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Henry Fawcett

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The First Blind MP

Henry Fawcett MPThere have been three blind members of the British parliament. Henry Fawcett was the first.

Born in Salibury in 1833, Fawcett was educated at Cambridge where he became a professor of economics. In 1858 he was blinded in a hunting accident, but was undeterred from pursuing both his academic career and his political ambitions.

He was elected to parliament in 1865 as a Liberal for Brighton. He was re-elected for Brighton in 1868 but lost the seat in the general election of 1874, which brought Disraeli's Tories to power. (Brighton thereafter went Tory until Labour's victories in 1997, apart from the years 1964 to 1970 when Dennis Hobden held the Kemp Town constituency for Labour.)

Soon after he was elected in a by-election for the London constituency of Hackney.

In parliament he joined the Radical wing of the Liberals, and was a close colleague of John Stuart Mill. Together they campaigned for parliamentary reform, including votes for women.

He was an early conservationist and a leading member of the Commons Preservation Society, playing a role in the defence of Epping Forest and the New Forest.

He was a campaigner for free and compulsory primary education.

In 1880 he accepted the post of postmaster-general in Gladstone's government.

He died of a sudden illness in 1884.

In 1867 he had married Millicent Garret, who became his secretary, and took the name Millicent Garret Fawcett. He encouraged her to develop her own political involvement and after his death she became in 1890 the president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She remained active politically until the 1920s. She is probably better known to history than her husband.

 

 

 

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