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John Stuart Mill and the 1866 petition

The Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill MP (1806-1873) was elected MP for the City of Westminster in 1865 on a platform including votes for women. Mill's thinking on women's rights was influenced by his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill (1807-1858). In 1869 Mill published his famous essay 'The Subjection of Women', in favour of equality of the sexes.

In 1865 the Kensington Society was formed. A discussion group for middle-class educated women who were barred from higher education in this period, it met at the Kensington home of Indian scholar Charlotte Manning. Following a discussion on suffrage, a small informal committee was formed to draft a petition and gather signatures, led by women including Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett. Mill agreed to present the petition to Parliament provided it could get at least 100 signatures, and the first version was drafted by his step-daughter, Helen Taylor.


John Stuart Mill


Paul Adolphe Rajon, Lithographer, after G F Watts

Catalogue number

WOA 1752