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date: 04 October 2022

Pankhurst [née Goulden], Emmelinefree


Pankhurst [née Goulden], Emmelinefree

  • June Purvis

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928)

by Olive Edis

Pankhurst [née Goulden], Emmeline (1858–1928), suffragette leader, was born on 15 July 1858 in Sloan Street, Moss Side, Hulme, Lancashire, to Robert Goulden (b. 1830), a cashier (later the owner of a calico printing and bleach works), and his Manx-born wife, Sophia Jane Craine (b. 1833).

Childhood and youth

The eldest daughter in a family of ten children, Emmeline had maturity forced upon her early as she looked after her younger brothers and sisters. A precocious child, she learned to read at an early age and was set the task of reading the daily newspaper to her father as he breakfasted, an activity that led to the development of an interest in politics. Although her brothers called her 'the dictionary' (E. S. Pankhurst, 7) for her command of language and accurate spelling, she soon learned that the education of girls was considered of less importance than that of the boys when she and her sister were sent to a middle-class girls' school where the prime aim was learning how to make a home comfortable for men, a situation Emmeline found difficult to understand. One evening, feigning sleep in her bed, she heard her father say 'What a pity she wasn't born a lad' (E. Pankhurst, 6). Although her first impulse was to protest that she did not want to be a boy, she lay still, pondering on the remark for many days to come. 'It was made quite clear', she later recollected in her ghost-written autobiography, My Own Story (1914), 'that men considered themselves superior to women, and that women apparently acquiesced in that belief'. The rebellious streak in her nature was further enhanced by stories about how her paternal grandfather had narrowly escaped death at the Peterloo franchise demonstration in Manchester in 1819 and, with his wife, had taken part in demonstrations in the 1840s against the corn laws which imposed duties on imported foodstuffs to protect producers.

Reform was a frequent topic of conversation in the Goulden household. Indeed, one of Emmeline's earliest memories related to when she was about five years old and entrusted to collect pennies in a ‘lucky bag’ for the newly emancipated slaves in the United States. 'Young as I was', she remembered, 'I knew perfectly well the meaning of the words slavery and emancipation' (E. Pankhurst, 1). Both parents too were advocates of equal suffrage for men and women, her mother taking the monthly Woman's Suffrage Journal edited by Lydia Becker, a Manchester woman who was a well-known figure in the women's rights movement in England. When fourteen years old, Emmeline begged her mother to be allowed to accompany her to a woman suffrage meeting where Miss Becker was speaking. 'I left the meeting', she later recorded, 'a conscious and confirmed suffragist' (ibid., 9). Later in 1872 she attended an academic girls' school in Paris, a city that was still bearing the scars of the recently ended Franco-Prussian War. From this time onwards, Emmeline developed a deep affection for all things French and a lifelong prejudice against Germany. Released from her lessons on the grounds of ill health, Emmeline explored Paris with a motherless schoolfriend, Noemie, whose father was the famous republican Henri Rochefort, imprisoned in New Caledonia for the part he had played in the Paris commune. Noemie's stories of her father's duels, imprisonments, and escapes fired the imagination of the adolescent Emmeline who at the age of nine had read Carlyle's French Revolution, a book which she claimed remained all her life a source of inspiration (ibid., 3). On her return home between the age of eighteen and nineteen, Emmeline was expected to take her place as a young lady and was frequently in conflict with her mother. On one occasion when Mrs Goulden ordered her daughter to fetch her brothers' slippers, the spirited Emmeline replied that if she was in favour of women's rights, she did not show it at home. Eager to be useful in the world, she began to work for the woman suffrage movement and met Dr Richard Marsden Pankhurst (1835/6–1898), a well-known radical lawyer and advocate for the women's cause. Despite the fact that he was more than twenty years her senior, they fell in love and married on 18 December 1879.

Early radical campaigns and family life

The birth of four children in the first six years of her marriage—Christabel Harriette Pankhurst in 1880, Sylvia Pankhurst in 1882, Henry Francis Robert (Frank) in 1884, and Adela Constantia in 1885 [see Walsh, Adela Pankhurst]—restricted but did not stop Emmeline's involvement in public affairs. In 1880 she was elected onto the executive committee of the influential Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage of which Richard had been an elected member for a number of years. She was also co-opted onto the married women's property committee. She campaigned on her husband's behalf in 1883 when, unsuccessfully, he stood as an independent parliamentary candidate advocating, among other things, the abolition of the House of Lords and the monarchy, adult suffrage on equal terms for both sexes, the disestablishment of the Church of England, nationalization of the land, and home rule for Ireland, an issue on which no other contender had yet made a stand. In the general election of 1885 Emmeline Pankhurst again campaigned unsuccessfully on her husband's behalf when, at the invitation of the local Liberal and Radical Association, he was asked to contest Rotherhithe. His defeat was mainly attributed to the opposition of the Irish vote, Charles Parnell, leader of the Irish nationalists, having instructed his followers to vote against all government candidates, irrespective of whether they supported home rule or not. Although Emmeline felt indignant about the way her husband had been treated, he defended Parnell's policy, pointing out that tactics of constant obstruction could eventually wring from a hostile Liberal government surrender on the home rule issue. 'That was a valuable political lesson', Emmeline recalled, 'one that years later I was destined to put into practice' (E. Pankhurst, 18).

The following year the Pankhurst family moved to a new home in Hampstead Road, London. Emmeline, eager for financial independence and keen to make enough money so that her husband could concentrate on his political work, opened a fancy goods shop. She often accompanied Richard on his frequent trips to Manchester and during one such absence, their four-year-old son Frank became ill. Emmeline returned home to find the boy in a critical condition. Diphtheria was wrongly diagnosed as croup, and he died in September 1888. Distraught in her grief, Emmeline took little comfort in the knowledge that defective drainage was found at the rear of the house. The shop was closed and her family hurried away to a new rented home, at 8 Russell Square. It was there that her fifth and last child was born in 1889, another son, also called Henry Francis (Harry) as a reminder of little Frank. Her involvement in political life continued through membership of the Fabian Society, the Women's Liberal Association, and the Women's Franchise League, and 8 Russell Square became a centre for political gatherings, especially of socialists, Fabians, anarchists, suffragists, freethinkers, and radicals. In particular, a warm friendship developed between the Pankhursts and Keir Hardie, who was elected as a Labour MP in 1892. The following year the family returned to Manchester, to 4 Buckingham Crescent, where Emmeline resigned from the Women's Liberal Association and joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP). In 1894 she was elected as an ILP candidate for the Chorlton board of guardians. The conditions she found in the workhouses, and especially those for girls and single mothers with babies, appalled her. A compassionate and fearless reformer, with a passion for the oppressed, she helped to introduce many improvements.

Both Emmeline and her husband now became dedicated to socialism. When members of the ILP were sent to prison in May 1896 for speaking in the open space of Boggart Hole Clough, recently acquired by Manchester city council, the Pankhursts and their children were actively involved in defending the right of free speech. Emmeline, in her pink straw bonnet, became a familiar figure in the Clough, declaring she would rather go to prison than pay a fine. Although she did appear in the dock, the case against her was dismissed. The following year she was elected to the national administrative council (NAC) of the ILP.

The unexpected death of her beloved husband on 5 July 1898 was a devastating blow. Richard had championed unprofitable causes and the close connection with the ILP had lost him many legal clients so that he had little money to leave. Robert Blatchford appealed to Clarion readers for subscriptions to help the struggling family but Emmeline replied firmly that she did not wish working people to contribute towards the education of her children when they could not provide for their own; instead she suggested that money be collected to build a hall in her husband's memory. In straitened circumstances, the family moved to 62 Nelson Street, Manchester, where Emmeline opened another shop which eventually had to be abandoned too. She also accepted the salaried post of registrar of births and deaths for the district of Chorlton. In this work she heard many sad stories from the working-class women who came to register the birth of their babies, some of them young girls who had been seduced by male relatives. Her conviction grew that if society was to progress, then women must lift themselves out of their subordinate position and campaign for the parliamentary vote. When the hall in memory of Dr Pankhurst was eventually opened in Salford, five years after his death, his family were astonished to hear that women were not permitted to join the branch of the ILP that would use it as its headquarters. Emmeline declared that her time in the socialist movement had been wasted and decided to form a new women's organization that would run in parallel to the ILP. Thus on 10 October 1903 she called to her home some wives of ILP men and formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organization that was to campaign for votes for women on the same terms they were, or might be, granted to men. Membership was to be limited to women only, and free from affiliation to any particular social class. 'Deeds, not words' was the WSPU's motto.

The WSPU's first campaigns

During its early years the WSPU engaged in a range of peaceful activities such as campaigning at trade union meetings, parks, and fairgrounds, as well as street demonstrations and petitions to parliament. Emmeline threw herself with zeal into this work, believing that the vote would soon be won. In the autumn of 1905, on the eve of a general election, when it looked as though the Liberal Party would form the new government, a new strategy was decided on. Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, a working-class woman recently recruited to the WSPU, interrupted a Liberal Party meeting in Manchester on 13 October by asking the question 'Will the Liberal Government, if returned, give votes to women?' When the question was not answered and repeated, the two women were roughly ejected from the hall. Both were charged with obstruction and sentenced to pay fines or face imprisonment. An anxious Emmeline offered to pay the fines, a gesture that was refused by Christabel. Extensive newspaper coverage of the event made women's suffrage a live issue in an unprecedented way and increased Emmeline's admiration for her brilliant daughter. Under Emmeline's leadership, the policy of heckling politicians became a strategy in which innumerable suffragettes engaged.

The following year, the WSPU moved its headquarters to London and in March 1907 Emmeline resigned her post as registrar of births and deaths, thus forfeiting a government pension. The Manchester home was given up and Emmeline's sister Mary, who had stayed there and acted as deputy registrar while Emmeline was away, became a WSPU organizer. From now on, until the end of the militant campaign, Emmeline had no settled home but stayed in a number of rented flats, hotels, or homes of friends. Her main source of income was her £200 fee per annum as a union speaker which came out of WSPU funds, which were managed by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who was appointed treasurer in February 1906. Together with her husband, Frederick, the wealthy Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence brought organizational and business skills to the WSPU, occasionally donating money for particular events. Funds were raised too at the meetings where Emmeline Pankhurst spoke; indeed, sometimes as much as £14,000 would be collected in one evening as money, jewels, and other valuables were thrown onto the platform where the beloved leader was speaking.

Internal disputes in the WSPU

During 1907 differences of view between Emmeline and her daughters began to widen over the WSPU's links with the Labour Party. Christabel, the organizing secretary of the WSPU, its key strategist, and main policy maker, had already declared that in future the WSPU would oppose not only all Liberal and tory parliamentary candidates, but also be independent of Labour men. While Emmeline shared this view, her two youngest daughters, Sylvia and Adela, did not. The disillusionment that Emmeline and Christabel felt about the lukewarm attitude of socialists towards women's suffrage came to a head in April 1907 when both resigned from the ILP: the Labour Party now opposed extending the franchise to women if the ownership of property remained a qualification for voting. Although links between the WSPU and the socialist movement were never completely severed, especially at the individual level, the independent policy plus an autocratic style of leadership caused tensions within the union so that rumours of a coup surfaced during the summer of 1907. Emmeline, who had been travelling in the provinces, returned to headquarters, and at the request of the Pethick-Lawrences declared the democratic constitution of the union abolished, the annual conference cancelled, and invited members to support her; the majority agreed. A group of dissenters, including Teresa Billington Greig and Charlotte Despard, formed another militant organization, later called the Women's Freedom League. Although Emmeline Pankhurst was now regarded as the autocrat of the WSPU, its leader and inspirational figurehead, in the years immediately following this split she chose to travel up and down the country speaking for the cause, rather than exercise direct personal control over the organization. Although she was consulted on major developments and, when in London, led various demonstrations, the day-to-day running of the union was left to Christabel and the Pethick-Lawrences—the latter also being joint editors of the WSPU's paper, Votes for Women, founded in October 1907.

A charismatic person, whose personal qualities drew people to her, Emmeline Pankhurst was a gifted speaker whose power of oratory could sway an audience. She spoke from the heart, without notes and with few gestures, drawing on her own experience of life as she used clear arguments of persuasion to convert her listeners. The important part she took in the non-militant side of the campaign must not be forgotten. However, it is chiefly in connection with her defiance of the law and her participation in militancy, which she readily embraced, that she will be remembered.

The militant campaign

Mrs Pankhurst's first imprisonment occurred on 13 February 1908 when, still lame from an injury to her ankle, she had led a deputation to the House of Commons and was arrested, along with her companions, for obstruction. She served a month in the second division, alongside common criminal offenders, and not in the first division where political offenders were placed. On 14 October in the same year she stood in the dock at Bow Street, together with Flora Drummond and Christabel, charged with incitement to disorder, based on a handbill that had been published encouraging the public to 'rush' the House of Commons. The three accused did not employ counsel, but spoke for themselves. In a poignant speech that moved many to tears Emmeline spoke of her life experiences and of her conviction of the burning necessity for making women self-governing citizens. No mercy was shown, however, and she was sentenced to three months' imprisonment.

Events took a different turn from July to the end of September 1909 when WSPU members, on their own initiative, began to hunger strike in a bid to be granted political offender status, and the government responded with forcible feeding. Fiercely protective of her followers, Emmeline responded with disbelief and anger, condemning the government for violating and torturing the exhausted and starved bodies of women. In addition to such public worries, private troubles also weighed heavily on her since her surviving son, Harry, had developed inflammation of the spinal cord and was paralysed from the waist down. Needing money for his medical treatment, she felt she could not cancel her already planned American and Canadian tour and so set sail on 13 October. Wherever she went, enthusiastic crowds greeted her, especially at New York's Carnegie Hall; a hush fell when the small, well-dressed leader rose to spoke, but at her first words, 'I am what you call a hooligan' (E. Pankhurst, 160), a wave of laughter erupted. On arrival back in England, she found that Harry's condition had worsened. When he died in January 1910 Sylvia commented that their mother was broken as she had never seen her (E. S. Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement, 1931, 324). Work ever being her refuge in times of sorrow, she threw herself into election campaigning, since a general election had been called, and followed the WSPU policy of opposing all Liberal candidates, whether or not they were pledged, if elected, to support women's enfranchisement.

The Liberal government and the Conciliation Bill

To what extent the heavy losses sustained by the Liberals were due to WSPU policy is debatable, but they were returned with no overall majority in the Commons holding only 275 seats while the Conservatives held 273, the Irish nationalists 82, and Labour 40. Believing that a women's suffrage measure might have more chance of success under such conditions, Henry Brailsford, a journalist, formed a Conciliation Committee for Women's Suffrage which had the support of fifty-four MPs across the political spectrum. After some initial reluctance, the WSPU leaders supported the initiative and on 31 January Emmeline declared a truce on militancy.

The conciliation committee's Women's Franchise Bill was drafted along narrow lines, in order to win the support of the Conservatives. It sought to extend the vote to independent women occupiers but not to enfranchise married women whose husbands met the property qualifications. Since relatively few women (especially working-class women) would be enfranchised under these terms, Emmeline was among its critics, although she voiced her concerns only in private. The bill passed its second reading on 12 July; however, the home secretary, Lloyd George, declared that it was anti-democratic while Prime Minister Asquith claimed that it was better to maintain the distinction of sex. Warning that if the bill was killed by the government the truce was at an end, Emmeline decided to lead a deputation on 18 November. When parliament reassembled and no reference was made to the bill, the women's deputation set forth and was treated with exceptional brutality by the police who, rather than arrest them prolonged the struggle in the streets by trying to force them to move away from the houses of parliament. Four days after ‘black Friday’, as it became known, Emmeline led another deputation to Downing Street. This time she was among the 156 arrested but was discharged since no evidence was offered against her. Also arrested was her sister Mary Clark, who died that Christmas as a result of the injuries she suffered. As before, the leader of the WSPU attempted to cope with another personal tragedy by channelling her efforts into the cause so dear to her heart.

A second 1910 election saw Asquith returned to power with the distribution of seats in the Commons being little changed. The WSPU renewed their truce in the hope that the revised Conciliation Bill (now titled 'A Bill to confer the parliamentary franchise on women') would win greater support since it now included all women householders. In high hopes, Emmeline marched in the women's coronation procession on 17 June 1911, a spectacular event in which at least twenty-eight other women's suffrage organizations accepted the WSPU's invitation to participate. In poor health and in need of a rest, she decided later that year to undertake another tour in the USA and Canada. On 7 November she was cabled the news that Asquith had announced that a manhood suffrage bill would be introduced next session which would allow amendment for the enfranchisement of women. Knowing that such an amendment would be doomed, since it could not be carried without government support, she cabled back to Christabel that protest was imperative. She returned to England on 18 January 1912 with the words 'Sedition!' and 'The Women's Revolution' on her lips (E. S. Pankhurst, 103).

Militancy resumed

At a meeting the following month to welcome released prisoners, Emmeline announced that the weapon and argument they were going to use at the next demonstration would be the stone, a policy which was jointly agreed with Christabel and the Pethick-Lawrences. Although Emmeline expected to be arrested after this speech, she was not, and shortly afterwards spent some time being taught how to throw stones by Ethel Smyth, the composer and recent union recruit. On 1 March, for the first time, the WSPU struck without warning, smashing shop windows in London's West End. Late in the afternoon, Emmeline and two other women broke four of the prime minister's windows. In court the next day, where she was sentenced to two months' imprisonment, she reminded the magistrate that women had failed to get the vote because they had failed to use the methods of agitation used by men. After two more days of window smashing, the police swooped on WSPU headquarters with a warrant for the arrest of Christabel Pankhurst, who was in hiding and later escaped to Paris, and the Pethick-Lawrences. Emmeline was now released from prison in order to attend a new trial at which she and the Pethick-Lawrences were charged with conspiracy.

At the conspiracy trial, which began on 15 May, Emmeline made another poignant speech, explaining how women had been driven to greater militancy by the stubborn opposition of the government. When all three defendants were found guilty and sentenced to nine months in the second division, they threatened to hunger strike unless given political status and placed in the first division. Although the plea was granted, it was not extended to other suffrage prisoners and so the three leaders joined their members in a mass hunger strike that began on 19 June. Three days later forcible feeding began. When the doctors and wardresses came to Emmeline's cell, she picked up a heavy earthenware jug and warned that if any of them dared to come near her, she would defend herself. They retreated. Two days later, she was released on medical grounds and no attempt was ever made to force feed her again.

Travelling under the name of Mrs Richards, she made the first of many visits to Christabel in France. Emmeline now spent less time as an itinerant speaker and more time at the London headquarters. Differences of view in regard to the form and direction of militancy had already begun to emerge between the union leader and the Pethick-Lawrences. Shortly after the Pethick-Lawrences returned from Canada in early October, Emmeline and Christabel told them that their connection to the WSPU was severed. Most WSPU members seem to have been shocked by this action; while some of Emmeline Pankhurst's followers accepted the situation, agreeing with their leader that it was the cause rather than the individual that was important, the WSPU lost many of its most influential supporters. The task of fund-raising now fell on Emmeline's shoulders as she replaced Mrs Pethick-Lawrence as treasurer of the union. At a Royal Albert Hall meeting on 17 October she reiterated the policy of opposition to all political parties and outlined a new policy of attacks on public and private property but never on human life.

The escalation of militancy

When Asquith announced early in 1913 that the Manhood Suffrage Bill was dropped for that session, Emmeline immediately declared war on the government. Over the next eighteen months, the WSPU was increasingly driven underground as it engaged in destruction of property, including setting fire to pillar boxes, raising false fire alarms, arson and bombing, attacking art treasures, large-scale window smashing campaigns, the cutting of telegraph and telephone wires, and damaging golf courses. At a meeting in late January 1913 Emmeline emphasized that she took full responsibility for all acts of militancy, a theme that was to recur in many subsequent speeches. Now regarded as a dangerous subversive, she was watched by the police who appeared in plain clothes at her meetings and transcribed her speeches. On 24 February she was arrested for procuring and inciting persons to commit offences contrary to the Malicious Injuries to Property Act 1861, and on 2 April was sentenced to three years' penal servitude. However, she served less than six weeks of her sentence between the time of her conviction and August 1914 when militancy ended. Exploiting the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, known as the Cat and Mouse Act, passed in April 1913, which allowed prisoners who had damaged their health to be released on licence in order to recover so that they would be fit enough to be readmitted, she was repeatedly in and out of prison. On many occasions she engaged in hunger, thirst, and sleep strikes and was released in a state of physical collapse but never once did she hesitate to share with her followers that which they too experienced. Always in the thick of the action, her defiance, determination, and courage won her admiration, even from many who considered WSPU tactics ill-conceived. In the autumn of 1913, while still under sentence, Emmeline paid another trip to the USA where she was detained as an undesirable alien, a ruling that was overturned by President Wilson. 'Nothing ever has been got out of the British Parliament without something very nearly approaching a revolution', she told an enthusiastic audience in New York. On arrival back in England she was re-arrested, released after a hunger strike, and then travelled openly to Paris where she spent all of January 1914.

Family concerns which had been pressing for some time were now confronted when Sylvia and Adela visited their mother in Paris. Sylvia was told by Christabel, with her mother's support, that her East London Federation must be separate from the WSPU since it was allied with the Labour Party, contrary to union policy. Adela, who had suffered a breakdown in 1912 and then not found a steady job when she graduated from Studley Horticultural College, had been a worry to her mother for some time. Anxious that her youngest daughter should have a new start in life, Emmeline gave Adela the fare to Australia, a letter to Australian suffragist Vida Goldstein, and £20. Adela never saw her mother or England again.

Still subject to her three-year sentence, Emmeline managed to evade detectives and travel back to England where her recently formed bodyguard was waiting to protect her, not always successfully, from re-arrest. When she spoke at St Andrew's Hall, Glasgow, on 9 March 1914, she looked pale and fragile, her hair now a silvery white. The day after her arrest in Glasgow, Mary Richardson slashed Velázquez's Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery in protest at the treatment of the union leader. On 21 May Emmeline led the last major WSPU deputation, this time to the king. She was among those arrested as Inspector Rolfe, crushing her in his arms, lifted her to a car waiting behind police lines, an incident captured in a famous photograph. Further raids by the police took place on WSPU headquarters and private dwellings in an attempt to crush the militant suffrage movement and to prevent the printing and sale of The Suffragette, a newspaper edited by Christabel and founded in October 1912, after the ousting of the Pethick-Lawrences.

The First World War and militancy suspended

With the outbreak of the First World War in early August 1914 all the imprisoned suffragettes were released unconditionally. Emmeline called a temporary suspension of militant activities and asked her followers to support the war effort, arguing that it would be pointless to fight for the vote without a country to vote in. The Suffragette was renamed Britannia with 'For King, For Country, For Freedom' as its motto. Emmeline supported conscription and campaigned for the opening of women's war work. In 1915 she and others involved in the WSPU, such as Annie Kenney and Flora Drummond, accepted the request of Lloyd George, minister of munitions, to organize a Women's Right to Serve demonstration to help overcome trade union opposition to the employment of female labour. In 1916 she travelled to the USA to help raise money for Serbia and in 1917 visited Russia where she advised Kerensky, the head of the provisional government, to be firm with the Bolsheviks. In 1918 she again toured the USA and Canada, supporting women's war work and condemning Bolshevism.

During these years, the distance between Emmeline and her two youngest daughters, Sylvia and Adela, widened as she denounced their anti-war views. Although she still remained close to Christabel, Emmeline now acquired a second family. In the summer of 1915 she announced that the WSPU would help the ‘war babies’ problem by adopting fifty baby girls and appealed for financial support from WSPU members. The response was lukewarm. Nevertheless, she herself adopted four babies (Betty, Kathleen, Mary, and Joan) and had the worry of finding enough money to support them, as well as raising enough funds to support the union of which she was still honorary treasurer. In the autumn of 1916 she made a home for herself, her second family, and the faithful Nurse Pine, who had cared for her after so many hunger strikes, at 50 Clarendon Road, Holland Park, London. She managed to maintain this home for about three years.

Emmeline was now becoming increasingly preoccupied with what women should do when granted the vote since it was becoming clear that this would happen in the near future. In November 1917, in preparation for the event, the WSPU was renamed the Women's Party. Emmeline became the new party's treasurer, Annie Kenney the secretary, and Flora Drummond the chief organizer; Britannia became its official newspaper and continued to be edited by Christabel. On 6 February 1918 royal assent was given to the Representation of the People Act which gave women over thirty years of age the vote if they were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or more, or graduates of British universities. Although this bill enfranchised only about eight and a half million women, Emmeline Pankhurst, like all the women's suffrage campaigners, knew that at last the sex barrier had been broken and that full citizenship for all women could not be delayed indefinitely.

After the vote was won

Emmeline greatly desired that Christabel, rather than she, should be the first woman member of parliament. Christabel fought the Smethwick constituency on a Women's Party ticket in the autumn general election and narrowly lost. Emmeline was bitterly disappointed. Seeking a steady income, she accepted the Canadian government's offer to lecture on social hygiene, such was the concern about the spread of venereal disease among the returning soldiers, and settled in Toronto. The following year some former suffragettes raised about £3000 in a testimonial fund for her and spent more than half of this amount on a country house which she could not afford to maintain and which was eventually sold. The strain of her life now began to tell on Emmeline and in the spring of 1924, when she was almost sixty-six years old, her health began to fail. She took her second family and Christabel to Bermuda, for a six months' rest. As money was scarce, she reluctantly agreed for two of the young girls to be sent to England and adopted by more prosperous people. Christabel had already adopted her favourite child, Betty, while Mary stayed with Emmeline.

The following year Emmeline decided to escape the Canadian winters by settling in the French Riviera and running a tea-shop, with the help of Christabel and a trusted old WSPU friend, Mabel Tuke. But the venture was not a success and before Christmas 1925 she had returned to London. She was invited to become a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party and, as was typical of her, accepted the offer of a socialist working-class district, Whitechapel and St George's, that she could not win. While campaigning in the spring of 1928, she was deeply shocked and distressed to read in the News of the World, a newspaper not then read in respectable homes, that Sylvia had given birth to a son, out of wedlock, some four months previously. Forewarned that she would be heckled about this during her election campaign, she curtly replied that she would not discuss private matters in public (Smyth, 266). Feeling that the Pankhurst name had been disgraced, Emmeline was never reconciled with her daughter.

Emmeline resolved to live in her constituency, a move that necessitated parting with Mary. Once settled in her new lodgings, she became ill again and worried about her finances. In late May she was taken by her sister Mrs Goulden Bach and Christabel to a nursing home at 43 Wimpole Street, where she died on 14 June 1928 from septicaemia due to influenza, a month before her seventieth birthday. She was buried in Brompton cemetery, London. Although a second Representation of the People Act, which would give women voting rights over the age of twenty-one on equal terms with men, had passed all its stages, the new bill did not become law until 2 July 1928. On 6 March 1930 the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, unveiled a bronze statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens, close to the houses of parliament, the opening of which to women she had fought for so bravely all her life.


  • P. Bartley, Emmeline Pankhurst (2002)
  • E. S. Pankhurst, The life of Emmeline Pankhurst: the suffragette struggle for women's citizenship (1935)
  • E. Pankhurst, My own story (1914)
  • C. Pankhurst, Unshackled: the story of how we won the vote (1959)
  • J. Purvis, ‘Emmeline Pankhurst and votes for women’, Votes for women, ed. J. Purvis and S. S. Holton (2000)
  • J. Purvis, ‘Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928): suffragette, militant feminist and champion of womanhood’, Representing lives: women and autobiography [Nottingham 1997], ed. A. Donnell and P. Polkey (2000)
  • J. Purvis, Emmeline Pankhurst: a biography (2002)
  • E. Smyth, Female pipings in Eden (1934)
  • R. West, ‘Mrs Pankhurst, 1858–1928’, The post Victorians, ed. [W. R. Inge] (1933), 477–500
  • S. S. Holton, ‘“In sorrowful wrath”: suffrage militancy and the romantic feminism of Emmeline Pankhurst’, British feminism in the twentieth century, ed. H. L. Smith (1990), 7–24
  • private information (2004) [J. Craigie]
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.


  • Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam, letters and papers
  • Museum of London, Suffragette Fellowship collection, MSS
  • Women's Library, London, autograph letter collection
  • BLPES, corresp. with the Independent Labour Party
  • JRL, letters to C. P. Scott
  • L. Cong., corresp. with Adelaide Johnson
  • New York University, Fales Library, Elizabeth Robins MSS
  • Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, Sophia Smith collection


  • BFINA, documentary footage; news footage


  • G. Brackenbury, oils, 1927, NPG; version, Museum of London
  • A. G. Walker, statue, 1929, Victoria Tower Gardens, London
  • Mrs A. Broom, photograph, NPG
  • O. Edis, photographs, NPG [see illus.]
  • photographs, Women's Library, London
  • photographs, Museum of London

Wealth at Death

£86 5s. 6d.: probate, 25 July 1928, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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British Library, National Sound Archive
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John Rylands University Library of Manchester
Page of
National Portrait Gallery, London
Page of
British Library of Political and Economic Science
Page of
Library of Congress, Washington, DC