Millicent Fawcett was born in 1847 and at 18 married the MP Henry Fawcett. She was a member of the London National Society of Women's Suffrage from its foundation in 1867 and became a well-known speaker on the subject. From 1893, she presided over a committee formed to campaign on behalf of local suffrage societies. This group eventually led to the formation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897. Unlike the more militant WSPU, the NUWSS was committed to more constitutional methods and had a membership of 50,000 by 1913. Even at its peak, the more militant WSPU only had a membership of 2000.
Members of the NUWSS feared that the direct action of the WSPU would alienate potential supporters for women's suffrage though its leaders, Millicent Fawcett among them, did not always condemn the violent tactics of the sister campaign. Both the NUWSS and the WSPU suspended their political campaigns after the declaration of war in 1914. The WSPU subsequently became involved in recruiting soldiers for the British Army though the NUWSS did not.
On Fawcett's resignation from presidency in 1919, the NUWSS adopted a new, expanded manifesto under Eleanor Rathbone and began to campaign for equal pay for women, a reform of divorce laws, the legal recognition of mothers as equal guardians with fathers of their children and the opening of the legal profession to women.
This leaflet was produced by the NUWSS in July 1913. It shows how extensive and far reaching the society had become by that time. The campaign for women's suffrage was very much a national campaign.
- What are the advantages of having such widespread support all over the country? Are there any disadvantages?
- The NUWSS had a much larger membership than the WSPU but is not always so well known - why do you think this might have been?