statue is a first for women

London Mayor Sadiq Khan noted Fawcett's inclusion, or that of any woman in Parliament Square, is long overdue. Although she died in 1929 at the age of 82, she lived to see women get the same voting rights as men.

With her hair swept back in a bun and cloaked in an unassuming coat, Fawcett contrasted with some of her male counterparts on the square, past prime ministers such as Benjamin Disraeli and David Lloyd George, who are presented with outstretched hands or flowing robes. The monument shows Fawcett holding a placard reading "Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere", in tribute to a speech she gave upon the death of Suffragette Emily Wilding Davidson at the 1913 Epsom Derby horse race. It gained the support of mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Mrs May, and the sculpture was created by Turner Prize victor Gillian Wearing. Now, the pioneering suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett stands among them.

After all, Caroline Criado-Perez, in her original petition for female representation in the square, signed by almost 85,000 people, campaigned for a statue of a "suffragette", not a "suffragist". She was a co-founder of the women-only Newnham College at Cambridge University.

Fawcett founded the National Union of Women's Suffrage and in 1866 at the age of 19 collected signatures for the first petition demanding the right for women to vote to be handed into parliament.

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