Presenting the 1866 petition

Presenting the 1866 petition
  • Title: Report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Petitions

  • Date : 1866

  • Catalogue number : Parliamentary Archives, HC/CL/JO/6/416

  • Description :

    John Stuart Mill MP presented the first mass women’s suffrage petition to the House of Commons on 7 June 1866. The petition was brought to Parliament by Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett. The story was later told that to avoid attention on arrival in Westminster Hall, they concealed it under the stall of an apple seller, which is where Mill found it. The petition organisers recorded 1499 names, which were printed and circulated in a pamphlet. However as can be seen here, the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Petitions counted and logged 1521 signatures. Presumably the extra 22 were last minute additions.

    Mill spoke on the petition on 17 July 1866.  A year later, the petition led to the first debate on votes for women. On 20 May 1867 Mill tried to amend the Second Reform Bill to replace the word ‘man’ with ‘person’. He later described this as ‘perhaps the only really important public service I performed in the capacity as a Member of Parliament.’ The division was lost by 73 votes to 196, but Mill was delighted by the level of support, which came from both sides of the House.

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