Search This Blog

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Emmeline Pankhurst


She was born Emmeline Goulden on July 15, 1858 in the Manchester suburb of Moss Side the oldest of 10 children. Her father was a prosperous Calico printer with radical sympathies,

A pretty, spirited girl, when she was small, Emmeline was consuming the Odyssey, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Pilgrim's Progress and abolitionist materials.

Emmeline's earliest memories included hearing US suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton speak.

Emmeline's father was keen on amateur theatricals in the home.

Emmeline first became interested in voting rights for women when her mother took her to a suffrage meeting at the age of 14.


On December 18, 1879, Emmeline married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister and politician 22 years her senior known for supporting women's right to vote; He drafted the first women's suffrage bill and was a supporter of every conceivable reform.

Richard Pankhurst

Richard Pankhurst first caught Emmeline Goulden's eye when she spied his "beautiful hand" opening the door of a cab as he arrived at a public meeting in 1878.

The newly married Emmeline, settled into her new home at 1 Drayton Terrace, Old Trafford, Manchester.

They had five children over the next ten years, but lost two sons.

Two of their formidable, strong-willed daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, were later co-founders of the Women's Social and Political Union (although Sylvia later broke away)

Christabel was named after the poem by Coleridge.

Christabel Pankhurst

Known as the "Red Doctor," Richard Pankhurst stood for Parliament in 1883 as candidate for Manchester and in 1885 for Rotherhithe, Kent, both times unsuccessfully.

Richard died suddenly from stomach ulcers on July 5, 1898, and Emmeline was left to bring up her children alone, with no private means.


She had a delicate prettiness with a pale face, burning eyes and a frail form.

Formal portrait, Emmeline Pankhurst, 1913

Mrs Pankhurst dressed well in a becoming way, generally wearing purple, white and green.

She was feisty with a surprisingly gentle demeanor. Mrs Pankhurst came across at times as reserved and sensitive but had a gift for arousing enthusiasm and was impetuous and determined.

The young Rebecca West described hearing Mrs Pankhurst in full cry: "Trembling like a reed, she lifted up her hoarse, sweet voice on the platform, but the reed was of steel and it was tremendous."

“There can be no doubt about the singleness of her aim the remarkable strength and nobility of her character. She was inclined to be autocratic and go her own way.” From Times Obituary 1928


After losing her husband, Mrs Pankhurst becomes the registrar of births and deaths at Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester.

Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women's Social and Political Union to promote the cause of votes for women. She founded the organisation at her home on 62 Nelson Street, Manchester with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia on October 10, 1903. The Grade II Victoria Villa is now home to the Pankhurst Centre.

62 Nelson Street, Manchester. By Kurt Adkins Wikipedia

To achieve votes for women, Pankhurst spoke at public meetings and tried to obtain support from MPs with her fellow suffragettes.

No one took much notice, so they began protesting more strongly such as smashing windows of large stores and prominent houses. They also chained themselves to railings near the Houses of Parliament and one suffragette threw herself in front of the king's horse in the Derby and was killed.

Mrs. Pankhurst took the suffragist thinking far and wide: she even managed to slip in a lecture tour of the U.S.

 Mrs Pankhurst delivers her famous speeche, "Freedom or death", in Connecticut in 1913.

Her autobiography, My Own Story, was published in 1914.

With the advent of the First World War, Emmeline and Christabel called an immediate halt to militant suffrage activism. They urged women to aid industrial production and encouraged young men to fight.

The WSPU faded from public attention and was dissolved in 1917, with Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst founding the Women's Party.

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted votes to women over the age of 30. Ten years later, a few weeks before the death of Mrs Pankhurst, women over 21 were allowed the vote.


She was arrested seven times, including once for slapping a policeman.

Mrs Pankhurst and her fellow suffragettes threw stones through the Prime Minister's Downing Street house windows, smashed the windows of large stores and slashed pictures in Art Galleries. They were often arrested and refused to pay fines, so were sent to prison.

In 1913 Mrs Pankhurst was sentenced to three years in prison for inciting the destruction of the home of David Lloyd-George the then Chancellor of Exchequer The suffragette leader said the destruction of his new villa was an act of “guerrilla warfare.” She was released soon after but was rearrested a further twelve times.

Emmeline Pankhurst in prison

Pankhurst fought imprisonment with hunger strikes and on at least one occasion she was forcibly fed.


In her later years Mrs Pankhurst became concerned with the 'Bolshevik menace' and – unhappy with the political alternatives, she joined the Conservative Party in 1926 as the prospective candidate for Whitechapel.

Emmeline Pankhurst's campaign for Parliament was pre-empted by her ill health and a final scandal involving Sylvia who had a child out of wedlock.

As her health went downhill, Emmeline Pankhurst moved into a nursing home in Hampstead. After a month there, she fell into a critical condition from which none expected her to recover.

On June 14, 1928 Mrs Pankhurst died, at the age of 69. She was interred in Brompton Cemetery in London.

Pankhurst's grave in Brompton Cemetery. 
Mrs Pankhurst died just weeks before the Bill giving women equal voting rights with men (at the age of 21) became law in July 1928.

She was commemorated two years later with a statue in London's Victoria Tower Gardens.

In 1999 Mrs Pankhurst was voted Woman of the Century by Women of the Year awards. She was described as being the "catalyst establishing women's position in modern society".

No comments:

Post a Comment