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Votes for Women
Thought for the Day, BBC Radio Suffolk, Saturday 2 February 2008
Thirty-odd years ago, I met a suffragette. She’d known the Pankhursts – Emmeline and her daughter Christabel, who led the Women’s Social & Political Union, popularly known as suffragettes. Although Mrs Birnberg was an old woman when I met her, she still felt as strongly about women’s rights as she’d ever done and was scornful about the young women who didn’t use the vote that she and other women had fought for. I thought about her when, during election campaigns here in Suffolk, women would say they couldn’t be bothered to go and vote.
I didn’t know about the Suffolk connection with the women’s suffrage movement then. Millicent Garrett Fawcett was born in Aldeburgh in 1847. When visiting her older sisters Elizabeth and Louise in London she was influenced by the radical political views of their friends. In 1865, she heard a speech on women’s rights by John Stuart Mill MP, a strong influence on the Humanist movement, and through him she met other campaigners. One was the blind MP Henry Fawcett, who she married. Millicent’s sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson is famous as a doctor who won the right for women to train in medicine, and as Mayor of Aldeburgh. The new Garrett Anderson Centre at Ipswich Hospital is named after her.
Millicent Fawcett became leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which campaigned for women’s right to vote. Unlike more militant suffragettes, who caused criminal damage and other crimes in pursuit of their aims, Millicent believed the suffragettes could win by constitutional means. The Fawcett Society, of which I’m a member, is still campaigning for equality between men and women at work, in the home, and in public life.
I chose to talk about this today because this Wednesday we celebrate the 90th anniversary of women winning the vote. In many parts of the world, women still don’t have a vote or anything close to equality. I hope it won’t take another 90 years before they do.