Dutch support for a Millicent Fawcett Statue in Parliament Square

For Dutch Social Liberals, being a party activist and being a feminist have always been strongly (90%) overlapping aspects of our social behavior and social activism. Whereas Dutch Social Democracy until 1934 neglected the women’s emancipation struggle because the emancipation of all proletarians came first, we are proud that from the beginning, Dutch social-liberal parties (Radikale Bond/RB, 1892-1901, VDB, 1901-’46, D66) have always had feminist spokespersons in their parliamentary parties. Aletta Jacobs, our most famous late 19th century feminist, was a RB founder/activist, and it was a VDB bill which gave Dutch women the vote. And the 1966 founders of D66 were strongly involved in the Second Feminist Wave (raising male consciousness about issues like equal pay, equal family law rights, childcare and family planning), and proudly conscious of the RB and VDB feminist tradition.

And British feminists, Millicent Garrett Fawcett (and her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson) in particular, played an indispensable role in getting that Dutch feminist tradition going.

In 1870-’76 a young Dutch liberal, Victor Gerritsen, lived in London where he immersed himself in the Radical and Liberal scene around John Stuart Mill and the Garrett sisters. In those years (thanks to permission by liberal prime minister Thorbecke), Aletta Jacobs was able to study medicine including her Ph. D. promotion. On his return here, Gerritsen heard about this, and that Jacobs wanted to study medical practices in London. Gerritsen wrote her, giving her useful contact addresses, and telling about the advent of British female medical doctors (this proved the start of their love- and later marriage relationship).

According to the authoritative biography of Jacobs, she visited London in March-September 1879. Via the brothers George and Charles Robert Drysdale (women’s doctors and pioneers in Neo-Malthusianism) she met Elizabeth Garrett (Britain’s first female doctor meeting the first Dutch one), and worked with her in the London Medical School of Women, New Hospital for Women, and in Garrett’s “St. Mary’s Dispensary” aimed at mothers and children. Via Elizabeth, Jacobs also met Millicent Garrett and her husband, the Cambridge economist/suffragist Henry Fawcett (their mutual supportive, loving relationship was to be copied by Jacobs and Gerritsen), who were more involved in the women’s voting right movement. Gerritsen already subscribed to the suffragist “Englishwomen’s Review”, and had his British friends send him new Liberal, feminist and radical publications; when the Dutch feminist movement got started in the 1880’s, his substantial library was used by everybody in Dutch social liberalism and feminism.

Back in the Netherlands, Jacobs opened a similar Dispensary in the working class neighborhood Jordaan in Amsterdam. In 1883, aping the 1867 attempt by Lilly Maxwell to exercise her vote in a parliamentary by-election, Jacobs tried to get voting rights in the Amsterdam local election, and to mobilize women with property. Jacobs and Gerritsen founded the RB party and the Dutch Neo-Malthusian movement branch; and supported the launch of Toynbee Hall-like  education and feeding centers in Dutch cities. Jacobs in 1903-’19 led the women’s suffrage association VVVK, and as such attended international conferences and associations like IWSA, presided by Fawcett.

Without the Garretts, Jacobs and Gerritsen couldn’t have helped launch Dutch Social Liberalism. So we fully support the idea of a statue on Parliament Square!

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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9 Comments

  • Bernard Aris 13th Sep '17 - 5:26pm

    For historical completeness, an addendum about how the personal relationship between Jacobs and Fawcett probably developed from 1884 onwards (wnhen Jacobs started trying to get into the male-dominated Dutch politics).
    Garret Fawcett in 1884-5 followed Joseph Chamberlain with his “unauthorised program” out of Gladstones Liberals (the “Newcastle Program” was on the horizon) and via Liberal Unionism into the Tory environment. She remained a Suffragist, but in a more hostile political environment.
    During the First Boer War and especially during the Second, the Dutch press was almost blindly behind the Boers (some liberals remaining critical about their “Apartheid” principles); the press called Fawcetts report about the concentration camps a whitewash. At the same time, the Dutch social Liberals (RB followed by VDB) launched the “ethical” colonial policy, educating (in western schools) the native Javanese and other East and West Indians so they could play a constructive, substantial part in the running of the Dutch East and West Indies. This became government policy.
    We cann’t be sure (Jacobs in hert last years burned much of her archive), but her biographer writes that it is likely that although they were both prominent in the international (and national) suffragist movements, Jacobs and Fawcett’s personal relationship cooled and they never again were as close as in the 1870’s up to 1884.

  • Interesting to hear your comments about Millicent Fawcett, Bernard. I’m currently involved in getting a blue plaque erected at the former home of Catherine Marshall in the Lake District.

    Catherine was a suffragist who worked closely with Mrs. Fawcett up to the outbreak of war in 1914, but their paths then diverged. Mrs Fawcett strongly supported the war effort whereas Catherine was a peace campaigner and became secretary of the No Conscription Fellowship along with Clifford Allen and Bertrand Russell.

    Catherine and Mrs Fawcett clashed over an international women’s peace conference in neutral Holland. Both were Liberals, but the war eventually led Catherine into the Labour Party. “From Liberal to Labour with Women’s Suffrage: The Story of Catherine Marshall” by Jo Vellacott makes interesting reading on the demise of the Liberal Party as a result of the War…. and happenings in Holland.

  • Bernard Aris 13th Sep '17 - 7:45pm

    That’s right, that 1915 conference was organised by a (Dutch) committee around Jacobs, who later on in the war traveled with an Dutch (or international?) delegation to London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Washington to plead for an end to the war or at least an armistice.
    Probably Mrs. Marshall helped that delegation get access to Lloyd George’s ministers, although Jacobs, being a leading VDB Liberal, had good relations with for example Samuel (who welcomed her at an international suffragist cvonference before the Big War; he was the later Palestine governor). See what you can find out about that delegation…

    the strange death of Liberal England indeed…

  • I should have added not everyone agrees there should be a statue to Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square – because she was prepared to compromise the voting rights of the majority of working-class women in the cause of the middle-class elite.

    Catherine never became a Mrs., Bernard, she was a Miss – though she had a very passionate relationship with Clifford Allen for a time.

    She did have access to Asquith (getting him to stop some Conscientious Objectors who were sent from Richmond Castle to France from being shot – ‘Abominable’ he said to her). She had little time for LLG who became very illiberal and dictatorial on human rights but surprisingly did establish a good relationship with the War Office.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Sep '17 - 11:47pm

    meant to say, respect for SDP !

  • Bernard Aris 14th Sep '17 - 10:55am

    @ Frank Litlle

    Well, let’s not get gready. I read in the Dutch press that the second female statue was for Mrs. Pankhurst; and she and her lawyer husband started out as suffragist liberals (writing the law on economic independence for women, something the Dutch only got around to in the 1960’s). They drifted to the left (Keir Hardy’s ILP), and she and her daughters were OK with sometimes shocking violence (burning Lloyd George’s house) but they also have remained in the popular menmory about the suffrage movement longer than the more moderate types (to the detriment of the activists in the Second Feminist wave; the tabloids had a field day portraying them as extremists you couldn’t have a decent debate with).
    Let’s use Mrs. Pankhurst as the celebrity drawing the crowds, and Fawcet right beside her to educate visitors of Pankhurst that there were more, other feminists active in that movement.

    I think it’s OK to have both the moderate and extreme wings of the suffrage womens movement; after all, Winston (the most famous statue on the Square) let civilian Tory mobs loose on TUC activists during the General Strike; and his Gold Standard policy was disastrous for many small enterprises and thousands of workers and employees. Nobody is perfect, and it takes all sorts of people to make history.

  • @ Bernard Aris Mrs Pankhurst, “drifted to the left (Keir Hardy’s ILP).” Errrrrrrrrr, not quite, Bernard. She was a Tory.

    In the very early days she tried to join the ILP in Manchester, but they wouldn’t have her. After the war she became friendly with Stanley Baldwin and joined the Conservative Party. She was an adopted Tory candidate in Stepney but died before the 1929 election. Twas Baldwin who unveiled her statue.

  • PS. Should have added that Sylvia certainly was on the left, but Emmeline and Christabel were definitely on the far right.

    Sylvia broke with the other two in the War and provided shelter for Conscientious Objectors on the run – whereas E and C were busy giving out white feathers and making outrageously right wing speeches.

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