WHAT: Henry Fawcett Memorial
WHERE: Victoria Embankment Gardens (map)
BY WHOM: Mary Grant
There are numerous late Victorian statues and memorials in Embankment Gardens, the very pretty public park that occupies the land reclaimed from the Thames by Bazalgette that lies between the Adelphi and the river.
Walking through there recently (admiring the extraordinary beds of tulips) I was intrigued by the memorial to Henry Fawcett because a) the subject is obviously blind and b) it is inscribed “erected … by his grateful countrywomen”.
Fawcett was born in 1833 and died of pleurisy in 1884 aged just 51. He was blinded in a shooting accident when he was 25, but went on to be the first professor of political economy at Cambridge (aged 29), and the first completely blind MP when elected to represent Brighton in 1885 (he later served as MP for Hackney).
He was from the ‘radical’ side of Gladstone’s Liberal Party, a supporter of the utilitarian John Stuart Mill, and in 1866 helped organise the first mass petition calling for women’s suffrage. The following year he spoke and voted for Mill’s amendment to the 1867 Reform Bill that aimed to give women the vote.
Also in 1867 he married Millicent Garrett (after first proposing to her sister Elizabeth). She had also been involved in organising the suffrage petition and was a member of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage.
Millicent – as Millicent Garrett Fawcett – wrote books on political economy and social issues, helped found Newnham College in Cambridge, and in 1897 became the first president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Her statue in Parliament Square – the only statue there of a woman – was unveiled in 2018.