The Story of Emmeline Pankhurst
Thursday May 7, 2015 by Guest Blogger
With the May 7th elections looming and with all of us in the UK having a momentous decision to make, I thought it the perfect month in my Best of Britons series to look back at the life and works of one of our most influential political figures. A towering giant whose amazing achievements have garnered worldwide attention long after her life.
And who just happens to be a woman.
Hang on a minute! Hold your horses…no, it’s not the most opinion polarizing female of the twentieth century, but rather the ‘polar’ opposite. Because the woman in question is without question…a hero to both sexes. So back in your respective boxes you Maggie lovers and haters…that’s a discussion for another time!
The woman we’re talking about is Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British Suffragette movement who fought for women's right to vote. This controversial woman was repeatedly slammed in prison for using violent tactics in her struggle for equality, but if you think that it was less than 90 years ago that she eventually made this happen, then her feat becomes even more staggering.
Can we imagine women not having the vote today?
So it all began when Emmy (to her friends) was born Emmeline Goulden in 1858 in Manchester's now infamous Moss Side. In 1873 (at just 15) she was sent to a Parisian finishing school and in her autobiography she wrote that: "The school was under the direction of a woman who believed that girls' education should be quite as thorough as that of boys." Some good news then. Formative.
Then in 1879, at just 20, she married socialist Richard Pankhurst, a liberal lawyer 24 years older than her and the couple became part of a vibrant political and social circle.
Disillusioned with the women's political groups of the time however, she founded the Women's Political and Social Union, a female only group dedicated to practical activism and to getting equal votes for women which became a formidable force in British politics. They got a reputation for increasingly militant and often violent acts, which included cutting telephone lines, attacking the home of Chancellor David Lloyd George, sending letter bombs and chaining themselves to railings.
There is something that Governments care for far more than human life, and that is the security of property, and so it is through property that we shall strike the enemy. Be militant each in your own way. I incite this meeting to rebellion.
Emmy and Richard's eldest daughter, Christabel, became a leading member of the WPSU and in 1905 she became one of the first suffragettes to be imprisoned, after interrupting a Liberal Party meeting by shouting demands for votes for women. She and a fellow “gette” Annie Kenney refused to pay a fine, and so were tried and sent to prison. The trial created a load of interest and a subsequent increase in WSPU membership! Following her daughter's arrest, Emmy began taking more militant action herself and was imprisoned a number of times.
That didn't stop her though and in 1910, she led more than 300 women in a march on Parliament where they were met with an aggressive and violent police response (ordered by the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill) in which officers punched protesters and reputedly "pulled on women's breasts". Needless to say, the Prime Minister (Asquith) refused to meet her. And when it looked like a "conciliation bill" on women's suffrage would be derailed, she was again involved, this time in a campaign of window smashing. When police raided the WPSU offices they arrested Emmy, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit property damage. She was sent to Holloway Prison, where she went on hunger strike and had to be force fed by officers.
Just two days after war broke out in WW1 the WPSU stopped all activism, with the government agreeing to release all suffragettes from prison in return for them helping the war effort.
And then Finally! Votes for (some) Women were introduced in 1918!
The Representation of the People Act 1918 extended the vote to women but they had to be over 30, property owners or graduates voting in a 'university constituency.'
Emmy died aged just 69 in Hampstead in 1928 unfortunately 18 days to soon to see parliament eventually pass the Representation of the People (equal franchise) Act 1928, which finally gave women truly equal votes with men. It meant that women just had to be over 21 years old to vote, regardless of property ownership.
Victory for Emmy, for women...and for all of us.
I say with no fear of contradiction, that whatever view posterity may take, Mrs. Pankhurst has won for herself a niche in the Temple of Fame which will last for all time.
The Emmeline trail
To see where Mrs Pankhurst and her family lived, you can visit The Pankhurst Centre, 60-62 Nelson Street, Manchester.
Where to stay? Book a serviced apartment in Manchester
There is a blue plaque commemorating her at 50 Clarendon Road in Holland Park in London or you may wish to visit the bronze statue of Emmeline unveiled by former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in Victoria Tower Gardens, a small park just west of the Houses of Parliament.
Where to stay? Book a serviced apartment in London
If you liked this why not check out some of my other blogs.
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Posted by Guest Blogger