Emancipation of Women: 1870-1928

Annie Wood, the daughter of William Wood and Emily Morris Wood, was born at 2 Fish Street, London on 1st October, 1847. Annie's father, an underwriter, died when she was only five years old. Without any savings, Annie's mother found work looking after boarders at Harrow School. (1)

Mrs. Wood was unable to care for Annie and she persuaded a friend, Ellen Marryat, who lived in Charmouth in Dorset, to take responsibility for her education. Annie later recalled: "Miss Marryat had a perfect genius for teaching, and took in it the greatest delight... She taught us everything herself except music, and for this she had a master, practising us in composition, in recitation, in reading aloud English and French, and later, German, devoting herself to training us in the soundest, most thorough fashion. No words of mine can tell how much I owe her, not only of knowledge, but of that love of knowledge which has remained with me ever since as a constant spur to study." (2)

Marryat disagreed strongly with the idea of rote-learning. The children wrote about what interested them. They were also taught to think clearly. However, Marryat was "an extreme evangelical evangelical; sin, damnation, conversion, and permanent recourse to the Scriptures formed the regime". The children were forced to read both the Bible and the Fox Book of Martyrs and therefore "encouraging more daydreams of facing the stake or the rack." (3)

At the age of sixteen, Annie left the care of Miss Marryat. She was intensely devout and in her own words, "the very stuff of which fanatics were made". Annie was an attractive young woman and her "dark curls and a trim, tiny figure appeared at the Harrow balls and inspired several proposals of marriage." (4)

In April 1866 Annie met "the Rev. Frank Besant, a young Cambridge man, who had just taken orders, and was serving the little mission church as deacon" in Clapham. (5) A former schoolteacher, he was seven years older than Annie and according to one of her biographers, Anne Taylor, he was "an impecunious, parsimonious, stiff-necked young man from Portsea, whose evangelicalism was approvingly described as serious". (6)

A few months later he suddenly asked her to be his wife when he was on the point of getting on to a train: "Out of sheer weakness and fear of inflicting pain I drifted into an engagement with a man I did not pretend to love." The following year she met William Prowting Roberts, the 61-year-old, radical lawyer, who was a close friend of Ernest Jones, a Chartist and a follower of Karl Marx. Roberts, was a lawyer who had fought to improve the conditions of women and children working in the coal mines. (7)

Annie Besant
Annie Besant at sixteen years-old (1863)

"He (William Prowting Roberts) worked hard in the agitation which saved women from working in the mines, and I have heard him tell how he had seen them toiling, naked to the waist, with short petticoats barely reaching to their knees, rough, foul-tongued, brutalised out of all womanly decency and grace; and how he had seen little children working there too, babies of three and four set to watch a door, and falling asleep at their work to be roused by curse and kick to the unfair toil. The old man's eye would begin to flash and his voice to rise as he told of these horrors, and then his face would soften as he added that, after it was all over and the slavery was put an end to, as he went through a coal district the women standing at their doors would lift up their children to see 'Lawyer Roberts' go by, and would bid 'God bless him' for what he had done."

Roberts had a major impact on Annie's political views. "This dear old man was my first tutor in Radicalism, and I was an apt pupil. I had taken no interest in politics, but had unconsciously reflected more or less the decorous Whiggism which had always surrounded me. I regarded the poor as folk to be educated, looked after, charitably dealt with, and always treated with most perfect courtesy, the courtesy being due from me, as a lady, to all equally, whether they were rich or poor. But to Mr. Roberts the poor were the working-bees, the wealth producers, with a right to self-rule not to looking after, with a right to justice, not to charity, and he preached his doctrines to me in season and out of season." (8)

Marriage of Annie Besant

Annie Wood married Frank Besant in Hastings on 21st December, 1867. It was a very unhappy marriage: "Frank Besant seems to have been rigid, charmless and entirely set in his belief that a husband's word is law within his household; Annie was delicate and intellectual and cosseted... It is curious that, believing marriage to be the one and only destiny of women. Victorian families so often sent their daughters into it not only sexually ignorant but ignorant of housekeeping and money management." (9)

Annie Besant admitted many years later that she had made a terrible mistake marrying Frank Besant. "In truth, I ought never to have married, for under the soft, loving, pliable girl there lay hidden, as much unknown to herself as to her surroundings, a woman of strong dominant will, strength that panted for expression and rebelled against restraint, fiery and passionate emotions that were seething under compression - a most undesirable partner to sit in the lady's armchair on the domestic rug before the fire". (10)

By the time she was twenty-three Annie had two children, Digby (16th January 1869) and Mabel (28th August 1870). Annie had difficult births and when she suggested to her husband that they should try "family limitation" he gave her a beating. "On various occasions he threw her over a stile, kneed her and pushed her out of bed so that she crashed on the floor and was badly bruised." (11)

However, Annie was deeply unhappy because her independent sprit clashed with the traditional views of her husband. Annie also began to question her religious beliefs. In 1872 she heard the eloquent sermons of Charles Voysey, who was a leading Dissenter preacher. Voysey, who was considered to be a theist, denied the perfection of Jesus and the authority of the Bible. Annie sought Voysey's advice on religious matters and "struck by the unusual appearance and earnestness of this beautiful woman of twenty-five", he invited her to his home in Dulwich. (12)

Voysey introduced Annie to Thomas Scott, a sixty-four year-old freethinker. "At that time Thomas Scott was an old man, with beautiful white hair, and eyes like those of a hawk gleaming from under shaggy eyebrows. He had been a man of magnificent physique, and, though his frame was then enfeebled, the splendid lion-like head kept its impressive strength and beauty, and told of a unique personality. Well born and wealthy, he had spent his earlier life in adventure in all parts of the world, and after his marriage he had settled down at Ramsgate, and had made his home a centre of heretical thought." (13)

Annie Besant
Annie Besant with her mother (c. 1872)

Scott was impressed with Annie Besant and invited her to write a pamphlet on her religious views. She agreed to his request and Scott published, On the Deity of Jesus of Nazareth: An Inquiry into the Nature of Jesus, in March 1873. Frank Besant became aware of this pamphlet and issued an ultimatum: Annie was to be seen to take holy communion regularly at his church or she was to leave the family home. Annie later recalled that she chose "expulsion" over "hypocrisy". In October, 1873, she signed a deed of separation that allowed her to keep Mabel with her, but had to leave Digby, aged four, with his father. (14)

Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh

Annie Besant found temporary work as a governess in Folkstone. However, in 1874 her mother became ill and so she rented a house in Upper Norwood so she could look after her. Emily Wood died on 10th May. During this period she produced pamphlets for Thomas Scott. In addition to the payment she received for this work, she was also welcome to take meals at Scott's house. She later recalled that he was the first man outside her family whom she could truthfully say she loved." (15)

In July 1874, Annie purchased a copy of the The National Reformer. The newspaper had been established by Charles Bradlaugh and Joseph Barker. They believed that religion was blocking progress and advocated what they called an atheistic Secularism. The newspaper advocated a whole range of reforms including universal suffrage and republicanism. Bradlaugh had also helped establish the National Secular Society. (16)

Annie Besant later pointed out: "Attracted by the title, I bought it. I read it placidly in the omnibus on my way to Victoria Station, and found it excellent, and was sent into convulsions of inward merriment when, glancing up, I saw an old gentleman gazing at me, with horror speaking from every line of his countenance. To see a young woman, respectably dressed in crape, reading an Atheistic journal, had evidently upset his peace of mind, and he looked so hard at the paper that I was tempted to offer it to him, but repressed the mischievous inclination". (17)

Annie decided to write to the newspaper and asked if "it was necessary for a person to profess Atheism before being admitted to the National Secular Society". Bradlaugh replied that anyone could join "without being required to avow himself an Atheist". However, he added: "Candidly, we can see no logical resting-place between the entire acceptance of authority, as in the Roman Catholic Church, and the most extreme Rationalism." (18)

Annie attended her first National Secular Society on 2nd August, 1874. "The Hall was crowded to suffocation, and, at the very moment announced for the lecture, a roar of cheering burst forth, a tall figure passed swiftly up the Hall to the platform, and, with a slight bow in answer to the voluminous greeting, Charles Bradlaugh took his seat. I looked at him with interest, impressed and surprised. The grave, quiet, stern, strong face, the massive head, the keen eyes, the magnificent breadth and height of forehead - was this the man I had heard described as a blatant agitator, an ignorant demagogue?"

Bradlaugh than began his lecture: "He began quietly and simply, tracing out the resemblances between the Krishna and the Christ myths, and as he went from point to point his voice grew in force and resonance, till it rang round the hall like a trumpet. Familiar with the subject, I could test the value of his treatment of it, and saw that his knowledge was as sound as his language was splendid. Eloquence, fire, sarcasm, pathos, passion, all in turn were bent against Christian superstition, till the great audience, carried away by the torrent of the orator's force, hung silent, breathing soft, as he went on, till the silence that followed a magnificent peroration broke the spell, and a hurricane of cheers relieved the tension". (19)

In 1874 Bradlaugh was forty, whereas Annie was twenty-six. He was at the height of his powers and was considered to be one of the most outstanding orators in the country. Henry Snell was one of those impressed with Bradlaugh's oratory: "Bradlaugh was already speaking when I arrived, and I remember, as clearly as though it were only yesterday, the immediate and compelling impression made upon me by that extraordinary man. I have never been so influenced by a human personality as I was by Charles Bradlaugh. The commanding strength, the massive head, the imposing stature, and the ringing eloquence of the man fascinated me... and I became one of his humblest but most devoted of his followers." (20)

Tom Mann was a young trade unionist when he first heard Bradlaugh speak: "Charles Bradlaugh was at this period, and I think for fully fifteen years, the foremost platform man in Britain. When championing an unpopular cause, it is of advantage to have a powerful physique. Bradlaugh had this; he had also the courage equal to any requirement, a command of language and power of denunciation superior to any other man of his time... He was a thorough-going Republican. Of course, in theological affairs, he was the iconoclast, the breaker of images." (21)

Annie Besant soon became close friends with Charles Bradlaugh. A few days after their first meeting Bradlaugh offered her a job on his newspaper. "It was only a weekly salary of a guinea but it was a welcome addition to my resources". She also accepted Bradlaugh's invitation to give public lectures on subjects that she felt strongly about. In August 1874 she gave a talk entitled "The Political Status of Women" at the Co-operative Institute in London. (22)

In her autobiography Annie Besant pointed out that she was seized by nerves right up to the moment of going on to the platform: "But to my surprise all this miserable feeling vanished the moment I was on my feet and was looking at the faces before me. I felt no tremor of nervousness from the first word to the last, and as I heard my own voice ring out over the attentive listeners I was conscious of power and of pleasure, not of fear. And from that day to this my experience has been the same; before a lecture I am horribly nervous, wishing myself at the ends of the earth, heart beating violently, and sometimes overcome by deadly sickness." (23)

Bradlaugh's daughter commented: "She was very fluent, with a great command of language, and her voice carried well; her throat, weak at first, rapidly gained in strength, until she became a most forcible speaker. Tireless as a worker, she could both write and study longer without rest and respite than any other person I have known; and such was her power of concentration, that she could work under circumstances which would have confounded almost every other person. Though not an original thinker, she had a really wonderful power of absorbing the thoughts of others, of blending them, and of transmuting them into glowing language. Her industry, her enthusiasm, and her eloquence made of her a very powerful ally to whatever cause she espoused." (24)

Annie Besant developed a reputation as an outstanding public speaker. The Irish journalist, T. P. O'Connor wrote: "What a beautiful and attractive and irresistible creature she was then’with her slight but full and well-shaped figure, her dark hair, her finely chiseled features… with that short upper lip that seemed always in a pout". (25) Beatrice Webb claimed that she was the "only woman I have ever known who is a real orator, who has the gift of public persuasion." However, she added that to "see her speaking made me shudder, it is not womanly to thrust yourself before the world." (26)

Tom Mann agreed: "The first time I heard Mrs. Besant was in Birmingham, about 1875. The only women speakers I had heard before this were of mediocre quality. Mrs. Besant transfixed me; her superb control of voice, her whole-souled devotion to the cause she was advocating, her love of the down-trodden, and her appeal on behalf of a sound education for all children, created such an impression upon me, that I quietly, but firmly, created such an impression upon me, that I quietly, but firmly, resolved that I would ascertain more correctly the why and wherefore of her creed." (27)

Annie and Bradlaugh became very close but they never lived together. Bradlaugh had separated from his wife but he was devoted to his two teenaged daughters, Alice and Hypatia, and was reluctant to upset them by setting up home with Annie. Friends believe that Annie was also unwilling to live with Bradlaugh while she was still officially married to Frank Besant, who was unwilling to give her a divorce. (28)

Hypatia Bradlaugh later recalled: "They were mutually attracted; and a friendship sprang up between them of so close a nature that had both been free it would undoubtedly have ended in marriage. In their common labours, in the risks and responsibilities jointly undertaken, their friendship grew and strengthened, and the insult and calumny heaped upon them only served to cement the bond". (29)

As Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh were atheists and republicans they came under constant attack from the newspapers. One described her as "the devil of Atheistic Freethought" and others accused the couple of believing in "free love" and the "destruction of the marriage tie". A local newspaper in Essex referred to "that bestial man and woman who go about earning a livelihood by corrupting the young of England". These accusations "horrified her Victorian conscience". Annie commented "I found myself held up to hatred as an upholder of views that I abhorred." (30)

In reality Bradlaugh "abhorred free love as much as he worshipped free thought". (31) According to Theodore Besterman: "There is not doubt that if they had been free Bradlaugh and Mrs Besant would have married. As it was they neither of them had the wish to indulge in an intrigue, which would, moreover, in their position, have been fatal to both of them." Another friend, Sri Prakasa, claimed that Annie Besant "was the one person who was capable of the deepest feelings without any thought of sex; and she was a woman of such remarkable courage that when she was working with colleagues she did not care what the world thought of her." (32)

The Fruits of Philosophy

In 1832, Charles Knowlton, a doctor from Ashfield, Massachusetts, published a small pamphlet, The Fruits of Philosophy. It contained a summary of what was then known about the physiology of conception, listed a number of methods to treat infertility and impotence, and explained three methods of birth control, including a new system he had developed, that involved using a syringe to wash out the vagina after intercourse with "a solution of sulphate of zinc, of alum, pearl-ash, or any salt that acts chemically on the semen". Knowlton was arrested and was sent to prison for three months. (33)

It was also published in Britain and over the next forty years it sold in very small numbers. A new edition was published in Bristol in December 1876, by a bookseller, Henry Cook. He was arrested and charged with publishing pornography. Cook was found guilty, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Charles Watts and his wife, Kate Watts, both members of the National Secular Society, decided to withdraw the pamphlet for sale in their shop in London. (34)

Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh disagreed with this decision and decided to establish the Freethought Publishing Company so they could publish a sixpenny edition of the pamphlet. (35) They started a major publicity campaign and on publication day, 24th March, 1877, they sold over 500 pamphlets from their small office in the first twenty minutes of it being available. A police detective was among the purchasers. (36).

Annie wrote a preface which explained why she thought the pamphlet should be published. She referred to the Richard Carlile case in 1826 when he published Every Woman's Book. Annie stated they hoped that they could "carry on Carlile's work", a book "which argued for a rational approach to birth control, attacking the Christian demonization of sexual desire while denying the traditional chauvinist assumptions about women". (37)

Annie Besant added that she agreed with Thomas Malthus "that population has a tendency to increase faster than the means of existence". Annie pointed out that Britain population had nearly doubled during the first half of the 19th century, growing from 11 million in 1801 to 21 million in 1851. As a result their was "enormous mortality among infants of the poor is one of the checks which now keeps down the population".

Annie went on to argue: "We think it more moral to prevent the conception of children than, after they are born, to murder them by want of food, air, and clothing. We advocate scientific checks to population, because, so long as poor men have large families, pauperism is a necessity, and from pauperism grow crime and disease. The wage which would support the parents and two or three children in comfort and decency is utterly insufficient to maintain a family of twelve or fourteen, and we consider it a crime to bring into the world human beings doomed to misery or to premature death". (38)

Besant and Bradlaugh were arrested and appeared in court on 18th June, 1877. They were prosecuted by the Solicitor-General of the Conservative government, Hardinge Giffard, for publishing "a certain indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy, and obscene book". They were to be charged under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act that stated that "the test of obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall."

Giffard argued: "The truth is, those who publish this book must have known perfectly well that an unlimited publication of this sort, put into the hands of everybody, whatever their age, whatever their condition in life, whatever their modes of life, whatever their means, put into the hands of any person who may think proper to pay sixpence for it - the thesis is this: if you do not desire to have children, and wish to gratify your sensual passions, and not undergo the responsibility of marriage... It is sought to be justified upon the ground that it is only a recommendation to married people, who under the cares of their married life are unable to bear the burden of too many children. I should be prepared to argue before you that if confined to that object alone it would be most mischievous.... I deny this, and I deny that it is the purport and intention of this book." (39)

Annie Besant later recorded in Autobiographical Sketches (1885) that Giffard used the case to attack the Liberal Party: "The Solicitor-General made a bitter and violent speech, full of party hate and malice, endeavoring to prejudice the jury against the work by picking out bits of medical detail and making profound apologies for reading them, and shuddering and casting up his eyes with the skill of a finished actor." (40)

Annie Besant represented herself in court. She pointed out that in 1876 only 700 copies of The Fruits of Philosophy had been purchased in Britain. However, in the three months before the trial 125,000 had been sold. "My clients are scattered up and down through the length and breadth of the land; I find them amongst the poor, amongst whom I have been so much; I find my clients amongst the fathers, who see their wage ever reducing, and prices ever rising... Gentlemen, do you know the fate of so many of these children? The little ones half starved because there is food enough for two but not enough for twelve; half clothed because the mother, no matter what her skill and care, cannot clothe them with the money brought home by the breadwinner of the family; brought up in ignorance, and ignorance means pauperism and crime." (41)

The following day in court Annie Besant illustrated the problems faced by having large families. She quoted Henry Fawcett as "children belonging to the upper and middle classes 20 per cent die before they reach the age of five"; and he adds that the amount is more than doubled in the case of children belonging to the labouring classes. "This great mortality amongst poor children is caused by neglect, by want of proper food, and by unwholesome dwellings. When we take these facts, and find that this large number of children have literally been murdered, when you consider that the number of these children who, if they had been born in a higher rank, would not have died, is calculated by Professor Fawcett as 1,150,000."

Annie Besant talked of the evils of prostitution. She believed that this problem would be reduced if young men and women married early: "I say that men and women will marry young - in the flower of their age - and more especially will this be the case amongst the poorer classes... I cannot go to the poor man, and tell him that the brightest part of his life is to be spent alone, and that he is to be shut out for years from the comforts of a home and the happiness of married life... There is no talk in this book of preventing men and women from becoming parents; all that is sought here is to limit the number of their family. And we do not aim at that because we do not love children, but, on the contrary, because we do love them, and because we wish to prevent them from coming into the world in greater numbers than there is the means of properly providing for." (42)

The prosecutor, Hardinge Giffard, had claimed that the pamphlet was obscene because it described and illustrated "male organs of generation". However, as she pointed out, boys and girls under sixteen in government schools were using textbooks that included details of "sexual reproduction" that were much more graphic than in her pamphlet. She asked if there were any plans to prosecute the publishers of these school textbooks? (43)

Besant pointed out that her doctor provided her with a book written by Pye Henry Chavasse, entitled Advice to a Mother on the Management of Her Children and on the Treatment on the Moment of Some of Their More Pressing Illnesses and Accidents (1868). "When I was first married my own doctor gave me the work of Chavasse, on the ground that it was better for a woman to read the medical details than it was for her to have to apply to one of the opposite sex to settle matters which did not need to be dealt with by the doctor." Besant suggested that the advice given in this book was very similar to that of her own pamphlet. The difference was that Chavasse's book was expensive whereas her pamphlet cost only sixpence. (44)

Charles Bradlaugh also carried out his own defence. He looked very closely at the economics of birth-control. "The best paid class of hewers of coal are not now averaging much more than one pound a week; take that for a man and his wife and three children only. But suppose him to have five. The Pauper Unions allow 4s 6d a week, and sometimes a little more, for boarding out a pauper child. Suppose the coalhewer has a family of five, six or seven - do the multiplication for yourselves, and leave nothing for luxury or dissipation on the part of the bread winner - I ask what means has he of purchasing the expensive treatises from which I shall quote? I now submit that it is impossible to advocate sexual restraint after marriage amongst the poor without such medical or physiological instructions as may enable them to comprehend the advocacy and utilise it." (45)

Bradlaugh argued that using birth-control was a moral act when compared to the alternatives. He claimed that in 1868 more than 16,000 women in London "murdered their offspring". He argued, "it is amongst the poor married people that the evils of over-population are chiefly felt", and, he maintained, "the advocacy of every birth-restricting check is lawful except such as advocate the destruction of the foetus after conception or of the child after birth", and that this advocacy "to be useful must of necessity be put in the plainest language and in the cheapest form". (46)

Alice Vickery, a nurse in London, gave evidence for the defence. She told the court "that a very great deal of suffering is caused by over-childbearing to the mothers themselves; to the children, because of the insufficient nutriment which they are able to give them and to the children before birth from the condition of the mothers." She went on to claim that mothers breast-fed their babies in an attempt to stop them getting pregnant again. "I have known many women who have continued to suckle their children as long as two years, and even longer than two years, because they believed that that would prevent them from conceiving again so rapidly." This caused serious health problems for the mothers and their babies. (47)

Dr. Charles Robert Drysdale, Senior Physician, Metropolitan Free Hospital, also defended the actions of Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh. He talked in court about the medical problems caused by large families. "I have been continually obliged to lament the excessive rapidity with which the poorer classes bring unfortunate children into the world, who, in consequence, grow up weak and ricketty.... When a working man marries, the first child or two look very healthy, whilst the third will look ricketty because the mother is not able to give them that proper nourishment which she lacks herself. And so with both the fourth and fifth.... When three or four are born they get that terrible disease-the rickets - which is a great cause of death in London, a much greater cause than is generally supposed.... Hence the death-rate is largest in large families."

Drysdale then went on to look at the death-rate in London: "One fact I will mention to draw the attention of yourself and the jury to the very important point of infant mortality.... With all our advances in science we have not been able to decrease the general death-rate in London. Twenty years ago it was 22.2 per thousand persons living. In I876 it was almost exactly the same, being, in fact 22.3. Instead of dying more slowly than we did twenty years ago, we die a little faster.... The real reason of this increase in the death-rate is, that the children of the poor die three times as fast as the children of the rich... In 100,000 children of the richer classes, it was found that there were only 8,000 who died during the first year of life; whereas looking at the Registrar-General's returns we find that 15,000 out of every 100,000 of the general population die in their first year. If you take the children of the poor in the towns you will find the death-rate three times as large as among the rich - instead of 8,000 there would be 24,000 among the children of the poor. So that you see, the children of the poor are simply brought into the world to be murdered". (48)

In his final statement in court Hardinge Giffard argued: "I say that this is a dirty, filthy book, and the test of it is that no human being would allow that book to lie on his table; no decently educated English husband would allow even his wife to have it, and yet it is to be told to me, forsooth, that anybody may have this book in the City of London or elsewhere, who can pay sixpence for it! The object of it is to enable persons to have sexual intercourse, and not to have that which in the order of Providence is the natural result of that sexual intercourse." (49)

The jury ruled: "We are unanimously of opinion that the book in question is calculated to deprave public morals, but at the same time we entirely exonerate the defendants from any corrupt motives in publishing it." The Lord Chief Justice told the jury that the statement was unacceptable and "I must direct you on that finding, to return a verdict of guilty under this indictment against the defendants". He then turned towards Besant and Bradlaugh and said "under these circumstances, I will not pronounce sentence against you at present." (50)

The judge eventually sentenced both of them to six months in prison and a fine of £200. However, for a sum of £500 they were allowed to have their freedom until the case appeared before the Court of Appeal. This took place in February 1878 before Lord George Bramwell, Lord William Brett and Lord Henry Cotton. They decided that the case against them was deeply flawed and the sentence was quashed. (51)

After the court-case Besant wrote and published her own book advocating birth control entitled The Laws of Population. The idea of a woman advocating birth-control received wide-publicity. Newspapers like The Times accused Besant of writing "an indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy and obscene book". Frank Besant used the publicity of the case to persuade the courts that he, rather than Annie Besant, should have custody of their daughter Mabel. (52)

Socialism

Annie Besant became a socialist and started working with people such as Walter Crane, Edward Aveling and George Bernard Shaw. This upset Bradlaugh, who regarded socialism as a disruptive foreign doctrine that was based on the idea of violent revolution. This he expressed powerfully in his debate with H. M. Hyndman, the leader of the Social Democratic Federation, in April 1884. Bradlaugh argued that as a member of the Liberal Party he believed the way forward was for the government to pass legislation to protect those suffering from poverty.

"We recognise the most serious evils, and especially in large centres of population; arising out of the poverty already existing, aggravating and intensifying the crime, disease, and misery developed from it.... I want to remedy the evil, attacking it in detail by the action of the individuals most affected by it... Social reform is one thing because it is reform; Socialism is the opposite because it is revolution... Now I have said that in order to effect Socialism in this country – and I am only dealing with this country – it would require a physical-force revolution, because you would want that physical force to make all the present property-owners who are unwilling, surrender their private property to the common fund – you would want that physical force to dispossess them." (53)

Annie Besant
Annie Besant (c. 1885)

In October, 1887, she told the readers of The National Reformer that she was now a socialist: "When I became co-editor of this paper I was not a Socialist; and, although I regard Socialism as the necessary and logical outcome of the Radicalism which for so many years the National Reformer has taught, still, as in avowing myself a Socialist I have taken a distinct step, the partial separation of my policy in labour questions from that of my colleague has been of my own making, and not of his, and it is, therefore, for me to go away. Over by far the greater part of our sphere of action we are still substantially agreed, and are likely to remain so. But since, as Socialism becomes more and more a question of practical politics, differences of theory tend to produce differences in conduct; and since a political paper must have a single editorial programme in practical politics, it would obviously be most inconvenient for me to retain my position as co-editor. I therefore resume my former position as contributor only, thus clearing the National Reformer of all responsibility for the views I hold." (54)

Ben Tillett was a young socialist who saw her speak in London in 1887: "Mrs. Besant joined the Fabian Society very shortly after its creation, and was one of the famous group who formulated the principles of English Socialism. Her remarkable qualities as a woman, and her gifts as an orator, speedily made her a prominent figure in the East End of London, when she appeared amongst us. She spoke at our organizing meetings on several occasions. One meeting, I remember, was held in a thick fog which blotted out the faces and forms of the audience, which nevertheless stayed within hearing of Mrs. Besant's superb voice, spellbound by her eloquence and social passion". (55)

Annie Besant joined the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society. She became close to George Bernard Shaw who based the character, Raina Petkoff, in Arms and Man on Annie. A legal marriage was not possible because Frank Besant would not give her a divorce. She responded to his invitation to cohabit by producing a list of her terms for his signature. Apparently, Shaw exploded in laughter: "Good God! This is worse than all the vows of all the churches on earth. I had rather be legally married to you ten times over." (56)

The 1888 London Matchgirls Strike

In 1887 Besant joined forces with William Stead to establish the newspaper, The Link. The halfpenny weekly carried on its front page a quotation from Victor Hugo: "I will speak for the dumb. I will speak of the small to the great and the feeble to the strong... I will speak for all the despairing silent ones." The newspaper campaigned against "sweated labour, extortionate landlords, unhealthy workshops, child labour and prostitution." (57)

In June 1888, Clementina Black gave a speech on Female Labour at a Fabian Society meeting in London. Annie Besant, a member of the audience, was horrified when she heard about the pay and conditions of the women working at the Bryant & May match factory. The next day, Besant went and interviewed some of the people who worked at Bryant & May. She discovered that the women worked fourteen hours a day for a wage of less than five shillings a week. However, they did not always received their full wage because of a system of fines, ranging from three pence to one shilling, imposed by the Bryant & May management. Offences included talking, dropping matches or going to the toilet without permission. The women worked from 6.30 am in summer (8.00 in winter) to 6.00 pm. If workers were late, they were fined a half-day's pay. (58)

Annie Besant also discovered that the health of the women had been severely affected by the phosphorus that they used to make the matches. This caused yellowing of the skin and hair loss and phossy jaw, a form of bone cancer. The whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death. Although phosphorous was banned in Sweden and the USA, the British government had refused to follow their example, arguing that it would be a restraint of free trade. (59)

On 23rd June 1888, Besant wrote an article in her newspaper, The Link. The article, entitled White Slavery in London, complained about the way the women at Bryant & May were being treated. The company reacted by attempting to force their workers to sign a statement that they were happy with their working conditions. When a group of women refused to sign, the organisers of the group was sacked. The response was immediate; 1400 of the women at Bryant & May went on strike. (60)

Annie Besant and the Matchgirls Strike Committee
Annie Besant and the Matchgirls Strike Committee

William Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Henry Hyde Champion of the Labour Elector and Catharine Booth of the Salvation Army joined Besant in her campaign for better working conditions in the factory. So also did Hubert Llewellyn Smith, Sydney Oliver, Stewart Headlam, Hubert Bland, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw. However, other newspapers such as The Times, blamed Besant and other socialist agitators for the dispute. "The pity is that the matchgirls have not been suffered to take their own course but have been egged on to strike by irresponsible advisers. No effort has been spared by those pests of the modern industrialized world to bring this quarrel to a head." (61)

Besant, Stead and Champion used their newspapers to call for a boycott of Bryant & May matches. The women at the company also decided to form a Matchgirls' Union and Besant agreed to become its leader. After three weeks the company announced that it was willing to re-employ the dismissed women and would also bring an end to the fines system. The women accepted the terms and returned in triumph. The Bryant & May dispute was the first strike by unorganized workers to gain national publicity. It was also successful at helped to inspire the formation of unions all over the country. (62)

The trade union leader, Henry Snell, wrote several years later: These courageous girls had neither funds, organizations, nor leaders, and they appealed to Mrs. Besant to advise and lead them. It was a wise and most excellent inspiration.... The number affected was quite small, but the matchgirls' strike had an influence upon the minds of the workers which entitles it to be regarded as one of the most important events in the history of labour organisation in any country. (63)

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Millicent Fawcett, the eighth of tenth children of Newson Garrett (1812–1893) and Louise Dunnell (1813–1903), was born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk on 11th June, 1847. Millicent's father, was the grandson of Richard Garrett, who founded the successful agricultural machinery works at Leiston.

"The Garretts were a close and happy family in which children were encouraged to be physically active, read widely, speak their minds, and share in the political interests of their father, a convert from Conservatism to Gladstonian Liberalism, a combative man, and a keen patriot". (64)

Millicent's father had originally ran a pawnbroker's shop in London, but by the time she was born he owned a corn and coal warehouse in Aldeburgh. The business was a great success and by the 1850s Garrett could afford to send his children away to be educated. In 1858 she was sent to a private boarding school in Blackheath.

Millicent's sister, Elizabeth Garrett, was also living in London and attempting to qualify as a doctor. and she took her to see Frederick Denison Maurice, the founder of the Christian Socialist movement. Elizabeth and her other sister, Louise, brought her into contact with people with progressive political views. Elizabeth introduced her to Emily Davies, a woman who was active in campaigning for women's rights. On one occasion, Emily told Elizabeth, "It is quite clear what has to be done. I must devote myself to securing higher education, while you open the medical profession to women. After these things are done, we must see about getting the vote." She then turned to Millicent: "You are younger than we are, Millie, so you must attend to that." (65)

In July 1865 Louise took Millicent to hear a speech on women's rights made by the John Stuart Mill. the Radical MP for Westminster. He was one of the few members of the House of Commons who believed that women should have the vote. Millicent was deeply impressed by Mill and became one of his many loyal supporters. "This meeting kindled tenfold my enthusiasms for women's suffrage." (66)

In 1865 a group of women in London formed a discussion group called the Kensington Society. Nine of the eleven women who attended the early meetings were unmarried and were attempting to pursue a career in education or medicine. The group eventually included Millicent Garrett, Elizabeth Garrett, Barbara Bodichon, Jessie Boucherett, Frances Power Cobbe, Emily Davies, Francis Mary Buss, Dorothea Beale, Anne Clough, Sophia Jex-Blake, Helen Taylor and Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy. (67)

On 21st November 1865, the women discussed the topic of parliamentary reform. The question was: "Is the extension of the Parliamentary suffrage to women desirable, and if so, under what conditions?" Both Barbara Bodichon and Helen Taylor submitted a paper on the topic. The women thought it was unfair that women were not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. They therefore decided to draft a petition asking Parliament to grant women the vote.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett addressing the crowds in Hyde Park at theculmination of the Pilgrimage on 26th July 1913.
Millicent Garrett (c. 1865)

When she was eighteen, at a party given by the radical MP, Peter Alfred Taylor, Millicent Garrett met Henry Fawcett, the MP for Brighton. Fawcett, who had been blinded in a shooting accident in 1857, had been expected to marry Millicent's older sister Elizabeth, but in 1865 she decided to concentrate her efforts on becoming a doctor. Henry and Millicent became close friends and even though she was warned against marrying a disabled man, fourteen years her senior, the couple was married on 23rd April 1867. According to Henry, the marriage was based, in Fawcett's words, on "perfect intellectual sympathy" (68)

1867 Reform Act

In 1867 William Gladstone became leader of the Liberal Party. Gladstone made it clear that he was in favour of increasing the number of people who could vote. Although the Conservative Party had opposed previous attempts to introduce parliamentary reform, the new government were now sympathetic to the idea. The Conservatives knew that if the Liberals returned to power, Gladstone was certain to try again. Benjamin Disraeli "feared that merely negative and confrontational responses to the new forces in the political nation would drive them into the arms of the Liberals and promote further radicalism" and decided that the Conservative Party had to change its policy on parliamentary reform. (69)

On 20th May 1867, John Stuart Mill, proposed that women should be granted the same rights as men. "We talk of political revolutions, but we do not sufficiently attend to the fact that there has taken place around us a silent domestic revolution: women and men are, for the first time in history, really each other's companions... when men and women are really companions, if women are frivolous men will be frivolous... the two sexes must rise or sink together." (70)

During the debate on the issue, Edward Kent Karslake, the Conservative MP for Colchester, said in the debate that the main reason he opposed the measure was that he had not met one woman in Essex who agreed with women's suffrage. Lydia Becker, Helen Taylor and Frances Power Cobbe, decided to take up this challenge and devised the idea of collecting signatures in Colchester for a petition that Karslake could then present to parliament. They found 129 women resident in the town willing to sign the petition and on 25th July, 1867, Karslake presented the list to parliament. Despite this petition the Mill amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73. Gladstone voted against the amendment. (71)

Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Women's Rights

On 4th April 1868, Millicent Fawcett gave birth to Philippa Fawcett. According to her biographer, Rita McWilliams Tullberg: "Philippa Fawcett's political and intellectual inheritance was formidable. Both her parents were active in the movement for the higher education of women. Not yet two years old, she reportedly toddled among the group of senior academics and their wives meeting in her parents' drawing-room in Cambridge in 1869 to plan the scheme of lectures for women that led, in time, to the foundation of Newnham College." (72)

Millicent Fawcett gave her full support to her husband's political and academic career. She also wrote articles on women's education and women's suffrage. Her short textbook, Political Economy for Beginners (1870), ran into ten editions and was translated into many languages. She also co-authored a book with her husband, Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects (1872). Millicent had been inspired by the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and John Mill. (73)

Ford Madox Brown, Henry and Millicent Fawcett (1872)
Ford Madox Brown, Henry and Millicent Fawcett (1872)

Millicent Fawcett went on speaking tours on behalf of the women's movement. Her most popular lecture, Electoral Disabilities of Women attempted to deal with all the main objections to women having the vote. For example: (i) Women are sufficiently represented already by men, and their interests have always been jealously protected by the legislature. (ii) A woman is so easily influenced that if she had a vote it would practically have the same effect as giving two votes to her nearest male relation, or to her favourite clergyman. (iii) Women are so obstinate that if they had votes endless family discord would ensue. (iv) The ideal of domestic life is a miniature despotism - one supreme head, to whom all the other members of the family are subject. This ideal would be destroyed if the equality of women with men were recognised by extending the suffrage to women. (v) Women are intellectually inferior to men. (74)

In the 1860s the very idea of a woman standing on a public platform was considered shocking. She found the experience difficult and although she always maintained an air of calm while on the platform, she professed not to enjoy this aspect of the work. Apparently she was so nervous before a speech that she was often physically ill. In an effort to cope with this problem she refused to speak either more than once a day or more than four times a week. (75)

Millicent Fawcett received a great deal of criticism for her public speaking. One man wrote: "I wish to observe that if you purchase a Bible and carefully read its teaching you will arrive at a better conclusion as to the intentions of the Great Creator as to the relation which should exist between the sexes than you will by reading the writings of J.S. Mill who seems to be the chief apostle of the woman suffrage question. I can only say that in my estimation no Christian woman who properly considered her sex and the Divine intention respecting her would take any direct part in politics." (76)

1884 Reform Act

The 1880 General Election was won by William Gladstone and the Liberal Party that had successfully obtained 352 seats with 54.7% of the vote. Queen Victoria and Gladstone were in constant conflict during his premiership. She often wrote to him complaining about his progressive policies. Victoria was especially opposed to parliamentary reform. In November, 1880, Queen Victoria she told him that he should be careful about making statements about future political policy: "The Queen is extremely anxious to point out to Mr. Gladstone the immense importance of the utmost caution on the part of all the Ministers but especially of himself, at the coming dinner in the City. There is such danger in every direction that a word too much might do irreparable mischief." (77)

In 1884 Gladstone introduced his proposals that would give working class males the same voting rights as those living in the boroughs. Gladstone told the House of Commons "that every Reform Bill had improved the House as a Representative Assembly". When opponents of the proposed bill cried "No, no!" Gladstone "insisted that whatever might be the effect on the House from some points of view, it was past doubt that the two Reform Acts had made the House far more adequate to express the wants and wishes of the nation as a whole". He added that when the House of Lords had blocked the Liberal's 1866 Reform Bill the following year "the Conservatives found it absolutely necessary to deal with the question, and so it would be again". (78)

Left-wing members of the Liberal Party, such as James Stuart, urged Gladstone to give the vote to women. Stuart wrote to Gladstone's daughter, Mary Gladstone Drew: "To make women more independent of men is, I am convinced, one of the great fundamental means of bringing about justice, morality, and happiness both for married and unmarried men and women. If all Parliament were like the three men you mention, would there be no need for women's votes? Yes, I think there would. There is only one perfectly just, perfectly understanding Being - and that is God.... No man is all-wise enough to select rightly - it is the people's voice thrust upon us, not elicited by us, that guides us rightly." (79)

Millicent Fawcett, on behalf of other female members of the Liberal Party, wrote a letter to Gladstone about this issue: "We write on behalf of more than a hundred women of liberal opinions, whose names we index, who are ready and anxious to take part in a deputation to you, to lay before you their strong conviction of the justice and propriety of granting some representation to women. Believing our own claim to be not only reasonable, but also in strict accord with the principle of your Bill, we are persuaded that if you are able to give any recognition to it, there is no act of your honourable career which will in the future be deemed more consistent with a truly liberal statesmanship." (80)

The following month, Edward Walter Hamilton, Gladstone's private secretary replied. "He (William Gladstone) is most unwilling to cause disappointment to yourself & your friends, whose title to be heard he fully recognises; and he can assure you that the difficulty of complying with a request so referred does not proceed from any want of appreciating the importance of your representation, or of the question itself. His fear is that any attempt to enlarge by material changes the provisions of the Franchise Bill now before Parliament might endanger the whole measure. For this reason, as well as on account of his physical inability at the present time to add to his engagements, he is afraid he must ask to be excused from acceding to your wishes." (81)

A total of 79 Liberal MPs asked Gladstone to recognize the claim of women's householders to the vote. Gladstone replied that if votes for women was included Parliament would reject the proposed bill: "The question with what subjects... we can afford to deal in and by the Franchise Bill is a question in regard to which the undivided responsibility rests with the Government, and cannot be devolved by them upon any section, however respected , of the House of Commons. They have introduced into the Bill as much as, in their opinion, it can safely carry." (82)

Gladstone authorized his Chief Whip to tell Liberal MPs that if the votes-for-women amendment were carried the bill would be dropped and the government would resign. He explained that "I am myself not strongly opposed to every form and degree of the proposal, but I think that if put into the Bill it would give the House of Lords a case for postponing it and I know not how to incur such a risk." (83)

Henry Fawcett was furious with Gladstone over this issue. As Fran Abrams, the author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), has pointed out: "As a member of a government which opposed the measure he could not vote for it; as a keen supporter of reform he could not vote against it. In the end he abstained. The measure was roundly defeated but Gladstone was furious with Henry, and wrote to him saying his action had been tantamount to resignation. Henry was reprieved only because the Prime Minister wanted to avoid the bad publicity which would inevitably accompany a ministerial sacking." (84)

The House of Lords voted the Gladstone's Reform Bill down by 205 votes to 146. Eventually, Gladstone reached an agreement with the Lords. This time the Conservative members agreed to pass Gladstone's proposals in return for the promise that it would be followed by a Redistribution Bill. Gladstone accepted their terms and the 1884 Reform Act was allowed to become law. This measure gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs - adult male householders and £10 lodgers - and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections. However, it did not give votes to women. (85)

Fawcett, postmaster-general in the government, considered resigning over Gladstone's policies and high-handed methods and unwillingness to try and gain votes for women. However, he was taken ill in October. A cold developed into pneumonia with coronary complications, and Fawcett died at his Cambridge home on 6th November 1884. "Something approaching national mourning followed, for Fawcett was said to have been the most popular man in England after Gladstone." (86)

National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies

Millicent Fawcett was a widow at thirty-seven. There is no evidence that she ever considered remarriage. She gave up their two houses and moved to Bloomsbury with Philippa Fawcett, her 16 year-old daughter and her favourite sister, Agnes Garrett. Fawcett continued to campaign for the vote. After the death of Lydia Becker, she emerged as the leader of the struggle for votes for women. (87)

In 1886, women in favour of women's suffrage in the party decided to form the Women's Liberal Federation. This group had no success in persuading the male leadership of the Liberal Party in parliament to support legislation. Suffragists within the party doubted the commitment of the leader of the organisation, Rosalind Howard, Countess of Carlisle, to the cause and in 1887 a group of women, including Millicent Fawcett, Eva Maclaren, Frances Balfour and Marie Corbett, formed the Liberal Women's Suffrage Society. (88)

Millicent Fawcett believed that it was important that women campaigned for a wide variety of causes. This included helping Josephine Butler in her campaign against the white slave traffic. Millicent Fawcett also gave support to Clementina Black and her attempts to persuade the government to help protect low paid women workers. Another cause she favoured was the work of the Women's Trade Union League. She also wrote letters to newspapers protesting about government plans to restrict women's work in industry. (89)

Millicent also became involved with the Personal Rights Association, which took an active role in exposing men who preyed on vulnerable young women. In 1890 Millicent Fawcett took part in a physical assault on an army major who had been pestering a servant of a friend of hers. According to William Stead: "They threw flour over his waxed moustache and in his eyes and down the back of his neck. They pinned a paper on his back, and made him the derision of a crowded street... in the sequel he was turned out of a club, and cut by a few lady friends - among them a young lady of some means to whom he was engaged at the time when he planned to ruin the country lass. Mrs Fawcett had no pity; she would have cashiered him if she could." (90)

By the 1890s there were seventeen individual groups that were advocating women's suffrage. This included the London Society for Women's Suffrage, Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage, Liberal Women's Suffrage Society and the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. On 14th October 1897, these groups joined together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Millicent Fawcett was elected as president. Other members of the executive committee included Marie Corbett, Chrystal Macmillan, Maude Royden and Eleanor Rathbone. (91)

The NUWSS held public meetings, organised petitions, wrote letters to politicians, published newspapers and distributed free literature. The main demand was for the vote on the same terms "as it is, or may be" granted to men. It was thought that this proposal would be "more likely to find support than a broader measure that would put women into the electoral majority, and it might nevertheless play the part of the thin end of the wedge." Its message was directed at the Liberal Party, who it was hoped would win the next election. However, as one historian pointed out, the NUWSS's achilles heel was that it remained "irrationally optimistic about the Liberal Party". (92)

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst, the eldest daughter of ten children of Robert Goulden and Sophia Crane Gouldon, was born in Manchester on 15th July, 1858. Her father came from a family with radical political beliefs. Emmeline's grandfather had been one of the crowd at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 took part in the campaigns against slavery and the Corn Laws. (93)

The eldest daughter in a family of ten children, Emmeline was expected to look 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." (94)

Robert Gouldon was the successful owner of a cotton-printing company at Seedley. He had conventional ideas about education. Emmeline later recalled: "It was a custom of my father and mother to make the round of our bedrooms every night before going themselves to bed. When they entered my room that night I was still awake, but for some reason I chose to pretend I was asleep." She heard him say: "What a pity she wasn't born a lad." This incident had a long-term impact on Emmeline: "It was made quite clear that men considered themselves superior to women, and that women accepted this situation. I found this view of things difficult to reconcile with the fact that both my father and my mother were advocates of women having the vote". (95)

Robert Goulden was a friend of John Stuart Mill and supported his campaign to get women the vote. These views were communicated to his children and during the 1868 General Election, Emmeline and her younger sister, Mary, took part in a feminist demonstration. According to Martin Pugh, the author of The Pankhursts (2001), she attended her first suffrage meeting in 1872, hosted by veteran campaigner, Lydia Becker. (96)

After a short spell at a local school, Emmeline was sent to École Normale Supérieure, a finishing school in Paris in 1873. "The school was under the direction of Marchef Girard a woman who believed that girls' education should be quite as thorough as the education of boys. She included chemistry and other sciences in the course, and in addition to embroidery she had her girls taught bookkeeping. When I was nineteen I finally returned from school in Paris and took my place in my father's home as a finished young lady." (97)

According to her biographer: "She returned to Manchester having learnt to wear her hair and her clothes like a Parisian, a graceful, elegant young lady, much more mature in appearance than girls of her age today, with a slender, svelte figure, raven black hair, an olive skin with a slight flush of red in the cheeks, delicately pencilled black eyebrows, beautiful expressive eyes of an unusually deep violet blue, above all a magnificent carriage and a voice of remarkable melody... She was romantic, believed in constancy, held flirtation degrading, would only give herself to an important man." (98)

Richard Pankhurst

Soon after her returned to Manchester, 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 Franchise Act 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. (99)

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 Pankhurst (1880), Sylvia Pankhurst (1882), Frank (1884) and Adela Pankhurst (1885).

Richard Pankhurst became a leading figure in radical politics in Manchester. The Spectator, a journal that supported the Liberal Party, warned about his extreme political views. "He has pledged himself to Home Rule and the repeal of the Crimes Bill, and the Irish have, therefore, accepted him; the moderate Liberals say he is better than a Tory, and the extreme Radicals are attracted by his ideas, which they see to be philanthropic... Dr. Pankhurst will not vote with Mr. Gladstone, but against him. The Premier is for unity and order ; Dr. Pankhurst is for Home Rule and the repeal of the Crimes Act. Mr. Gladstone is for household suffrage; Dr. Pankhurst for universal suffrage of both sexes... We admit that Dr. Pankhurst is honestly dreaming; and therefore we prefer... a sensible Tory to Dr. Pankhurst." (100)

In 1886 the family moved to London where their home in Russell Square became a centre for gatherings of socialists and suffragists. They were also both members of the Fabian Society. At a young age, their children were encouraged to attend these meetings. This had a major impact on their political views. As June Purvis has pointed out: "Such experiences had a decisive effect on Christabel. Nothing she learned from the inadequate education offered by governesses or, when the family moved back to the north in 1893, at the high schools she attended - first in Southport and then in Manchester - compared with the political education she received at home." (101)

Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst became involved in left-wing politics. Visitors to their home included Keir Hardie, William Morris and Eleanor Marx. The couple continued their involvement in the struggle for women's rights and in 1889 helped form the pressure group, the Women's Franchise League. The organisation's main objective was to secure the vote for women in local elections. Powerful members of society were totally opposed to granting votes to women. Queen Victoria strongly expressed herself against this "mad folly of Women's Rights." (102)

Poor Law Guardian

In 1893 Richard and Emmeline returned to Manchester where they formed a branch of the new Independent Labour Party (ILP). This new party was more supportive of women's rights than older Socialist organizations. The Social Democratic Federation "viewed female aspirations essentially as an expression of bourgeois individualism" and although the Fabian Society "allowed female participation it remained indifferent towards votes for women". (103)

Women were allowed to be candidates to join the Poor Law Board of Guardians. However, because of property qualifications most women were ineligible and only a handful were elected. However, these qualifications were abolished by William Gladstone and his Liberal government in 1894 and later that year, Emmeline, with the support of the ILP, became a candidate for the Chorlton Board of Guardians. "Throwing herself into the new cause" she came top of the poll with 1,276 votes. (104)

Emmeline Pankhurst was a regular visitor to the Chorlton Workhouse. "When I came into office I found that the law was being very harshly administered. The old board had been made up of the kind of men who are known as rate-savers. They were guardians, not of the poor but of the rates… For instance, the inmates were being very poorly fed. I found the old folks in the workhouse sitting on backless forms, or benches. They had no privacy, no possessions, not even a locker. After I took office I gave the old people comfortable Windsor chairs to sit in, and in a number of ways we managed to make their existence more endurable".

She was also very concerned about the way the Workhouse treated young children: "The first time I went into the place I was horrified to see little girls seven and eight years on their knees scrubbing the cold stones of the long corridors. These little girls were clad, summer and winter, in thin cotton frocks, low in the neck and short sleeved. At night they wore nothing at all, night dresses being considered too good for paupers. The fact that bronchitis was epidemic among them most of the time had not suggested to the guardians any change in the fashion of their clothes." (105)

Most weeks in 1894 the Chorlton Board of Guardians provided outdoor relief to 3,573 persons and supported another 2,063 inside the workhouse. Its annual expenditure was £35,000. In her first year Emmeline sat on sub-committees for Schools, Female Cases, Lunatic Wards and the Relief Committee. She was shocked to discover that inmates were obliged to wear a uniform, had nowhere to keep personal possessions and that husbands and wives were usually separated. Her attempts at achieving reforms usually ended in failure and most of the Guardians supported the status quo. (106)

Emmeline pointed out that women in the workhouse were far more useful than the men. "Old women, over sixty and seventy years of age, did most of the work of that place, most of the sewing, most of the things that kept the house clean and which supplied the inmates with clothing. I found that the old men were different. One could not get very much work out of them." She discovered that a "great many were of the domestic-servant class, who had not married, who had lost their employment, and had reached a time of life when it was impossible to get more employment. It was through no fault of their own, but simply because they had never earned enough to save."

Women she argued, got a very rough deal in the workhouse. "I also found pregnant women in the workhouse, scrubbing floors, doing the hardest kind of work, almost until their babies came into the world. Many of them were unmarried women, very, very young, mere girls. These poor mothers were allowed to stay in the hospital after confinement for a short two weeks. Then they had to make a choice of staying in the workhouse and earning their living by scrubbing and other work, in which case they were separated from their babies. They could stay and be paupers, or they could leave - leave with a two-week-old baby in their arms, without hope, without home, without money, without anywhere to go. What became of those girls, and what became of their hapless infants?" (107)

Independant Labour Party

Emmeline and Richard Pankhurst became convinced that these problems would only be solved by socialism and thought the best way forward was being active members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP). It was decided that the main objective of the party would be "to secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". Leading figures in this new organisation included Robert Smillie, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Mann, George Barnes, Pete Curran, John Glasier, Katherine Glasier, H. H. Champion, Ben Tillett, Philip Snowden, Edward Carpenter and Ramsay Macdonald. (108)

In the 1895 General Election, Richard stood as the ILP candidate for Gorton, an industrial suburb of the city. Emmeline Pankhurst and her two eldest daughters became involved in the campaign. Sylvia Pankhurst later recalled that many of the voters "added they would not vote for him this time, as he had no chance now; but next time he would get in... they seemed to regard the election as a sort of game, in which it was important to vote on the winning side". The Conservative Party candidate received 5,865 votes compared to Pankhurst's 4,261. (109)

In 1895 the ILP had 35,000 members. However, in the 1895 General Election the ILP put up 28 candidates but won only 44,325 votes. All the candidates were defeated but the ILP began to have success in local elections. Over 600 won seats on borough councils and in 1898 the ILP joined with the the SDF to make West Ham the first local authority to have a Labour majority. This example convinced Keir Hardie that to obtain national electoral success, it would be necessary to join forces with other left-wing groups. (110)

Emmeline and Richard Pankhurst began organizing Sunday open-air meetings in the local park. The local authority declared that these meetings were illegal and speakers began to be arrested and imprisoned. Pankhurst invited Keir Hardie to speak at one of these meetings. On 12th July, 1896, over 50,000 turned up to hear Hardie, but soon after he started speaking, he was arrested. The Home Secretary, worried by the publicity Hardie was getting, intervened, and used his power to have the leader of the ILP released. (111)

Sylvia Pankhurst believed that it was her father's passion for socialism that convinced her mother this was the right way forward. One night he talked of "life and its work". She remembers her father telling her that "life is valueless without enthusiasms". He "often, he emphasized that thought, which was the guiding mentor of his being". Sylvia became concerned about the decline in her father's health. (112)

Richard Pankhurst died of a perforated ulcer on 5th July, 1898. "Faithful and True My Loving Comrade", a quote from Walt Whitman, were the words she choose for his gravestone. Without her husband's income, Emmeline Pankhurst had to sell their home and move to a cheaper residence at 62 Nelson Street, Manchester. She was also forced to accept the post of registrar of births and deaths. (113)

Women's Social and Political Union

On 27th February 1900, representatives of all the socialist groups in Britain (the Independent Labour Party (ILP), the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and the Fabian Society, met with trade union leaders at the Congregational Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street. After a debate the 129 delegates decided to pass the motion proposed by Keir Hardie to establish "a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour." To make this possible the Conference established a Labour Representation Committee (LRC). (114)

Emmeline Pankhurst hoped the new Labour Party would support votes for women on the same terms as men. Although the party made it clear in its programme it favoured equal rights for men and women. Hardie argued for "the vote for women on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men". However, others in the party, including Isabella Ford, thought that as large number of working-class males did not have the vote, they should be demanding "full adult suffrage". Philip Snowden pointed out that if only middle-class women got the vote it would favour the Conservative Party. This was also the view of left-wing members of the Liberal Party such as David Lloyd George. (115)

In the 1902 Labour Party conference Emmeline Pankhurst created controversy when she proposed that "in order to improve the economic and social condition of women, it is necessary to take immediate steps to secure the granting of the suffrage to women on the same terms as it is, or may be, granted to men". This was not accepted and instead a resolution calling for "adult suffrage" became party policy.

Pankhurst's views on limited suffrage received a great deal of criticism. One of its leaders, John Bruce Glasier, had been a long-term supporter of universal suffrage, and like his wife, Katharine Glasier, was particularly opposed to Pankhurst's views. He recorded in his diary that he disapproved of her "individualist sexism". At a meeting with Emmeline and her daughter, Christabel Pankhurst, he claimed that the two women "were not seeking democratic freedom, but self-importance". (116)

Women's Social and Political Union

After her defeat at conference, Emmeline Pankhurst decided to leave the Labour Party and decided to establish the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). The main aim of the organisation was to recruit working class women into the struggle for the vote. "We resolved to limit our membership exclusively to women, to keep ourselves absolutely free from ant party affiliation, and to be satisfied with nothing but action on our question. Deeds, not words, was to be our permanent motto." (117)

Some early members included Christabel Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst, Adela Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Marion Wallace-Dunlop, Elizabeth Robins, Flora Drummond, Annie Kenney, Mary Gawthorpe, May Billinghurst, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy, Mary Allen, Winifred Batho, Mary Leigh, Mary Richardson, Ethel Smyth, Teresa Billington-Greig, Helen Crawfurd, Emily Davison, Charlotte Despard, Mary Clarke, Margaret Haig Thomas, Cicely Hamilton, Eveline Haverfield, Edith How-Martyn, Constance Lytton, Kitty Marion, Dora Marsden, Hannah Mitchell, Margaret Nevinson, Evelyn Sharp, Nellie Martel, Helen Fraser, Minnie Baldock and Octavia Wilberforce.

The main objective was to gain, not universal suffrage, the vote for all women and men over a certain age, but votes for women, “on the same basis as men.” This meant winning the vote not for all women but for only the small stratum of women who could meet the property qualification. As one critic pointed out, it was "not votes for women", but “votes for ladies.” As an early member of the WSPU, Dora Montefiore, pointed out: "The work of the Women’s Social and Political Union was begun by Mrs. Pankhurst in Manchester, and by a group of women in London who had revolted against the inertia and conventionalism which seemed to have fastened upon... the NUWSS." (118)

The forming of the WSPU upset both the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Labour Party, the only party at the time that supported universal suffrage. They pointed out that in 1903 only a third of men had the vote in parliamentary elections. On the 16th December 1904, The Clarion published a letter from Ada Nield Chew, attacking WSPU policy: "The entire class of wealthy women would be enfranchised, that the great body of working women, married or single, would be voteless still, and that to give wealthy women a vote would mean that they, voting naturally in their own interests, would help to swamp the vote of the enlightened working man, who is trying to get Labour men into Parliament." (119)

A meeting of the WSPU (left to right) Christabel Pankhurst, Jessie Kenney, Nellie Martel, Emmeline Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard.
A meeting of the WSPU (left to right) Christabel Pankhurst, Jessie Kenney,
Nellie Martel, Emmeline Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard.

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. It seemed certain that the Liberal Party would form the next government. Therefore, the WSPU decided to target leading figures in the party. (120)

On 13th October 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney 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. Pankhurst and Kenney refused to leave and during the struggle a policeman claimed the two women kicked and spat at him. Pankhurst and Kenney were both arrested. (121)

Christabel Pankhurst was charged with assaulting the police and Annie Kenney with obstruction. They were both found guilty. Pankhurst was fined ten shillings or a jail sentence of one week. Kenney was fined five shillings, with an alternative of three days in prison. 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. (122)

Emmeline Pankhurst was very pleased with the publicity achieved by the two women. "The comments of the press were almost unanimously bitter. Ignoring the perfectly well-established fact that men in every political meeting ask questions and demand answers of the speakers, the newspapers treated the action of the two girls as something quite unprecedented and outrageous... Newspapers which had heretofore ignored the whole subject now hinted that while they had formerly been in favour of women's suffrage, they could no longer countenance it." (123)

1906 Liberal Government

In the 1906 General Election the Liberal Party won 399 seats and gave them a large majority over the Conservative Party (156) and the Labour Party (29). Pankhurst hoped that Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the new prime minister, and his Liberal government, would give women the vote. However, several Liberal MPs were strongly against this. It was pointed out that there were a million more adult women than men in Britain. It was suggested that women would vote not as citizens but as women and would "swamp men with their votes". (124)

Campbell-Bannerman gave his personal support to Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), though he warned them that he could not persuade his colleagues to support the legislation that would make their aspiration a reality. Despite the unwillingness of the Liberal government to introduce legislation, Fawcett remained committed to the use of constitutional methods to gain votes for women. However, Pankhurst took a very different view. (125)

On 23rd October, 1906, Emmeline Pankhurst organised a huge rally in Caxton Hall, and a deputation went to the House of Commons to demand the vote: She later wrote about this in her autobiography, My Own Story (1914): "Those women had followed me to the House of Commons. They had defied the police. They were awake at last thev were prepared to do something that women had never done before - fight for themselves. Women had always fought for men, and for their children. Now they were ready to light for their own human rights. Our militant movement was established.'' (126)

To coincide with the opening of parliament on 13th February 1907 the WSPU organized the first Women's Parliament at Caxton Hall. The women were confronted by mounted police. Fifty-eight women appeared in court as a result of the conflict. Most of those arrested received seven to fourteen days in Holloway Prison, though Sylvia Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard got three weeks. (127)

Some leading members of the Women's Social and Political Union began to question the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst. These women objected to the way that the Pankhursts were making decisions without consulting members. They also felt that a small group of wealthy women like Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence were having too much influence over the organisation. In the autumn of 1907, Teresa Billington-Greig, Elizabeth How-Martyn, Dora Marsden, Helena Normanton, Margaret Nevinson and Charlotte Despard and seventy other members of the WSPU left to form the Women's Freedom League (WFL). (128)

In February, 1908, Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested and was sentenced to six weeks in prison. Fran Abrams the author of Freedom's Cause (2003), explained how she reacted to the situation: "Emmeline knew what to expect - she had by then heard graphic descriptions of prison life from Sylvia and Adela as well as from Christabel. She was shocked, though, when the wardress asked her to undress in order to put on her prison uniform - stained underwear, rough brown and red striped stockings and a dress with arrows on it. She was given coarse but clean sheets, a towel, a mug of cold cocoa and a thick slice of brown bread, and taken to her cell. Second division prisoners were kept in solitary confinement and were let out of their cells only for an hour's exercise each day. They were not allowed to receive letters for four weeks. Even though she had prepared herself for the experience, the reality hit her harder than she had anticipated." (129)

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.” (130)

Wallace-Dunlop refused to eat for several days. Afraid that she might die and become a martyr, it was decided to release her. 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". (131)

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. (132)

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. (133)

Hunger-strikes now became the accepted strategy of the WSPU. In one eighteen month period, Emmeline Pankhurst endured ten hunger-strikes. She later recalled: "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." (134)

1910 Conciliation Bill

In January 1910, Herbert Asquith called a general election in order to obtain a new mandate. However, the Liberals lost votes and was forced to rely on the support of the 42 Labour Party MPs to govern. Henry Brailsford, a member of the Men's League For Women's Suffrage wrote to Millicent Fawcett, suggesting that he should attempt to establish a Conciliation Committee for Women's Suffrage. "My idea is that it should undertake the necessary diplomatic work of promoting an early settlement". (135)

Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett both agreed to the idea and the WSPU declared a truce in which all militant activities would cease until the fate of the Conciliation Bill was clear. A Conciliation Committee, composed of 36 MPs (25 Liberals, 17 Conservatives, 6 Labour and 6 Irish Nationalists) all in favour of some sort of women's enfranchisement, was formed and drafted a Bill which would have enfranchised only a million women but which would, they hoped, gain the support of all but the most dedicated anti-suffragists. (136) Fawcett wrote that "personally many suffragists would prefer a less restricted measure, but the immense importance and gain to our movement is getting the most effective of all the existing franchises thrown upon to woman cannot be exaggerated." (137)

Vera Holme driving Emmeline Pankhurst in 1909
Vera Holme driving Emmeline Pankhurst in her motor car.

Sylvia Pankhurst on Emmeline Pankhurst (1953 radio programme)

The Conciliation Bill was designed to conciliate the suffragist movement by giving a limited number of women the vote, according to their property holdings and marital status. After a two-day debate in July 1910, the Conciliation Bill was carried by 109 votes and it was agreed to send it away to be amended by a House of Commons committee. However, before they completed the task, Asquith called another election in order to get a clear majority. However, the result was very similar and Asquith still had to rely on the support of the Labour Party to govern the country. (138)

A new Conciliation Bill was passed by the House of Commons on 5th May 1911 with a majority of 167. The main opposition came from Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, who saw it as being "anti-democratic". He argued "Of the 18,000 women voters it is calculated that 90,000 are working women, earning their living. What about the other half? The basic principle of the Bill is to deny votes to those who are upon the whole the best of their sex. We are asked by the Bill to defend the proposition that a spinster of means living in the interest of man-made capital is to have a vote, and the working man's wife is to be denied a vote even if she is a wage-earner and a wife." (139)

David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was officially in favour of woman's suffrage. However, he had told his close associates, such as Charles Masterman, the Liberal MP in West Ham North: "He (David Lloyd George) was very much disturbed about the Conciliation Bill, of which he highly disapproved although he is a universal suffragist... We had promised a week (or more) for its full discussion. Again and again he cursed that promise. He could not see how we could get out of it, yet he regarded it as fatal (if passed)." (140)

Lloyd George was convinced that the chief effect of the Bill, if it became law, would be to hand more votes to the Conservative Party. During the debate on the Conciliation Bill he stated that justice and political necessity argued against enfranchising women of property but denying the vote to the working class. The following day Herbert Asquith announced that in the next session of Parliament he would introduce a Bill to enfranchise the four million men currently excluded from voting and suggested it could be amended to include women. Paul Foot has pointed out that as the Tories were against universal suffrage, the new Bill "smashed the fragile alliance between pro-suffrage Liberals and Tories that had been built on the Conciliation Bill." (141)

Millicent Fawcett still believed in the good faith of the Asquith government. However, the WSPU, reacted very differently: "Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst had invested a good deal of capital in the Conciliation Bill and had prepared themselves for the triumph which a women-only bill would entail. A general reform bill would have deprived them of some, at least, of the glory, for even though it seemed likely to give the vote to far more women, this was incidental to its main purpose." (142)

Christabel Pankhurst wrote in Votes for Women that Lloyd George's proposal to give votes to seven million instead of one million women was, she said, intended "not, as he professes, to secure to women a larger measure of enfranchisement but to prevent women from having the vote at all" because it would be impossible to get the legislation passed by Parliament. (143)

On 21st November, the WSPU carried out an "official" window smash along Whitehall and Fleet Street. This involved the offices of the Daily Mail and the Daily News and the official residences or homes of leading Liberal politicians, Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Edward Grey, John Burns and Lewis Harcourt. It was reported that "160 suffragettes were arrested, but all except those charged with window-breaking or assault were discharged." (144)

The following month Millicent Fawcett wrote to her sister, Elizabeth Garrett: "We have the best chance of Women's Suffrage next session that we have ever had, by far, if it is not destroyed by disgusting masses of people by revolutionary violence." Elizabeth agreed and replied: "I am quite with you about the WSPU. I think they are quite wrong. I wrote to Miss Pankhurst... I have now told her I can go no more with them." (145)

Henry Brailsford went to see the Emmeline Pankhurst and asked her to control her members in order to get the legislation passed by Parliament. She replied "I wish I had never heard of that abominable Conciliation Bill!" and Christabel Pankhurst called for more militant actions. The Conciliation Bill was debated in March 1912, and was defeated by 14 votes. Asquith claimed that the reason why his government did not back the issue was because they were committed to a full franchise reform bill. However, he never kept his promise and a new bill never appeared before Parliament. (146)

Arson Campaign

Some members of the WSPU, including Adela Pankhurst became concerned about the increase in the violence as a strategy. She later told fellow member, Helen Fraser: "I knew all too well that after 1910 we were rapidly losing ground. I even tried to tell Christabel this was the case, but unfortunately she took it amiss." After arguing with Emmeline Pankhurst about this issue she left the WSPU in October 1911. Sylvia Pankhurst was also critical of this new militancy. (147)

In 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.

Emmeline Pankhurst was one of those arrested. Once again she went on hunger strike: "I generally suffer most on the second day. After that there is no very desperate craving for food. weakness and mental depression take its place. Great disturbances of digestion divert the desire for food to a longing for relief from pain. Often there is intense headache, with fits of dizziness, or slight delirium. Complete exhaustion and a feeling of isolation from earth mark the final stages of the ordeal. Recovery is often protracted, and entire recovery of normal health is sometimes discouragingly slow." After she was released from prison she was nursed by Catherine Pine. (148)

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. (149)

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." (150)

One of the first arsonists was Mary Richardson. She later recalled the first time she set fire to a building: "I took the things from her and went on to the mansion. The putty of one of the ground-floor windows was old and broke away easily, and I had soon knocked out a large pane of the glass. When I climbed inside into the blackness it was a horrible moment. The place was frighteningly strange and pitch dark, smelling of damp and decay... A ghastly fear took possession of me; and, when my face wiped against a cobweb, I was momentarily stiff with fright. But I knew how to lay a fire - I had built many a camp fire in my young days -a nd that part of the work was simple and quickly done. I poured the inflammable liquid over everything; then I made a long fuse of twisted cotton wool, soaking that too as I unwound it and slowly made my way back to the window at which I had entered." (151)

Sylvia Pankhurst was also very unhappy that the WSPU had abandoned its earlier commitment to socialism and disagreed with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst's attempts to gain middle class support by arguing in favour of a limited franchise. She made the final break with the WSPU when the movement adopted a policy of widespread arson. Sylvia now concentrated her efforts on helping the Labour Party build up its support in London.

Emmeline was now estranged from two of her daughters. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence wrote to Sylvia Pankhurst about her mother: "I believe she conceived her objective in the spirit of generous enthusiasm. In the end it obsessed her like a passion and she completely identified her own career with it in order to obtain it. She threw scruple, affection, honour, legality and her own principles to the winds." (152)

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". (153)

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. (154)

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." (155)

After going nine days without eating, they released her 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, 1916, when Emmeline Pankhurst attempted to attend a meeting, she was arrested and returned to prison. (156)

In June, 1913, at the most important race of the year, the Derby, Emily Davison ran out on the course and attempted to grab the bridle of Anmer, a horse owned by King George V. The horse hit Emily and the impact fractured her skull and she died without regaining consciousness. Although many suffragettes endangered their lives by hunger strikes, Emily Davison was the only one who deliberately risked death. However, her actions did not have the desired impact on the general public. They appeared to be more concerned with the health of the horse and jockey and Davison was condemned as a mentally ill fanatic. (157)

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. (158)

Women's Suffrage Pilgrimage

In 1913 the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) nearly had 100,000 members. Katherine Harley, a senior figure in the NUWSS, suggested holding a Woman's Suffrage Pilgrimage in order to show Parliament how many women wanted the vote. According to Lisa Tickner, the author of The Spectacle of Women (1987) argued: "A pilgrimage refused the thrill attendant on women's militancy, no matter how strongly the militancy was denounced, but it also refused the glamour of an orchestrated spectacle." (159)

Members of the NUWSS set off on 18th June, 1913. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "Pilgrims were urged to wear a uniform, a concept always close to Katherine Harley's heart. It was suggested that pilgrims should wear white, grey, black, or navy blue coats and skirts or dresses. Blouses were either to match the skirt or to be white. Hats were to be simple, and only black, white, grey, or navy blue. For 3d, headquarters supplied a compulsory raffia badge, a cockle shell, the traditional symbol of pilgrimage, to be worn pinned to the hat. Also available were a red, white and green shoulder sash, a haversack, made of bright red waterproof cloth edged with green with white lettering spelling out the route travelled, and umbrellas in green or white, or red cotton covers to co-ordinate civilian umbrellas." (160)

Members of the NUWSS publicized the Women's Pilgrimage in local newspapers. Helen Hoare, for example, sent a letter to The East Grinstead Observer: "It is no doubt true that some men were formerly inclined to support it have been alienated by the doings of the militant party. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society (that is the law-abiding, non-militant party), in order to show the world that it is alive, and to encourage its members in a long and disheartening struggle, has organised a great pilgrimage from all parts of England to London." (161)

Millicent Fawcett, now aged 66 years old, took a very active part in the pilgrimage, walking with the East Anglican pilgrims between speaking engagements and the other routes. An estimated 50,000 women reached Hyde Park in London on 26th July. Fawcett was the main speaker and she made it clear that she dissociated herself with the tactics of the Women Social & Political Union. (162)

Millicent Garrett Fawcett addressing the crowds in Hyde Park at theculmination of the Pilgrimage on 26th July 1913.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett addressing the crowds in Hyde Park at the
culmination of the Pilgrimage on 26th July 1913.

As The Times newspaper pointed out, the march was part of a campaign against the violent methods being used by the WSPU: "On Saturday the pilgrimage of the law abiding advocates of votes for women ended in a great gathering in Hyde Park attended by some 50,000 persons. The proceedings were quite orderly and devoid of any untoward incident. The proceedings, indeed, were as much a demonstration against militancy as one in favour of women's suffrage. Many bitter things were said of the militant women." (163)

Millicent Fawcett wrote to Herbert Asquith "on behalf of the immense meetings which assembled in Hyde Park on Saturday and voted with practical unanimity in favour of a Government measure." (164) Asquith replied that the demonstration had "a special claim" on his consideration and stood "upon another footing from similar demands proceeding from other quarters where a different method and spirit is predominant." A meeting was held and afterwards commented that she felt that there had been "a notable improvement in his attitude and language". (165)

First World War

The British government declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. Two days later, Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the NUWSS declared that the organization was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. Fawcett supported the war effort but she refused to become involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces. This WSPU took a different view to the war. It was a spent force with very few active members. According to Martin Pugh, the WSPU were aware "that their campaign had been no more successful in winning the vote than that of the non-militants whom they so freely derided". (166)

The WSPU carried out secret negotiations with the government and on the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort. Christabel Pankhurst, arrived back in England after living in exile in Paris. She told the press: "I feel that my duty lies in England now, and I have come back. The British citizenship for which we suffragettes have been fighting is now in jeopardy." (167)

After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must Work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men. She told the audience: "What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!". (168)

In October 1915, The WSPU changed its newspaper's name from The Suffragette to Britannia. Emmeline's patriotic view of the war was reflected in the paper's new slogan: "For King, For Country, for Freedom'. In the newspaper anti-war activists such as Ramsay MacDonald were attacked as being "more German than the Germans". Another article on the Union of Democratic Control carried the headline: "Norman Angell: Is He Working for Germany?" Mary Macarthur and Margaret Bondfield were described as "Bolshevik women trade union leaders" and Arthur Henderson, who was in favour of a negotiated peace with Germany, was accused of being in the pay of the Central Powers.

Adela Pankhurst, like her sister Sylvia Pankhurst, completely rejected this strategy and in Australia she joined the campaign against the First World War. Adela believed that her actions were true to her father's belief in international socialism. She wrote to Sylvia that like her she was "carrying out her father's work". Emmeline Pankhurst completely rejected this approach and told Sylvia that she was "ashamed to know where you and Adela stand." (169) Sylvia commented: "Families which remain on unruffled terms, though their members are in opposing political parties, take their politics less keenly to heart than we Pankhursts." (170)

In May 1916 Millicent Fawcett wrote to Herbert Asquith that women deserved the vote for their war efforts. In August he told the House of Commons that he had now changed his mind and that he intended to introduce legislation that would give women the vote. On 28th March, 1917, the House of Commons voted 341 to 62 that women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates of British universities. MPs rejected the idea of granting the vote to women on the same terms as men. Lilian Lenton, who had played an important role in the militant campaign later recalled: "Personally, I didn't vote for a long time, because I hadn't either a husband or furniture, although I was over 30." (171)

In 1917 Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst formed The Women's Party. Its twelve-point programme included: (1) A fight to the finish with Germany. (2) More vigorous war measures to include drastic food rationing, more communal kitchens to reduce waste, and the closing down of nonessential industries to release labour for work on the land and in the factories. (3) A clean sweep of all officials of enemy blood or connections from Government departments. Stringent peace terms to include the dismemberment of the Hapsburg Empire."

The Qualification of Women Act was passed in February, 1918. The Manchester Guardian reported: "The Representation of the People Bill, which doubles the electorate, giving the Parliamentary vote to about six million women and placing soldiers and sailors over 19 on the register (with a proxy vote for those on service abroad), simplifies the registration system, greatly reduces the cost of elections, and provides that they shall all take place on one day, and by a redistribution of seats tends to give a vote the same value everywhere, passed both Houses yesterday and received the Royal assent." (172)

The First World War ended in November 1918. Millicent Fawcett lost "no fewer than twenty-nine members of her extended family, including two nephews" in the war. Whereas the WSPU "were prepared to accept votes for women on any terms the government had to offer... the NUWSS continued to press its old case for equality with men". She was urged to stand for Parliament in the 1918 General Election, but aged seventy-one, she decided to retire from politics. (173)

On the resignation of Millicent Fawcett in 1919, Eleanor Rathbone became president of the NUWSS. A new organisation called the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship was established. Later that year Rathbone persuaded the organization to accept a six point reform programme. (i) Equal pay for equal work, involving an open field for women in industry and the professions. (ii) An equal standard of sex morals as between men and women, involving a reform of the existing divorce law which condoned adultery by the husband, as well as reform of the laws dealing with solicitation and prostitution. (iii) The introduction of legislation to provide pensions for civilian widows with dependent children. (iv) The equalization of the franchise and the return to Parliament of women candidates pledged to the equality programme. (v) The legal recognition of mothers as equal guardians with fathers of their children. (vi) The opening of the legal profession and the magistracy to women. (174)

Millicent Fawcett did not completely retire from politics. She became vice-president of the League of Nations Union. She also continued to work on behalf of women's rights and participated in its campaigns to open the legal profession and the civil service to women and for equal access for women to divorce. Other issues she cared a great deal about was to open Cambridge University degrees to women. She also wrote several books including The Women's Victory and After (1920) and What I Remember (1924). Fawcett was accused of lacking in generosity towards those who identified feminism with the cause of peace, omitting the names of those members of the NUWSS who resigned in February 1915. (175)

After the First World War Emmeline Pankhurst spent several years in the USA and Canada lecturing for the National Council for Combating Venereal Disease. She was accompanied by Catherine Pine. 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.

A bill was introduced in March 1928 to give women the vote on the same terms as men. There was little opposition in Parliament to the bill and it became law on 2nd July 1928. As a result, all women over the age of 21 could now vote in elections. Many of the women who had fought for this right were now dead, including Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy, Constance Lytton and Emmeline Pankhurst.

Millicent Fawcett had the pleasure of attending Parliament to see the vote take place. That night she wrote in her diary that she was reminded of seeing John Stuart Mill making a speech in the House of Commons: "It is almost exactly 61 years ago since I heard John Stuart Mill introduce his suffrage amendment to the Reform Bill on May 20th, 1867. So I have had extraordinary good luck in having seen the struggle from the beginning." (176)

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(44) Annie Besant, statement in court (19th June, 1877)

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(48) Dr. Charles Robert Drysdale, Senior Physician, Metropolitan Free Hospital, statement in court (20th June, 1877)

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(50) Annie Besant, Autobiographical Sketches (1885) page 218

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(95) Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story (1914) pages 7-8

(96) Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts (2001) page 10

(97) Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story (1914) page 12

(98) Sylvia Pankhurst, The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement (1931) page 56

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(105) Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story (1914) pages 24-26

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(108) Paul Adelman, The Rise of the Labour Party: 1880-1945 (1972) pages 20-24

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(116) John Bruce Glasier, diary entry (18th October, 1902)

(117) Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story (1914) page 36

(118) Dora Montefiore, From a Victorian to a Modern (1927) page 42

(119) Ada Nield Chew, The Clarion (16th December 1904)

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

(121) Roger Fulford, Votes for Women (1956) page 127

(122) The Manchester Guardian (16th October 1905)

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(125) Roy Hattersley, David Lloyd George (2010) page 236

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

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

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

(134) Fran Abrams, Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003) pages 33-34

(135) Henry Brailsford, letter to Millicent Garrett Fawcett (18th January, 1910)

(136) Joyce Marlow, Votes for Women (2001) page 121

(137) Millicent Garrett Fawcett, The Women's Suffrage Movement (1912) page 88

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(139) Robert Lloyd George, David and Winston: How a Friendship Changed History (2006) pages 70-71

(140) Lucy Masterman, C. F. G. Masterman (1939) page 211

(141) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 211

(142) Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts (2001) page 431

(143) Christabel Pankhurst, Votes for Women (9th October, 1911)

(144) Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story (1914) page 166

(145) Exchange of letters between Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (December, 1911)

(146) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 212

(147) Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts (2001) page 196

(148) Fran Abrams, Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003) page 34

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

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

(151) Mary Richardson, Laugh a Defiance (1953) page 180

(152) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 514

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

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

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

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

(157) Sylvia Pankhurst, The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement (1931) pages 467-468

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

(159) Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women (1987) page 141

(160) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 550

(161) Helen Hoare, letter to The East Grinstead Observer (19th July 1913)

(162) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 216

(163) The Times (26th July 1913)

(164) Millicent Garrett Fawcett, letter to Herbert Asquith (29th July 1913)

(165) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 216

(166) Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts (2001) page 300

(167) The Star (4th September, 1914)

(168) Christabel Pankhurst, Unshackled (1959) page 288

(169) Sylvia Pankhurst, The Life of Emmeline Pankhurst (1935) page 153

(170) Sylvia Pankhurst, The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement (1931) pages 595

(171) Lilian Lenton, BBC Radio interview (5th Fenruary 1955)

(172) The Manchester Guardian (7th February, 1918)

(173) Fran Abrams, Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003) page 192

(174) Ray Strachey, The Cause: A History of the Women's Movement in Great Britain (1928) page 370

(175) David Rubinstein, A Different World for Women: The Life of Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1991) pages 218-25

(176) Millicent Garrett Fawcett, diary entry (2nd July 1928)