Who was Emmeline Pankhurst?

Lesson Objective To investigate the importance of Emmeline Pankhurst in the struggle for votes for women

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Emmeline Pankhurst, the daughter of Robert Goulden and Sophia Crane, was born in Manchester in 1858. Her father was successful businessman with radical political beliefs. Goulden took part in the campaigns against slavery and the Corn Laws. Emmeline's mother was a passionate feminist and started taking her daughter to women's suffrage meetings in the early 1870s.

Robert and Sophia Goulden had conventional ideas about education and after a short spell at a school in Manchester, Emmeline was sent to a finishing school in Paris at the age of fifteen.

Soon after Emmeline returned to Manchester in 1878, she met the lawyer, Richard Pankhurst. A committed socialist, Richard was also a strong advocate of women's suffrage. Richard had been responsible for drafting an amendment to the Municipal Corporation Bill of 1869 that had resulted in unmarried women householders being allowed to vote in local elections. Richard had served on the Married Women's Property Committee (1868-1870) and was the main person responsible for the drafting of the women's property bill that was passed by Parliament in 1870.

Richard and Emmeline were immediately attracted to each other and although there was a significant age difference, he was forty-four and she was only twenty, Richard Goulden gave permission for the marriage to take place. Emmeline had four children in the first six years of marriage: Christabel (1880), Sylvia (1882), Frank (1884) and Adela (1885). During these years Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst continued their involvement in the struggle for women's rights and in 1889 helped form the pressure group, the Women's Franchise League. In 1895 Emmeline became a Poor Law Guardian. This involved regular visits to the local workhouse and she was deeply shocked by the misery and suffering of the inmates. She became particularly concerned about the way women were treated and it reinforced her belief that women's suffrage was the only way these problems would be solved.

Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst were both active members of the Independent Labour Party. Richard made several unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the House of Commons but his political career came to an end when he died of a perforated ulcer in 1898.

Emmeline continued her involvement in politics but she grew gradually disillusioned with the existing women's political organisations and in 1903 she founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). At first Emmeline intended that the main aim of the organisation was to recruit working class women into the struggle for the vote.

By 1905 the media had lost interest in the struggle for women's rights. Newspapers rarely reported meetings and usually refused to publish articles and letters written by supporters of women's suffrage. In 1905 the WSPU decided to use different methods to obtain the publicity they thought would be needed in order to obtain the vote. Remember, it's not like they could use phone conferencing to get their point across.

On 13th October 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney and attended a meeting in London to hear Sir Edward Grey, a minister in the British government. When Grey was talking, the two women constantly shouted out, "Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?" When the women refused to stop shouting the police were called to evict them from the meeting. Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney refused to leave and during the struggle a policeman claimed the two women kicked and spat at him. Pankhurst and Kenney were arrested and charged with assault.

Pankhurst and Kenney were found guilty of assault and fined five shillings each. When the women refused to pay the fine they were sent to prison. The case shocked the nation. For the first time in Britain women had used violence in an attempt to win the vote.

In 1907 Emmeline moved to London and joined her two daughters in the militant struggle for the vote. For the next seven years she was imprisoned repeatedly. Now in her fifties, Emmeline's actions inspired many other women to follow her example of committing acts of civil disobedience. In one eighteen month period, Emmeline Pankhurst endured ten hunger-strikes.

On the outbreak of war in 1914, Emmeline and other leaders of the WSPU used their energies to help the war effort. This involved playing a prominent role in the government's recruitment campaign. In 1917 Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women's Party. The party supported equal pay; maternity and infant care and changes to the marriage laws. Christabel and Emmeline had now completely abandoned their earlier socialist beliefs and advocated policies such as the abolition of the trade unions.

After the First World War Emmeline spent several years in the USA and Canada lecturing for the National Council for Combating Venereal Disease. When Emmeline returned to Britain in 1925 she joined the Conservative Party and was adopted as one of their candidates in the East End of London. Sylvia Pankhurst, who still held her strong socialist views, was appalled by this decision. Emmeline's was also angry with Sylvia for having an illegitimate baby and refused to see her daughter or grandson. Emmeline Pankhurst died in 1928.
   arrested      Canada      Conservative      emancipation      Franchise      militant      Pankhurst      shocked      struggle      Suffragette   
Emmeline was born in Manchester, nee Goulden, and married Richard Pankhurst. He was a firm believer in the social and political of women and his ideas did a lot to bolster the beliefs of Emmeline.
Richard Pankhurst died in 1898 but he left his mark on Emmeline. In 1889, both Emmeline Pankhurst and her husband had founded the Women’s League. This movement had a specific agenda but was seen to be hopelessly out of touch with society. By 1903, Emmeline’s daughter, Christabel, had persuaded her mother to form a far more organisation – the Women’s Social and Political Union.
During the famous militant acts of the WSPU, Emmeline Pankhurst took on a decisive role that saw her being on a number of occasions – six times between 1908 and 1912. As the movement became more militant, so society took a more hard line view on their activities. The 1913 Derby and the act of Emily Wilding Davison and outraged society. However, during World War One, Emmeline Pankhurst encouraged all women to do what they could for the war effort. There is a definite link between the work women did in World War One and their enfranchisement in 1918 - though historians have questioned just how important that link was.
In 1919, Emmeline Pankhurst emigrated to , having left the Independent Labour Party. She stayed in Canada until 1926. Ironically, just before her death in 1928, she was adopted by the Party to stand for the seat in Whitechapel.
For many people, Emmeline Pankhurst symbolises the struggle women made at the start of the C20th – a that garnered its fruit in 1918

Extension Activities
Take notes in your rough books about the following

Learn more about the 1913 Derby

Learn more about Emily Wilding Davison HERE