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Consolidating Leadership of the Suffrage Campaign

In the 1880s, in preparation for the introduction of a new reform bill, the suffrage campaigners mounted ‘Grand Demonstrations' in cities around Britain to show that women were in earnest in wanting the vote. On 6 May 1880 Millicent Fawcett was a speaker at a large London meeting and mentioned that when she and her husband were making their wills it was brought home to her in a very personal way how unjust the law was. She realised that if her husband died she could not become their daughter's guardian unless he had appointed her, and: ‘Having written a book some years ago from which she derived annually a small income, she asked the lawyer whether that book was her own property and whether she could will it to anyone after her death. The lawyer's answer was, “I am ashamed to say that even that book is not your own property to do with as you wish. It belongs to your husband.'  (The Merthyr Telegraph, 14 May 1880).

It was to change such laws that women needed the vote. However, after several years of such campaigning, an amendment to include women in the 1884 Reform Bill was defeated. Millicent Fawcett retired for a time from public life after Henry Fawcett's death in 1884 but by 1886 had resumed her position as a touring suffrage speaker. In 1888 she became honorary secretary of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage.

In 1896 Millicent Fawcett presided at an important meeting that led to the formation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in 1897. She became its president in 1907, a position she held until successfully negotiating votes for some women (over 30 years of age) in 1918.


William Woodall's amendment to the 1884 Representation of the People Bill


12 June 1884

Catalogue number

House of Commons Debates, vol 289 c92