Emily Pankhurst PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2008 16:46

Emmeline Pankhurst (c. 1913)

Emmeline Pankhurst

Born: 15 July 1858, Manchester

Died: 14 June 1928, London.

Age: 69

Notable because: Lived by exemplary standards of human conduct. Went on hunger strike in Holloway prison and endured forced feeding in pursuit of womens rights. For many concerned with the rights of women she is considered a selfless heroine.


Emmeline Pankhurst  was a political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement. Although widely criticised for her militant tactics, her work is recognised as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain. Historians disagree, however, about whether she did more to help or hinder public support for the cause.

Born and raised in Manchester by politically active parents, Pankhurst was introduced at a young age to the movement for women's suffrage. Although her parents encouraged her to prepare herself for life as a wife and mother, she attended the École Normale de Neuilly in Paris. In 1878 she married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister known for supporting women's right to vote; they had five children over the next ten years. He also supported her activities outside the home, and she quickly became involved with the Women's Franchise League, which advocated suffrage for women. When that organisation broke apart, she joined the left-leaning Independent Labour Party through her friendship with socialist Keir Hardie. She also worked as a Poor Law Guardian, where she was startled by harsh conditions in Manchester workhouses.

After her husband died in 1898, Pankhurst founded an all-women suffrage advocacy organisation dedicated to "deeds, not words". The Women's Social and Political Union placed itself separately from – and often in opposition to – political parties. The group quickly became infamous when its members smashed windows and assaulted police officers. Pankhurst, her daughters, and other WSPU activists were sentenced to repeated prison sentences, where they staged hunger strikes to secure better conditions. As Pankhurst's oldest daughter Christabel took the helm of the WSPU, antagonism between the group and the government grew. Eventually arson became a common tactic among WSPU members, and more moderate organisations spoke out against the Pankhurst family. In 1913 several prominent individuals left the WSPU, among them Pankhurst's daughters Adela and Sylvia. The family rift was never healed.

With the advent of World War I, Pankhurst and Christabel called an immediate halt to militant suffrage activism, in order to support the British government against the "German Peril". They urged women to aid industrial production, and encouraged young men to fight. In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted votes to women over the age of 30. Pankhurst transformed the WSPU machinery into the Women's Party, which was dedicated to promoting women's equality in public life. In her later years she became concerned with what she perceived as the menace posed by Bolshevism, and – unhappy with the political alternatives – joined the Conservative Party. She died in 1928 and was commemorated two years later with a statue in Victoria Tower Gardens.




Last Updated on Thursday, 04 December 2008 09:28

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