Workers' Dreadnought

Sylvia Pankhurst strongly disagreed with her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, and her sister, Christabel Pankhurst, about the arson campaign that started in 1912. Sylvia now ceased to be active in the WSPU and instead concentrated her efforts on helping the Labour Party build up its support in London.

Sylvia Pankhurst was a member of the Workers' Socialist Federation in the East End of London. In March 1914, Zelie Emerson, a fellow member, suggested that Pankhurst should start a socialist newspaper that focused on the problems of working women. Pankhurst agreed and together with a small group of women made plans to produce a weekly paper for working-class women. Pankhurst favoured calling it the Workers' Mate but the group preferred the title the Women's Dreadnought.

The Workers' Dreadnought (3rd May, 1919)
The Workers' Dreadnought (3rd May, 1919)

The first edition of the newspaper appeared on 21st March 1914. It was hoped that adverts would make up 50% of the four pages and therefore Sylvia Pankhurst could keep the newspaper at a price that working women could afford. However, by the time the first edition was published, the women had only sold 3 inches of advertisement. Although two companies, Neave's Food and Lipton's Cocoa, paid for large adverts in the newspaper, the Women's Dreadnought failed to make money. In 1917 the paper's name was changed to the Workers' Dreadnought.

Primary Sources

(1) Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffrage Movement (1931)

I think it was Mary Paterson who suggested the Women's Dreadnought. It would not have been my choice, but the members generally acclaimed it, and I fell in with their view. I wished it had been The Workers' Mate, a name which occurred to me later. "Mate" was a favourite term of address with our people in the East End, and to my mind a most genial and sympathetic one.

It was my earnest desire that it should be a medium through which working women, however unlettered, might express themselves, and find their interests defended. I took infinite plans in correcting and arranging their manuscripts, endeavouring to preserve the spirit and unsophisticated freshness of the original. I wanted the paper to be as far as possible written from life; no dry arguments, but a vivid presentment of things as they are, arguing always from the particular, with all its human features, to the general principle.

(2) In 1920 the American poet, Claude McKay worked for the Workers' Dreadnought.

Sylvia Pankhurst wrote asking me to call at her printing office in Fleet Street. I found a plain little Queen Victoria sized woman with plenty of long unruly bronze-like hair. There was no distinction about her clothes, and on the whole she was very undistinguished. But her eyes were fiery, even a little fanatic, with a glint of shrewdness.

She said she wanted me to do some work for the Workers' Dreadnought. Perhaps I could dig up something along the London docks from the coloured as well as the white seaman and write from a point of view which would be fresh and different. Also I was assigned to read the foreign newspapers from America, India, Australia, and other parts of the British Empire, and mark the items which might interest Dreadnought readers.