Who Is Millicent Fawcett? Feminist Activist Honored With First Statue of a Woman in London's Parliament Square

A statue of the British feminist Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in front of the British parliament on Tuesday. It was the first time a state of a woman has been placed in London's parliament square.

The statue was erected to mark the 100-year anniversary of Britain's Representation of People Act, which gave some women the right to vote.

"I would not be standing here today as prime minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in Parliament, none of us would have had the rights and protections we now enjoy, were it not for one truly great woman - Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett," Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May said about the suffragette during the unveiling of the statue.

The contemporary British feminist writer and activist Caroline Criado Perez had campaigned to have a statue of a woman placed in the square after she noticed that the only historical figures represented there were men. In an op-ed forCNN, Criado Perez said she had launched the campaign despite receiving frequent death and rape threats for her activism.

"Two years and 85,000 signatures later, Parliament Square is on the brink of no longer being a male-only space," Criado Perez wrote about her campaign for the statue shortly before its unveiling.

"The statue will be of Millicent Fawcett, who dedicated her whole life to fighting for women's right to vote. In 1866 at the age of 19 she collected signatures for the first petition demanding female suffrage to be handed into Parliament," Criado Perez continued. "In 1928, she was up in the Ladies' Gallery in the House of Lords watching the Equal Franchise Bill being passed. She died a year later in 1929. Until now, not a single statue of her has existed."

A statue in honour of the first female Suffragist Millicent Fawcett is unveiled during a ceremony in Parliament Square on April 24, 2018 in London, England. The statue of women’s suffrage leader Millicent Fawcett is the first monument of a woman and the first designed by a woman, Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing OBE, to take a place in parliament Square. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Born in 1847, Fawcett was a well-known feminist intellectual who campaigned for workers' rights and the right of women to vote. She was a suffragist, or a person who believed in campaigning peacefully for women's rights. Debates persist today about whether the suffragists, with their peaceful campaigns, or the suffragettes, who believed in more militant forms of activism, had a larger impact on British society.

In an op-ed for the Guardian, biographer Rachel Holmes argued that the decision to put a statue of a suffragist instead of a suffragette in Parliament Square was disappointing.

"I am far from naive enough to think that the Conservative Brexit establishment would, for example, have countenanced a memorial to the subject of my own current work, Sylvia Pankhurst. Pankhurst was not a suffragist but a full-blown, red-blooded suffragette – complete with the trips to prison and forced feeding also endured by her mother," Holmes wrote.

"I do not wish to downplay the contribution that Millicent made to the suffrage movement, but we should be wary of the conservative history that suggests that it was as, or even more, significant than that of the suffragettes in the struggle to achieve the vote," she added.