Born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk in England’s East Anglia on 11th June 1847, Millicent’s parents were Newson and Louisa Garrett (nee Dunnell). Millicent’s parents were wealthy – her father was a ship owner and merchant.
The Garretts had six daughters and four sons – Millicent’s sister Elizabeth became the first woman in doctor in the UK and her sister Agnes became a successful interior decorator.
The Garrett children were all educated at a progressive private boarding school in Blackheath, London, which was run by Robert Browning’s aunt – Louisa Browning.
When Millicent was twelve years old, her sister Elizabeth went to study medicine in London and Millicent went frequently to visit her sister. In 1865 Millicent heard a speech by John Stuart Mill on the subject of women’s rights, following which she began to support his work. It was Mill who introduced Millicent to Henry Fawcett, the Liberal MP for Brighton, fourteen years her senior and a former suitor of Elizabeth Garrett. Fawcett had been blinded in a shooting accident. The pair married in 1867 and had one child – Phillipa Fawcett who was born in 1868.
In 1868 Millicent joined the London Suffrage Committee and began to speak at meetings. When her husband died in 1884, Millicent and her daughter went to live with Agnes. Millicent became leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, a post which she held until 1919 when women were granted the right to vote.
One of Millicent’s main focuses was the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, which required that women who were prostitutes be examined for sexually transmitted diseases, while their male clients were not. If a prostitute was found to be infected, she was imprisoned. Poor women at that time could be arrested and imprisoned merely on suspicion of being a prostitute and women could also be imprisoned if they refused to submit to the painful, invasive examination. Millicent believed that the double moral standards of the age would never be changed until women were properly represented in public life.
Millicent wrote under the name of Millicent Garrett Fawcett and wrote three books and many articles about her various campaigns, which included the education of women. She was a co-founder of Newnham College, Cambridge.
She also went to South Africa in 1901 during the Boer War to help Emily Hobhouse with her work among women and children in concentration camps.
When the First World War broke out, Millicent concentrated all her efforts on campaigning for support of the war.
Millicent died on 5th August 1929 and an inscription added to the monument of Henry Fawcett in Westminster Abbey relates that Millicent ‘ won citizenship for women’.