This cartoon of the philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) appeared in Vanity Fair on the 29th March 1873, just a few weeks prior to his death. Mill is lampooned as ‘A Feminine Philosopher’ due to his outspoken comments regarding the unfairness of society’s treatment of women. In his book The Subjection of Women (1869), inspired in part by his wife Harriet Taylor Mill, he argued that allowing women equal opportunities to men in education and work, and an equal status with men in the eyes of the law, would immeasurably benefit society. Mill even put forward an unsuccessful amendment to the Reform Act 1867 to replace the word ‘Man’ with the word ‘Person’. Had he been successful this would have seen some women given the right to vote over fifty years before the Representation of the People Act 1918 finally granted limited women’s suffrage.
In the text accompanying this Vanity Fair illustration Mill is quoted as saying there should be ‘perfect equality’ between the sexes and that ‘’women – and not a few merely, but many women – have proved themselves capable of everything, perhaps without a single exception, that is done by men, and of doing it successfully and creditably’. The author of the piece is, however, far from convinced and describes this as a ‘hazardous assertion’.