Hunger Strikes

On 25th June 1909, Marion Wallace-Dunlop was found guilty of wilful damage and when she refused to pay a fine she was sent to prison for a month. On 5th July, 1909 she petitioned the governor of Holloway Prison: “I claim the right recognized by all civilized nations that a person imprisoned for a political offence should have first-division treatment; and as a matter of principle, not only for my own sake but for the sake of others who may come after me, I am now refusing all food until this matter is settled to my satisfaction.” (1)

Christabel Pankhurst, the leader of the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU), claimed that this strategy had not been agreed by the organisation: "Miss Wallace Dunlop, taking counsel with no one and acting entirely on her own initiative, sent to the Home Secretary, Mr. Gladstone, as soon as she entered Holloway Prison, an application to be placed in the first division as befitted one charged with a political offence. She announced that she would eat no food until this right was conceded." (2)

Wallace-Dunlop refused to eat for several days. When the doctor asked her what she was going to eat, she replied: "My determination". He answered: "Indigestible stuff, but tough no doubt." Herbert Gladstone, the Home Secretary, was consulted and he told the governor of the prison that "she should be allowed to die." (3)

However, on reflection, they thought that if this happened, Dunlop might become a martyr and after ninety-one hours she was suddenly set free. According to Joseph Lennon: "She came to her prison cell as a militant suffragette, but also as a talented artist intent on challenging contemporary images of women. After she had fasted for ninety-one hours in London’s Holloway Prison, the Home Office ordered her unconditional release on July 8, 1909, as her health, already weak, began to fail". (4)

Force-Feeding

On 22nd September 1909, Charlotte Marsh, Laura Ainsworth and Mary Leigh were arrested while disrupting a public meeting being held by Herbert Asquith. Marsh, Ainsworth and Leigh were all sentenced to two weeks' imprisonment. They immediately decided to go on hunger-strike, a strategy developed by Marion Wallace-Dunlop a few weeks earlier. Wallace-Dunlop had been immediately released when she had tried this in Holloway Prison, but the governor of Winson Green Prison, was willing to feed the three women by force. (5)

Keir Hardie, the Labour MP, protested against the idea of force-feeding in the House of Commons. However, his comments were greeted with a chorus of laughter and jeers. One newspaper reported: "Most of us desire something or other which we have not got... but we do not therefore take hatchets and wreck people's houses, or even shriek hysterically because the whole course of government and society is not altered to give us what we seek. These notoriety-hunters have effectually discredited the movement they think to promote." (6)

Hardie wrote to The Daily News to complain about the way these women were being treated: "Mr. Masterman, speaking on behalf of the Home Secretary, admitted that some of the nine prisoners now in Winston Green Gaol, Birmingham, had been subjected to 'hospital treatment', and admitted that this euphemism meant administering food by force. The process employed was the insertion of a tube down the throat into the stomach and pumping the food down. To do this, I am advised, a gag has to be used to keep the mouth open. That there is difference of opinion concerning the horrible brutality of this proceeding? Women worn and weak by hunger, are seized upon, held down by brute force, gagged, a tube inserted down the throat, and food poured or pumped into the stomach. Let British men think over the spectacle". (7)

C. P. Scott wrote to Asquith and Gladstone complaining of the "substantial injustice of punishing a girl like Miss Marsh with two months hard labour plus forcible feeding." As the editor of the Manchester Guardian, a newspaper that supported the Liberal Party, he suggested that the women should be released "to prevent the damage which is being done to our party". As a result of this letter, Gladstone agreed to monitor the health of the prisoners with a view to recommending an early release. (8)

Mary Leigh, described what it was like to be force-fed: "On Saturday afternoon the wardress forced me onto the bed and two doctors came in. While I was held down a nasal tube was inserted. It is two yards long, with a funnel at the end; there is a glass junction in the middle to see if the liquid is passing. The end is put up the right and left nostril on alternative days. The sensation is most painful - the drums of the ears seem to be bursting and there is a horrible pain in the throat and the breast. The tube is pushed down 20 inches. I am on the bed pinned down by wardresses, one doctor holds the funnel end, and the other doctor forces the other end up the nostrils. The one holding the funnel end pours the liquid down - about a pint of milk... egg and milk is sometimes used." Leigh's graphic account of the horrors of forcible feeding was published while she was still in prison. Afraid that she might die and become a martyr, it was decided to release her. (9)

Charlotte Marsh also experienced force-feeding. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000): "The Prison Visiting Committee reported that at first she (Charlotte Marsh) had to be fed by placing food in the mouth and holding the nostrils, but that she later took food from a feeding cup." Votes for Women, on her release, reported that Marsh had been fed by a feeding tube 139 times. (10)

The authorities believed that force-feeding would act as a deterrent as well as a punishment. This was a serious miscalculation and in many ways it had the opposite effect. Militant members of the WSPU now had beliefs as strong as any religion and now they could argue that women were actually being tortured for their faith. "Suffragettes submitted to force-feeding as a way to express solidarity with their friends as well as to further the cause." (11)

A drawing from the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette in 1909
A drawing from the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette in 1909

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, one of the early hunger-strikers pointed out that if the government was so naive as to think "the nasal tube or the stomach pump, the steel gag, the punishment cell, handcuffs and the straight jacket would break the spirit of women who were determined to win the enfranchisement of their sex, they were again woefully misled". (12)The WSPU did get the support of two prominent journalists, Henry N. Brailsford and Henry Nevinson, who both resigned from The Daily News in protest against its refusal to condemn forcible feeding. (13)

Christabel Pankhurst now used the WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, to advocate the hunger-strike. "The spiritual force which they are exerting is so great that prison walls are rent, prison gates forced open, and they emerge free in body as they have never for an instant ceased to be... Those who, in these latter days, are privileged to witness this triumph of the spiritual over the physical, understand the true meaning and manner of the miracles of old times." (14)

Christabel was also responsible for persuading 116 doctors to sign a letter sent to Henry Asquith, the new prime minister, protesting against artificial feeding. "We submit to you, that this method of feeding when the patient resists is attending with the gravest risks, that unforeseen accidents are liable to occur, and that the subsequent health of the person may be seriously injured. In our opinion this action is unwise and inhumane. We therefore beg that you will interfere to prevent the continuance of this practice." (15)

On 8th October, 1909, Christabel had a meeting with leading militants, Constance Lytton, Jane Brailsford, Emily Wilding Davison, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Annie Kenney and Kitty Marion. who resolved to undertake acts of violence in order to protest against forcible feeding. "There were twelve women... all intending stone-throwers, and Christabel was there to hearten us up and go into details about the way in which we were to do it." (16)

The women sent a letter to The Times explaining what they intended to do: "We want to make it known that we shall carry on our protest in our prison cells. We shall put before the Government by means of the hunger-strike four alternatives: to release us in a few days; to inflict violence upon our bodies; to add death to the champions of our cause by leaving us to starve; or, and this is the best and only wise alternative, to give women the vote. We appeal to the Government to yield, not to the violence of our protest, but to the reasonableness of our demand, and togrant the vote to the duly qualified women of the country. We shall then serve our full sentence quietly and obediently and without complaint. Our protest is against the action of the Government in opposing woman suffrage, and against that alone. We have no quarrel with those who may be ordered to maltreat us". (17)

On 9th November 1909, Lady Lytton, was arrested in Newcastle. She was sent to prison for 30 days. "Mrs. Brailsford, who had struck at the barricade with an axe, was also given the option of being bound over, which she, of course, refused, with the alternative of a month's imprisonment in the second division. We were put again into a van, but had only a short way to drive. We were shown into a passage of the prison where the Governor came and spoke to us. He was very civil, and begged us not to go on the hunger-strike." She did but as she pointed out in Prisons and Prisoners (1914) after a couple of days "the wardress came in and announced that I was released, because of the state of my heart!" (18)

Anti-suffragette postcard (1909)
Anti-suffragette postcard (1909)

Mary Leigh and Emily Wilding Davison were caught throwing stones at a car taking David Lloyd George to a meeting in Newcastle. The stones were wrapped in Emily's favourite words: "Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God." The women were found guilty and sentenced to one month's hard labour at Strangeways Prison. The women went on hunger strike but once again the prison authorities decided to force-feed the women. The WSPU initiated legal proceedings against the home secretary, prison governor, and prison doctor on Mary Leigh's behalf, opening a defence fund in her name. The case was brought to trial in December 1909, and the jury found for the defence, upholding the defence's claim that forcible feeding had been necessary to preserve life and that minimum force had been used. (19)

Herbert Gladstone, who was in fact a supporter of votes for women, refused to back-down over forced-feeding. "My duty is unpleasant and distasteful enough, but that is no reason why I should shirk it. I admire the gallantry of many of these girls as strongly as I detest the unscrupulous use use which is being made of their qualities by older women who should know better. Women's franchise will come, but it will come not through violent actions and not through sentimental or cowardly surrender to them." (20)

Christabel Pankhurst made it clear that the WSPU would not change their tactics and members in prison would continue to go on hunger-strike. "They (members of the Liberal government) shall not have peace. We have at last got up steam and tasted the joy of battle. Our blood is up... the more they ask for quarter the less they shall get. We will not betray the women in prison... For the weak to use their little strength against the huge forces of tyranny is divine." (21) However, Christabel made sure she was not arrested during this period as she did not want to "undergo forcible feeding" and "intended to postpone this distasteful eventually for as long as possible". (22)

Death of Mary Clarke

Emmeline Pankhurst's sister, Mary Clarke, was the organiser of the WSPU in Brighton. According to Sylvia Pankhurst: "Facing the rude violence of the seaside rowdies at Brighton, where she was stationed, she displayed a quiet, persistent courage, which made peculiarly large demands on one so sensitive. Exerting her frail physique to its utmost, she was grievously ill on the eve of Black Friday, and her Brighton comrades had begged her not to go. She had promised to take the easier course of arrest for window-breaking, and had telegraphed to Brighton from the police court." (23)

Clarke was arrested and sent to Holloway Prison, where she endured a hunger-strike and forced-feeding. She was released on 22nd December, 1910 but two days later Emmeline Pankhurst found her unconcious and she died soon afterwards as a result of a burst blood vessel on the brain. It has been claimed that Clarke was the first of several suffragettes, probably died as a result of being forced fed in prison. (24)

Emmeline Pankhurst wrote to C. P. Scott: "We who love her and know the beauty of her selfless life, feel it hard to restrain our human desire for vengeance although we know had she foreseen the consequence of her imprisonment she would have been proud and glad to die for the cause of freedom. She is the first to die. How many must follow before the men of your party realize their responsibility." (25)

Militant Campaign

In early 1912 the WSPU organised a new campaign that involved the large-scale smashing of shop-windows. Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence both disagreed with this strategy but Christabel Pankhurst ignored their objections. As soon as this wholesale smashing of shop windows began, the government ordered the arrest of the leaders of the WSPU. Christabel escaped to France but Frederick and Emmeline were arrested, tried and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. They were also successfully sued for the cost of the damage caused by the WSPU. (26)

Christabel Pankhurst later recorded: "Mother and Mr. and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence went on hunger-strike. The Government retaliated by forcible feeding. This was actually carried out in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence. The doctors and wardresses came to Mother's cell armed with forcible-feeding apparatus. Forewarned by the cries of Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence… Mother received them with all her majestic indignation. They fell back and left her. Neither then nor at any time in her log and dreadful conflict with the government was she forcibly fed." (27)

WSPU poster (c. 1912)
WSPU poster (c. 1912)

Frederick Pethhick Lawrence was made to suffer force-feeding twice a day for ten days before his release: "The head doctor, a most sensitive man, was visibly distressed by what he had to do. It certainly was an unpleasant and painful process and a sufficient number of warders had to be called in to prevent my moving while a rubber tube was pushed up my nostril and down into my throat and liquid was poured through it into my stomach. Twice a day thereafter one of the doctors fed me in this way. I was not allowed to leave my cell in the hospital and for the most part I had to stay in bed. There was nothing to do but to read; and the days were very long and went very slowly." (28)

Emmeline Pankhurst gave permission for her daughter, Christabel Pankhurst, to launch a secret arson campaign. She knew that she was likely to be arrested and so she decided to move to Paris. Attempts were made by suffragettes to burn down the houses of two members of the government who opposed women having the vote. These attempts failed but soon afterwards, a house being built for David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was badly damaged by suffragettes. (29)

At a meeting in France, Christabel Pankhurst told Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence about the proposed arson campaign. When they objected, Christabel arranged for them to be expelled from the the organisation. Emmeline later recalled in her autobiography, My Part in a Changing World (1938): "My husband and I were not prepared to accept this decision as final. We felt that Christabel, who had lived for so many years with us in closest intimacy, could not be party to it. But when we met again to go further into the question… Christabel made it quite clear that she had no further use for us." (30)

Cat and Mouse Act

In January 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst made a speech where she stated that it was now clear that Herbert Asquith had no intention to introduce legislation that would give women the vote. She now declared war on the government and took full responsibility for all acts of militancy. "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". (31)

The women responsible for these arson attacks were often caught and once in prison they went on hunger-strike. Determined to avoid these women becoming martyrs, the government introduced the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act. Suffragettes were now allowed to go on hunger strike but as soon as they became ill they were released. Once the women had recovered, the police re-arrested them and returned them to prison where they completed their sentences. This successful means of dealing with hunger strikes became known as the Cat and Mouse Act. (32)

On 24th February 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested for procuring and inciting persons to commit offences contrary to the Malicious Injuries to Property Act 1861. The Times reported: "Mrs Pankhurst, who conducted her own defence, was found guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy, and Mr Justice Lush sentenced her to three years' penal servitude. She had previously declared her intention to resist strenuously the prison treatment until she was released. A scene of uproar followed the passing of the sentence." (33)

Emmeline Pankhurst and Catherine Pine (March, 1913)
Emmeline Pankhurst and Catherine Pine (March, 1913)

Dr. Charles Mansell-Moullin joined forces with Sir Victor Horsley and Dr. Agnes Savill to write a report on the impact of the forced-feeding of suffragettes. In a speech on 13th March, 1913 he argued that Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary, had been making misleading statements to the House of Commons: "Now Mr. McKenna has said time after time that forcible feeding, as carried out in His Majesty's prisons, is neither dangerous nor painful. Only the other day he said, in answer to an obviously inspired question as to the possibility of a lady suffering injury from the treatment she received in prison, "I must wait until a case arises in which any person has suffered any injury from her treatment in prison."... He relies entirely upon reports that are made to him - reports that must come from the prison officials, and go through the Home Office to him, and his statements are entirely founded upon those reports. I have no hesitation in saying that these reports, if they justify the statements that Mr. McKenna has made, are absolutely untrue. They not only deceive the public, but from the persistence with which they are got up in the same sense, they must be intended to deceive the public." (34)

After going nine days without eating, they released Emmeline Pankhurst for fifteen days so she could recover her health. "They sent me away, sitting bolt upright in a cab, unmindful of the fact that I was in a dangerous condition of weakness, having lost two stone in weight and suffered seriously from irregularities of heart action." On 26th May, 1913, when Emmeline Pankhurst attempted to attend a meeting, she was arrested and returned to prison. (35)

Sylvia Pankhurst recovering from hunger strike in July 1913.
Sylvia Pankhurst recovering from hunger strike in July 1913.

During this period Kitty Marion was the leading figure in the WSPU arson campaign and she was responsible for setting fire to Levetleigh House at St Leonards (April 1913), the Grandstand at Hurst Park racecourse (June 1913) and various houses in Liverpool (August, 1913) and Manchester (November, 1913). These incidents resulted in a series of further terms of imprisonment during which force-feeding occurred followed by release under the Cat & Mouse Act. It has been calculated that Marion endured 200 force-feedings in prison while on hunger strike. (36)

A number of significant figures in the WSPU left the organisation over the arson campaign. This included Elizabeth Robins, Jane Brailsford, Laura Ainsworth, Eveline Haverfield, Mary Blathwayt and Louisa Garrett Anderson. Leaders of the Men's League For Women's Suffrage such as Henry N. Brailsford, Henry Nevinson and Laurence Housman, argued "that militancy had been taken to foolish extremes and was now damaging the cause". (37)

Will Dyson, The Daily Herald (24th May, 1913)
Will Dyson, The Daily Herald (24th May, 1913)

Hertha Ayrton, Lilias Ashworth Hallett, Janie Allan and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson stopped providing much needed funds for the organization. Colonel Linley Blathwayt and Emily Blathwayt also cut off funds to the WSPU. In June 1913 a house had been burned down close to Eagle House. Under pressure from her parents, Mary Blathwayt resigned from the WSPU. (38)

Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst were both expelled from the WSPU by Christabel Pankhurst in February 1914, for refusing to follow orders. Beatrice Harraden, a member of the WSPU since 1905, wrote a letter to Christabel calling on her to bring an end to the arson campaign and accusing her of alienating too many old colleagues by her dictatorial behaviour: "It must be that... your exile (in Paris) prevents you from being in real touch with facts as they are over here." (39)

Henry Harben complained that her autocratic behaviour had destroyed the WSPU: "People are saying that from the leader of a great movement you are developing into the ringleader of a little rebel Rump." (40) According to Martin Pugh "she had fallen into the error of all autocratic leaders; her power to manippulate personnel was so complete that it left her increasingly surrounded by sycophants who lacked real ability." (41)

Primary Sources

(1) Annie Kenney, Memories of a Militant (1924)

In 1909 Wallace Dunlop went to prison and defied the long sentences that were being given by adopting the hunger-strike. "Release or Death" was her motto. From that day, July 5th, 1909, the hunger-strike was the greatest weapon we possessed against the Government… before long all Suffragette prisoners were on hunger-strike, so the threat to pass long sentences on us had failed. Sentences grew shorter.

(2) Joseph Lennon, Times Literary Supplement (22nd July, 2009)

One hundred years ago this month, Marion Wallace-Dunlop (1864–1942) became the first modern hunger striker. She came to her prison cell as a militant suffragette, but also as a talented artist intent on challenging contemporary images of women. After she had fasted for ninety-one hours in London’s Holloway Prison, the Home Office ordered her unconditional release on July 8, 1909, as her health, already weak, began to fail. Her strike influenced those of Mohandas Gandhi, James Connolly and others who followed her example. Thousands of other strikes have moved the practice in new directions, but we should acknowledge its originator....

“Hunger strike” needs to be modified by “modern” because similar practices had existed before 1909 in Ireland, India and Russia, yet in different circumstances, for other reasons and narrower “audiences” – and none of these fasts directly influenced Wallace-Dunlop’s. Modern hunger strikes differ from earlier ones because they aim to influence public opinion and governance, rather than merely appeal to the humanity of jailers or protest a prisoner’s innocence. The best example of an earlier hunger strike is the golodovka of Russian political prisoners in Siberia in the 1870s – these refused food in protest at their inhuman treatment. (George Kennan, an American travel writer, wrote influential accounts of these strikes in the 1880s in Century Magazine.) Public fasts had occurred intermittently in Ireland and India since at least early medieval times, but for reasons – in Ireland, legal, in India, religious – other than political ones. These influenced works such as W. B. Yeats’s play The King’s Threshold (1904), in which a poet fasts in protest against a king because he has lost his seat at the royal table. In the first decade of the twentieth century, hunger strikes were in tune with new ideas about hunger, vitamins and famine, as well as with the prison reform movement, which had progressed since the 1890s and achieved the landmark 1898 Prisons Act. But what most distinguishes the suffragette hunger strike campaign, beginning with WallaceDunlop’s, was the calculated use of the press, especially after the government began to force-feed suffragettes. In reporting stories of determined women prisoners, newspapers presented a challenge, for millions of voters, to more docile images of women.

Wallace-Dunlop’s innovation was to create a kind of political theatre in a prison cell, its impact more dramatic than any she could have made on the image of women in art...

The suffragette strikes influenced nationalists in both Ireland and India, whence the hunger strike spread around the world. James Connolly, the Irish nationalist and socialist, specifically credited the suffragette strikes with the inspiration for his strike in 1913, the first by an Irish nationalist. Mohandas Gandhi also learned from the suffragette strikes years before his first strike in 1918. Just three weeks after Wallace-Dunlop’s release, he was in London and came to a WSPU meeting honouring the hunger strikers and crediting Wallace-Dunlop as “the founder”. He noted the next day in a letter: “I attended a great suffragette meeting last night; met Mrs. Pankhurst also... We have a great deal to learn from these ladies and their movement”. In a subsequent article, Gandhi began to draw pointed lessons from women’s protests: “If we want freedom, we shall not gain it by killing or injuring others (i.e., by the use of brute force) but by dying or submitting ourselves to suffering (i.e., by the use of soul force)”.

(3) Christabel Pankhurst, Unshackled (1959)

Miss Wallace Dunlop, taking counsel with no one and acting entirely on her own initiative, sent to the Home Secretary, Mr. Gladstone, as soon as she entered Holloway Prison, an application to be placed in the first division as befitted one charged with a political offence. She announced that she would eat no food until this right was conceded. Mr. Gladstone did not reply, but after she had fasted ninety-one hours, Miss Wallace Dunlop was set free. She was in an exhausted state, having refused every threat and appeal to induce her to break her fast.

(4) Mary Leigh was forced-fed in September, 1909. The WSPU was able to get her account published in a pamphlet while she was still in prison.

I was then surrounded and forced back onto the chair, which was tilted backward. There were about ten persons around me. The doctor then forced my mouth so as to form a pouch, and held me while one of the wardresses poured some liquid from a spoon; it was milk and brandy. After giving me what he thought was sufficient, he sprinkled me with eau de cologne, and wardresses then escorted me to another cell on the first floor, where I remained two days. On Saturday afternoon the wardresses forced me onto the bed and the two doctors came in with them. While I was held down a nasal tube was inserted. It is two yards long, with a funnel at the end; there is a glass junction in the middle to see if the liquid is passing. The end is put up the right and left nostril on alternate days. Great pain is experienced during the process, both mental and physical. One doctor inserted the end up my nostril white I was held down by the wardresses, during which process they must have seen my pain, for the other doctor interfered (the matron and two of the wardresses were in tears), and they stopped and resorted to feeding me by the spoon, as in the morning. More eau dc cologne was used. The food was milk. I was then put to bed in the cell, which is a punishment cell on the first floor. The doctor felt my pulse and asked me to take food each time, but I refused.

On Sunday he came in and implored me to lie amenable and have food in the proper way. I still refused. I was fed by the spoon up to Saturday, October 2, three times a day. From four to five wardresses and the two doctors were present on each occasion. Each time the same doctor forced my mouth, while the other doctor assisted, holding my nose on nearly every occasion. On Monday, September 27, I was taken to a hospital cell, where I was fed by spoon in similar fashion. On Tuesday, the twenty-eighth, a feeding cup was used for the first time, and Benger's Food poured into my mouth for breakfast and supper, and beef-tea mid-day.

On Tuesday afternoon I overheard Miss Edwards, on issuing from the padded cell opposite, call out, "Locked in a padded cell since Sunday." I called out to her, but she was rushed into it. I then applied (Tuesday afternoon) to see the visiting magistrates. I saw them, and wished to know if one of our women was in a padded cell, and, if so, said she must be allowed out. I knew she had a weak heart and was susceptible to excitement, and it would be very bad for her if kept there longer. I was told no prisoner could interfere on behalf of another; any complaint on my own behalf would be listened to. I then said this protest of mine must be made on behalf of this prisoner, and if they had no authority to intervene on her behalf, it was no use applying to them for anything. After they had gone I made my protest by breaking eleven panes in my hospital cell. I was then fed in the same way by the feeding cup and taken to the padded cell, where I was stripped of all clothing and a night dress and bed given to me. As they took Miss Edwards out they put me into her bed, which was still warm. The cell is lined with some padded stuff-india-rubber or something. There was no air, and it was suffocating. This was on Tuesday evening.

I remained there until the Wednesday evening, still being fed by force. I was then taken back to the same hospital cell, and remained there until Saturday, October 2, noon, feeding being continued in the same way. On Saturday, October 2, about dinner time, I determined on stronger measures by barricading my cell. I piled my bed, table, and chair by jamming them together against the door. They had to bring some men warders to get in with iron staves. I kept them at bay about three hours. They threatened to use the fire hose. They used all sorts of threats of punishment. When they got in, the chief warder threatened me and tried to provoke me to violence. The wardresses were there, and he had no business to enter my cell, much less to use the threatening attitude. I was again placed in the padded cell, where I remained until Saturday evening. I still refused food, and I was allowed to starve until Sunday noon. Food was brought, but not forced during that interval.

Sunday noon, four wardresses and two doctors entered my cell and forcibly fed me by the tube through the nostrils with milk. Sunday evening, I was also fed through the nostril. I remained in the padded cell until Monday evening, October 4. Since then I have been fed through the nostril twice a day.

The sensation is most painful - the drums of the ears seem to be bursting and there is a horrible pain in the throat and the breast. The tube is pushed down 20 inches. I am on the bed pinned down by wardresses, one doctor holds the funnel end, and the other doctor forces the other end up the nostrils. The one holding the funnel end pours the liquid down - about a pint of milk... egg and milk is sometimes used.

(5) Constance Lytton, Prisons and Prisoners (1914)

Two of the wardresses took hold of my arms, one held my head and one my feet. The doctor leant on my knees as he stooped over my chest to get at my mouth. I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth… The doctor seemed annoyed at my resistance and he broke into a temper as he pried my teeth with the steel implement. The pain was intense and at last I must have given way, for he got the gap between my teeth, when he proceeded to turn it until my jaws were fastened wide apart. Then he put down my throat a tube, which seemed to me much too wide and something like four feet in length. I choked the moment it touched my throat. Then the food was poured in quickly; it made me sick a few seconds after it was down. I was sick all over the doctor and wardresses. As the doctor left he gave me a slap on the cheek. Presently the wardresses left me. Before long I heard the sounds of the forced feeding in the next cell to mine. It was almost more than I could bear, it was Elsie Howley. When the ghastly process was over and all quiet. I tapped on the wall and called out at the top of my voice. 'No Surrender', and then came the answer in Elsie's voice, "No Surrender".

(6) Kitty Marion, Constance Lytton and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence , letter to The Times (10th October, 1909)

We want to make it known that we shall carry on our protest in our prison cells. We shall put before the Government by means of the hunger-strike four alternatives: to release us in a few days; to inflict violence upon our bodies; to add death to the champions of our cause by leaving us to starve; or, and this is the best and only wise alternative, to give women the vote.

We appeal to the Government to yield, not to the violence of our protest, but to the reasonableness of our demand, and togrant the vote to the duly qualified women of the country. We shall then serve our full sentence quietly and obediently and without complaint. Our protest is against the action of the Government in opposing woman suffrage, and against that alone. We have no quarrel with those who may be ordered to maltreat us.

(7) Emily Davison was sent to Strangeways Goal in September 1909, for throwing stones at the windows of the Liberal Club. Emily decided to go on hunger strike. This account was included in a letter that she wrote to a friend in Switzerland.

In the evening the matron, two doctors, and five or six wardresses entered the cell. The doctor said "I am going to feed you by force." The scene, which followed, will haunt me with its horror all my life, and is almost indescribable. While they held me flat, the elder doctor tried all round my mouth with a steel gag to find an opening. On the right side of my mouth two teeth are missing; this gap he found, pushed in the horrid instrument, and prised open my mouth to its widest extent. Then a wardress poured liquid down my throat out of a tin enamelled cup. What it was I cannot say, but there was some medicament, which was foul to the last degree. As I would not swallow the stuff and jerked it out with my tongue, the doctor pinched my nose and somehow gripped my tongue with the gag. The torture was barbaric.

(8) On June 19th 1909 Emily Davison decided to make a protest against forcible feeding. Emily explained her actions in a statement issued by the WPSU.

In my mind was the thought that some desperate protest must be made to put a stop to the hideous torture, which was now our lot. Therefore, as soon as I got out I climbed on to the railing and threw myself out to the wire-netting, a distance of between 20 and 30 feet. The idea in my mind was "one big tragedy may save many others". I realised that my best means of carrying out my purpose was the iron staircase. When a good moment came, quite deliberately I walked upstairs and threw myself from the top, as I meant, on to the iron staircase. If I had been successful I should undoubtedly have been killed, as it was a clear drop of 30 to 40 feet. But I caught on the edge of the netting. I then threw myself forward on my head with all my might. I know nothing more except a fearful thud on my head. When I recovered consciousness, it was to a sense of acute agony. When I recovered consciousness, it was to a sense of acute agony.

(9) Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story (1914)

The hunger-strike I have described as a dreadful ordeal, but it is a mild experience compared with the thirst-strike, which is from beginning to end simple and unmitigated torture. Hunger-striking reduces a prisoner's weight very quickly, but thirst-striking reduces weight so alarmingly fast that prison doctors were at first thrown into absolute panic of fright. Later they became somewhat hardened, but even now they regard the thirst-strike with terror. I am not sure that I can convey to the reader the effect of days spent without a single drop of water taken into the system. The body cannot endure loss of moisture. It cries out in protest with every nerve. The muscles waste, the skin becomes shrunken and flabby, the facial appearance alters horribly, all these outward symptoms being eloquent of the acute suffering of the entire physical being. Every natural function is, of course, suspended, and the poisons which are unable to pass out of the body are retained and absorbed. The body becomes cold and shivery, there is constant headache and nausea, and sometimes there is fever. The mouth and tongue become coated and swollen, the throat thickens, and the voice sinks to a thready whisper.

When, at the end of the third day of my first thirst-strike, I was sent home, I was in a condition of jaundice from which I have never completely recovered. So badly was I affected that the prison authorities made no attempt to arrest me for nearly a month after my release.

(10) In 1912 Frederick Pethick-Lawrence was arrested and imprisoned for conspiracy.

I too adopted the hunger-strike. The first day I was all hot and bothered about it and got a headache and slept badly. The second day I took myself in hand and found out that what usually passes for hunger is better described as the 'food habit', and that if not appeased it soon passes away. I slept well that night. The third day the authorities discovered what I was doing and carried me away to hospital and told me that they were going to feed me by force.

The head doctor, a most sensitive man, was visibly distressed by what he had to do. It certainly was an unpleasant and painful process and a sufficient number of warders had to be called in to prevent my moving while a rubber tube was pushed up my nostril and down into my throat and liquid was poured through it into my stomach. Twice a day thereafter one of the doctors fed me in this way. I was not allowed to leave my cell in the hospital and for the most part I had to stay in bed. There was nothing to do but to read; and the days were very long and went very slowly.

(11) James Keir Hardie, letter in the Daily News (27th September, 1909)

In reply to a question of mine today, Mr. Masterman, speaking on behalf of the Home Secretary, admitted that some of the nine prisoners now in Winston Green Gaol, Birmingham, had been subjected to "hospital treatment", and admitted that this euphemism meant administering food by force. The process employed was the insertion of a tube down the throat into the stomach and pumping the food down. To do this, I am advised, a gag has to be used to keep the mouth open.

That there is difference of opinion concerning the horrible brutality of this proceeding? Women worn and weak by hunger, are seized upon, held down by brute force, gagged, a tube inserted down the throat, and food poured or pumped into the stomach. Let British men think over the spectacle.

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

Amongst the seventy-five Suffragettes now in Holloway was Mrs. Pankhurst's sister, Mary Clarke. On ceasing to be Mrs. Pankhurst's deputy in the Registrarship, she had become an organiser for the W.S.P.U., and thereby found release from the regretful memories of an unhappy marriage. Facing the rude violence of the seaside rowdies at Brighton, where she was stationed, she displayed a quiet, persistent courage, which made peculiarly large demands on one so sensitive. Exerting her frail physique to its utmost, she was grievously ill on the eve of Black Friday, and her Brighton comrades had begged her not to go. She had promised to take the easier course of arrest for window-breaking, and had telegraphed to Brighton from the police court: "One month: I am content to pay the price of victory."

Preparing to leave for America, and revising the final chapters of The Suffragette, I spent Christmas alone at Linden Gardens. Early on the morning of Boxing Day I saw at the window my mother's face, haggard and drawn. I ran to admit her: "Something has happened!" "Aunt Mary is not very well," she faltered. "She is dead, I know."

Yes; she was dead, our gentle confidante, too frail to weather this rude tide of militant struggle. Released from prison two days before, she had spoken at the welcome luncheon in London, hastened to Brighton to address a welcome meeting there the same night, and returned on Christmas Eve to her brother's house in London. She was with Mrs. Pankhurst and others of the family at the mid-day Christmas dinner, and quietly left the table. When Mrs. Pankhurst went to look for her she found her unconscious. She had burst a blood vessel on the brain.

(13) Charles Mansell-Moullin, speech at Kingway Hall (18th March, 1913)

Last summer there were 102 Suffragettes in prison; 90 of those were being forcibly fed. All sorts of reports were being spread about what was being done to them. We got up a petition to the Home Secretary, we wrote him letters, we interviewed him so far as we could. We got absolutely no information of any kind that was satisfactory; nothing but evasion. So three of us formed ourselves into a committee - Sir Victor Horsley, Dr. Agnes Savill, and myself, and we determined that we would investigate these cases as thoroughly as we could. I don't want to be conceited, but we had the idea that we had sufficient experience in public and hospital practice and in private practice to be able to examine those persons, to take their evidence, to weigh it fully, and to consider it. And we drew up a report, and that report was published in The Lancet and in the British Medical, at the end of August last year.

We stand by that report. There is not a single thing in that report that we wish to withdraw. There are some few things that we might put more strongly now than we did then. Everything that has happened since has merely strengthened what we said, and has confirmed what we predicted would happen.

Now Mr. McKenna has said time after time that forcible feeding, as carried out in His Majesty's prisons, is neither dangerous nor painful. Only the other day he said, in answer to an obviously inspired question as to the possibility of a lady suffering injury from the treatment she received in prison, "I must wait until a case arises in which any person has suffered any injury from her treatment in prison." I got those words from The Times - of course, they may not be correctly reported. Well, of course, Mr. McKenna has no personal knowledge. Mr. McKenna has never, as far as I know, made any enquiry for himself, nor do I think if he did it would have had any effect one way or the other. He relies entirely upon reports that are made to him - reports that must come from the prison officials, and go through the Home Office to him, and his statements are entirely founded upon those reports. I have no hesitation in saying that these reports, if they justify the statements that Mr. McKenna has made, are absolutely untrue. They not only deceive the public, but from the persistence with which they are got up in the same sense, they must be intended to deceive the public.

I don't wish to exonerate Mr. McKenna in the least. He has had abundant opportunity - in fact, it has been forced upon his notice - of ascertaining the falsehood of these statements, and if he goes on repeating them after having been told time after time by all sorts of people that they are not correct, he makes himself responsible for them whether they are true or not. And in his own statements in the House of Commons he has given sufficient evidence of his frame of mind with regard to this subject. Time after time has he told the Members of the House that there was no pain or injury, and almost in the same breath - certainly in the same evening - he has told how one of these prisoners has had to be turned out at a moment's notice, carried away in some vehicle or other, and attended by a prison doctor, to save her life. One or other of these statements must be absolutely untrue.

Now I come to the question of pain. Mr. McKenna says that there is none. Let me read you an account of how they manage. Of course, the prison cells are ranged down either side of a corridor. All the doors are opened when this business is going to begin, so that nothing may be lost. "From 4:30 until 8:30 I heard the most dreadful screams and yells coming from the cells." This is the statement of a prisoner whom I know and who I know does not exaggerate: "I had never heard human beings being tortured before... I sat on my chair with my fingers in my ears for the greater part of that endless four hours. My heart was thumping against my ribs, as I sat listening to the procession of the doctors and wardresses as they came to and fro, and passed from cell to cell, and the groans and cries of those who were being fed, until at last the procession paused at my door. My turn had come."

That is a statement. I hope none of you has ever been so unfortunate as to be compelled to listen to the screams of a person when you are yourself in perfect health - the screams of a person in agony, screams gradually getting worse and worse, and then, at last, when the person's strength is becoming exhausted, dying down and ending in a groan. That is bad enough when you are strong and well, but if you come to think that these prisoners hear those screams in prison, that they are the screams of their friends, that they are helpless, that they know those screams are being caused by pain inflicted without the slightest necessity - I am not exaggerating in the least, I am giving you a plain statement of what goes on in His Majesty's prisons at the present time - then it becomes a matter upon which it is exceedingly difficult to speak temperately.

Then they say there is no danger. In one instance - that of an unresisting prisoner in Winson Gaol, Birmingham - there is no question but that the food was driven down into the lungs. The operation was

stopped by severe choking and persistent coughing. All night the prisoner could not sleep or lie down on account of great pain in her chest. She was hastily released next day, so ill that the authorities when discharging her obliged her to sign a statement that she left the prison at her own risk. On reaching home she was found to be suffering from pneumonia and pleurisy, caused from fluid being poured into her lungs. The same thing happened only the other day in the case of Miss Lenton. Fortunately, she is steadily recovering, and the Home Secretary may congratulate himself that these two cases - there have been others - are recovering, and that there will not have to be an inquest.

Then with regard to Miss Lenton. The Home Secretary wrote that she was reported by the medical officer of Holloway Prison to be in a state of collapse, and in imminent danger of death consequent upon her refusal to take food. This statement is not true. "Three courses were open - to leave her to die; to attempt to feed her forcibly, which the medical officer advised would probably entail death; and to release her on her undertaking to surrender herself at the further hearing of her case." That implied that she was not forcibly fed. She had been, but that fact was suppressed - suppressed by the Home Secretary in the statement he published in the newspapers, suppressed because the cause of her illness was forcible feeding. That has been proved absolutely.

As regards the moral and mental deterioration that has been already alluded to by Mr. Forbes Robertson and Mr. Bernard Shaw, I will only say this one thing. It shows itself everywhere where forcible feeding is practised. It shows itself in the prisons, where the medical officers, I am sorry to say, have on more than one occasion laughed and made stupid jokes about "stuffing turkeys at Christmas." It shows itself in the prison officials, in the reports they have drawn up. It shows itself in the Home Secretary in the untrue statements that he has published and the evasions that he has made; and it shows itself, too, in the ribald laughter and obscene jokes with which the so-called gentlemen of the House of Commons received the accounts of these tortures.

Student Activities

Child Labour Simulation (Teacher Notes)

1832 Reform Act and the House of Lords (Answer Commentary)

The Chartists (Answer Commentary)

Women and the Chartist Movement (Answer Commentary)

Benjamin Disraeli and the 1867 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

William Gladstone and the 1884 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

Richard Arkwright and the Factory System (Answer Commentary)

Robert Owen and New Lanark (Answer Commentary)

James Watt and Steam Power (Answer Commentary)

Road Transport and the Industrial Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Canal Mania (Answer Commentary)

Early Development of the Railways (Answer Commentary)

The Domestic System (Answer Commentary)

The Luddites: 1775-1825 (Answer Commentary)

The Plight of the Handloom Weavers (Answer Commentary)

Health Problems in Industrial Towns (Answer Commentary)

Public Health Reform in the 19th century (Answer Commentary)

References

(1) Marion Wallace-Dunlop, statement (5th July, 1909)

(2) Christabel Pankhurst, Unshackled (1959) page 133

(3) Sylvia Pankhurst, The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement (1931) page 397

(4) Joseph Lennon, Times Literary Supplement (22nd July, 2009)

(5) Roger Fulford, Votes for Women (1956) page 206

(6) The Times (29th September, 1909)

(7) James Keir Hardie, letter in the Daily News (27th September, 1909)

(8) Sylvia Pankhurst, The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement (1931) page 189

(9) Mary Leigh, statement published by the Women's Social and Political Union (October, 1909)

(10) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 758

(11) Lyndsey Jenkins, Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr (2015) pages 142-143

(12) Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, My Part in a Changing World (1938) page 242

(13) Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts (2001) page 195

(14) Christabel Pankhurst, Votes for Women (23rd July, 1909)

(15) Letter signed by 116 medical practitioners to Henry Asquith (4th October 1909)

(16) Annie Kenney, Memories of a Militant (1924) page 77

(17) Kitty Marion, Constance Lytton and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence , letter to The Times (10th October, 1909)

(18) Constance Lytton, Prisons and Prisoners (1914) pages 215-217

(19) Michelle Myall, Mary Leigh : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(20) Herbert Gladstone, letter to Sir Edward Grey (10th October, 1909)

(21) Christabel Pankhurst, speech at the Albert Hall (15th October, 1909)

(22) Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts (2001) page 208

(23) Sylvia Pankhurst, The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement (1931) page 346

(24) David J. Mitchell, Queen Christabel (1977) page 161

(25) Emmeline Pankhurst, letter to C. P. Scott (27th December, 1910)

(26) Lyndsey Jenkins, Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr (2015) page 190

(27) Christabel Pankhurst, Unshackled (1959) page 145

(28) Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Fate Has Been Kind (1943) page 92

(29) David J. Mitchell, Queen Christabel (1977) page 180

(30) Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, My Part in a Changing World (1938) page 281

(31) June Purvis, Emmeline Pankhurst : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(32) Ray Strachey, The Cause: A History of the Women's Movement in Great Britain (1928) page 330

(33) The Times (4th April, 1913)

(34) Dr. Charles Mansell-Moullin, (13th March, 1913)

(35) Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story (1914) pages 276-280

(36) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 377

(37) Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts (2001) page 249

(38) June Hannam, Mary Blathwayt : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(39) Beatrice Harraden, letter to Christabel Pankhurst (13th January, 1914)

(40) Henry Harben, letter to Christabel Pankhurst (February, 1914)

(41) Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts (2006) page 291