LONDON – On Tuesday, a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in London’s Parliament Square — the first statue of a woman to reside in the famous square opposite Westminster Palace.
The Fawcett statue joins 11 of men in the square, including Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
British Prime Minister Theresa May — Britain’s second female leader of Parliament — was at the unveiling and said that she wouldn’t be where she was today had it not been for Fawcett, who campaigned for women’s right to vote.
“I would not be standing here today as prime minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in Parliament, none of us would have had the rights and protections we now enjoy, were it not for one truly great woman,” she said.
Britain is marking the centennial of (some) women getting the right to vote — in 1918, women older than 30 who owned property in Britain achieved the right to vote. It was also the year that women were allowed to stand for election as a member of Parliament for the first time. (The first woman to take a seat in Parliament was Nancy Astor, an American who moved to the U.K. when she was 26, in 1919.)
Fawcett was a leading figure in the campaign in the long fight for women’s right to vote. Born in 1847 in the coastal town of Aldeburgh, Fawcett was interested in women’s suffrage, even as a teenager. When she was 19, she organized signatures for a petition calling for votes for women (she was too young to sign it herself). She became well-known as an advocate for peaceful protests and in 1897 became president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. She also campaigned for equal access for higher education.
She died in 1929, a year after voting rights were extended to all women older than 21.
The new 8-foot-4-inch statue by Gillian Wearing is the first statue in the square to be designed by a woman.