Emmeline Pankhurst (Activist/Suffragette)
Emmeline Pankhurst (née Goulden; 15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928) was an English political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement which helped women win the right to vote.
In 1999 Time named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating:
"she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back."
She was widely criticized for her militant tactics, and historians disagree about their effectiveness, but her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain.
Born Emmeline Goulden and raised in Moss Side, Manchester, England by politically active parents, Pankhurst was introduced at the age of 8 to the women's suffrage movement. 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 24 years her senior 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 organization broke apart, she attempted to join the left-leaning Independent Labour Party through her friendship with socialist Keir Hardie but was initially refused membership by the local branch of the Party on account of her sex. She also worked as a Poor Law Guardian and was shocked by the harsh conditions she encountered in Manchester workhouses.
After her husband died in 1898, Pankhurst founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), an all-women suffrage advocacy organisation dedicated to "deeds, not words."
The group 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 the First World War, Emmeline and Christabel called an immediate halt to militant suffrage activism in support of the British government's stand 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 in London.
Emmeline Goulden was born on 15 July 1858 in the Manchester suburb of Moss Side. Although her birth certificate states otherwise, she believed that her birthday was a day earlier, on Bastille Day.
Most biographies, including those written by her daughters, repeat this claim. Feeling a kinship with the female revolutionaries who stormed the Bastille, she said in 1908: "I have always thought that the fact that I was born on that day had some kind of influence over my life." The reason for the discrepancy remains unclear.
The family into which she was born had been steeped in political agitation for generations. Her mother, Sophia Jane Craine, was descended from the Manx people of the Isle of Man and counted among her ancestors men accused of social unrest and slander.
Pankhurst's Manx heritage was a possible source of her political consciousness, especially since the Isle of Man was the first country to grant women the right to vote in national elections, in 1881.
Her father, Robert Goulden, came from a modest Manchester merchant family with its own background of political activity. His mother worked with the Anti-Corn Law League, and Pankhurst's paternal grandfather was present at the Peterloo Massacre, when cavalry charged and broke up a crowd demanding parliamentary reform.
Although their first son died at the age of two, Pankhurst's parents had ten other children; she was the eldest of five daughters. Soon after her birth the family moved to Seedley, on the outskirts of Salford, where her father had co-founded a small business.
Goulden was active in local politics, serving for several years on the Salford Town Council. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of dramatic organisations including the Manchester Athenaeum and the Dramatic Reading Society.
He owned a theatre in Salford for several years, where he played the leads in several plays by William Shakespeare. Pankhurst absorbed an appreciation of drama and theatrics from her father, which she used later in social activism.
In 1888 Britain's first nationwide coalition of groups advocating women's right to vote, the National Society for Women's Suffrage (NSWS), split after a majority of members decided to accept organizations affiliated with political parties.
Angry at this decision, some of the group's leaders, including Lydia Becker and Millicent Fawcett, stormed out of the meeting and created an alternative organisation committed to the "old rules," called the Great College Street Society after the location of its headquarters.
Pankhurst aligned herself with the "new rules" group, which became known as the Parliament Street Society (PSS). Some members of the PSS favoured a piecemeal approach to gaining the vote.
Because it was often assumed that married women did not need the vote since their husbands "voted for them," some PSS members felt that the vote for single women and widows was a practical step along the path to full suffrage.
When the reluctance within the PSS to advocate on behalf of married women became clear, Pankhurst and her husband helped organise another new group dedicated to voting rights for all women – married and unmarried.
The inaugural meeting of the Women's Franchise League (WFL) was held on 25 July, 1889, at the Pankhurst home in Russell Square. William Lloyd Garrison spoke at the meeting, warning the audience that the US abolition movement had been hampered by individuals advocating moderation and patience.
Early members of the WFL included Josephine Butler, leader of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts; the Pankhursts' friend Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy; and Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch, daughter of US suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The WFL was considered a radical organisation, since in addition to women's suffrage it supported equal rights for women in the areas of divorce and inheritance. It also advocated trade unionism and sought alliances with socialist organisations. The more conservative group that emerged from the NSWS split spoke out against what they called the "extreme left" wing of the movement.
The WFL reacted by ridiculing the "Spinster Suffrage party" and insisting that a wider assault on social inequity was required. The group's radicalism caused some members to leave; when the Pankhursts disrupted a public meeting organised by Lydia Becker in 1892, both Blatch and Elmy resigned from the WFL. The group fell apart one year later.
Emmeline Pankhurst on Wikipedia