Suffragists set for English Heritage blue plaque honour in Westminster

Millicent Garrett Fawcett (ART PHO SERVICE)
Millicent Garrett Fawcett (ART PHO SERVICE)

Campaigners for votes for women will be recognised with an English Heritage blue plaque at their Westminster HQ.

The building at 22 Great Smith Street was the London base of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in the eight years leading up to the 1918 change in the law that finally gave some women the right to vote.

The suffragists, who used legal campaigning methods as opposed to the more extreme suffragettes, were led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett whose 2018 statue in Parliament Square was the first monument unveiled in the landmark London site.

Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director at English Heritage and Secretary of the Blue Plaques Panel, said: “The NUWSS are today perhaps less well-known than the militant - and much higher profile - suffragettes.

But their consistent lobbying, even - albeit more discreetly - during the First World War, was a driving force behind the partial enfranchisement of women and Millicent Garrett Fawcett was congratulated on her role in bringing about that reform in these very offices at the last meeting of the organisation’s executive here in February 1918.”

The group, which was formed in 1897 bringing together existing campaign groups, had around 50,000 members at its height before the First World War.

As well as Fawcett, the Grade II listed building was also a base for her colleague including Eleanor Rathbone who later became an independent MP and helped establish the foundations of the welfare state by campaigning for child benefit.

There are around 1,000 blue plaques in the capital but only around 140 celebrate women so English Heritage has launched a campaign to increase that number.

The scheme dates back more than 150 years to when an MP, William Ewart, suggested the idea of erecting “memorial tablets”.

The first plaque - erected in the memory of romantic poet Lord Byron - went up in 1867 and English Heritage took over responsibility for the scheme in 1986 when the Greater London Council was abolished.

Nominations for blue plaques are welcome but come with the criteria that the subject should have “made a great and lasting impact on society”, have been dead for at least 20 years and that the London building where they lived or worked is still standing.