Forgotten historic brooch belonging to Millicent Garrett Fawcett rediscovered

I received an intriguing email describing the discovery of a previously unknown brooch belonging to Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Obviously such an item is of considerably significance to the Fawcett Society and the Women’s Library. The images accompanying the email do not do justice to the beautiful craftsmanship of the object, which is now on display for the first time in LSE Library’s new exhibition Endless Endeavours.

The brooch is unique. Suffrage jewellery is typically fashioned in the green, white and purple colours of the Women’s Social and Political Union. This piece, made specifically for Millicent, is gold and enamel bearing the arms of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, of which Millicent was President until 1919, and encrusted in green, white and red gems – the colours of the suffragists. On the reverse is a gold-lettered message in blue enamel ‘Millicent Fawcett 1913 Steadfastness and Courage’.

So what is the story behind the brooch, and do the archives at LSE hold the answers? After a bit of delving into the archive of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, predecessor of the Fawcett Society, I found some interesting documents relating to the brooch or a ‘badge’ as it was called.

In November 1911, Asquith seemed sympathetic to the women’s suffrage cause, supported by Lloyd George and Edward Grey, but these optimistic pledges proved worthless. Disappointed, but not discouraged, Millicent wrote a message in the Common Cause (journal of the National Union) of 31 January 1913 asking if she could rely on the ‘steadfastness and courage’ of the Union to carry on the extra work entailed by the lengthy campaign. On 5 February 1913 Edith Palliser, Chairman of the London Society, wrote to every Society in the Union about the decision to hold a parade in honour of Millicent Fawcett during the evening reception for delegates attending the Annual Council Meeting later that month. She suggested that every Society should write a reply to Millicent’s message.

The Annual Council Meeting of 1913 was held at Holborn Hall on 27-28 February. 596 delegates attended representing 288 Societies along with 16 Federation secretaries. Millicent’s presidential address focused on the political situation and the line of action that the NUWSS would take. The Common Cause provides lots of details about the evening reception on 27 February at Grafton Galleries. As delegates for the parade arrived, they were swept quickly through to the back room where each one was given a white wand, tipped with evergreens and bearing the name of her district in red letters and with her Society’s letter to the President neatly mounted on brown paper. Representatives from over 400 Societies formed a long line in alphabetical order, as a loud cheer and burst of clapping greeted Millicent on her arrival.

The Chair was taken by Frances Balfour and speeches made by Margaret Ashton and Ray Strachey. Edith Palliser presented Millicent with the beautiful badge and the procession began to file past Millicent with each delegate handing her a pledge of loyalty. In her reply, Millicent said she was overcome by the tribute. She would regard the jewel as a most precious treasure and would hand it down to her daughter, who would prize it equally. When she had finished everyone cheered and sang ‘For she’s a jolly good fellow’. After supper, Millicent was seen wearing the badge around her neck.

Come and see this important brooch and other items relating to Millicent and the Fawcett Society at LSE Library’s exhibition Endless Endeavours: from the 1866 Women’s Suffrage Petition to the Fawcett Society, open to all until 27 August 2016. There are also gallery talks and related public discussions advertised here.

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Gillian Murphy
Gillian Murphy is an Assistant Archivist in LSE Library.

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