The amazing Garrett sisters – Elizabeth and Millicent
Two of Richard Garrett II’s granddaughters became important nationally. They challenged the barriers women faced in the 1800s and they improved opportunities for women.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
The battle to become a doctor
Women were not able to take university courses or get university degrees in the 1800s. But Elizabeth found another way. She completed an apprenticeship and undertook private study. After five years she successfully sat the examination of the Society of Apothecaries that would give her a licence to practise medicine. The Society had not formally excluded women from its examinations and Elizabeth’s father Newson threatened a lawsuit if it refused to let her enter. In 1865, with a brass plate on her door and her name on the medical register, Elizabeth Garrett, LSA began to treat her first patients. She went on to gain a medical degree from the University of Paris in 1870.
Elizabeth’s apprenticeship document.
Female students in the Royal Free Hospital operating theatre, 1877
Elizabeth in her later years
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was an extraordinary woman with an outstanding range of achievements:
• the first woman to qualify in Britain to practise medicine
• the first woman to qualify as a doctor of medicine in France
• the founder of the first hospital staffed by women
• the first woman in Britain to be elected to a School Board
• the co-founder of the first medical school for women
• the first woman member of the British Medical Association
• the first woman Dean of a British medical school
• the first female President of the East Anglian branch of the BMA
• as Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor in Britain.
A glass lantern slide showing Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her husband James George Skelton Anderson.
HA436/4/2/5 located at Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich branch
Elizabeth advanced the roles of women in three key ways:
• her example of high achievement in a profession,
• her promotion of the education and qualification of women,
• her personal example of a high profile in public life.
Her life and work opened doors for countless other women. Importantly, she also demonstrated that professional achievement could be combined with a successful marriage and the raising of a family.
The battle for votes for women
No women had the right to vote for MPs in Britain in the 1800s. Millicent was a part of the campaign to get votes for women from 1867, shortly after it began. Her perseverance and leadership qualities saw it through to its success.
Millicent became a figure of national importance. She became President of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897. The NUWSS was the largest group campaigning for votes for women. It organised meetings, petitions, posters and rallies, including the largest march the country had ever seen.
Millicent at the mass rally of 50,000 in Hyde Park, 1913, at the end of the Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage
In 1903, the votes for women movement split. The Women’s Social and Political Union was formed. It campaigned more militantly, but without gaining the vote for women before the outbreak of war in 1914. The split was seen also in the Garrett family. Elizabeth’s daughter joined the WSPU, and Elizabeth herself was briefly a member, before returning to her support for the peaceful tactics of the NUWSS.
Millicent continued to lead a peaceful campaign until six million British women over 30 years old finally gained the right to vote in 1918. Her importance was recognised in 1925 when she became Dame Millicent Fawcett
Millicent retired from the NUWSS in 1919 but, when parliament finally gave women the vote on the same terms as men in 1928, she was there to witness her life’s work become a reality.
Parliament decided that, 100 years since some women gained the right to vote, a statue of Millicent would be placed in Parliament Square.
by Garry Knight from London, England - Millicent Fawcett Statue 02 - Courage Calls, CC0,
In 2018 Millicent made history again. She became the first woman to be commemorated with a statue in Parliament Square – a landmark moment.
Photograph of the Women’s Unionist Association’s tea in Leiston, 1913. The women to the right of the tea urn looking towards the camera have been said to be Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson but this is not certain