Christabel Pankhurst, the eldest daughter of Richard Pankhurst and Emmeline Pankhurst, was born at Drayton Terrace, Old Trafford, Manchester on 22nd September, 1880. Over the next five years Emmeline gave birth to Sylvia Pankhurst (1882), Frank (1884) and Adela Pankhurst (1885). According to her biographer, June Purvis, "Christabel was her mother's favourite". (1)
Christabel's father was a committed socialist and 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. (2)
Christabel remembers attending a meeting chaired by her father: "Dr Pankhurst, as Chairman, said in his speech that if the suffrage was not given to women the result would be terrible. If a body was half of it bound, how was it to be expected that it would grow and develop properly?" She also copied out articles on "serious subjects" written by her father. (3)
In 1886 the family moved to London where their home in Russell Square became a centre for gatherings of socialists and suffragists. Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst 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. "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." (4)
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". (5)
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. (6)
In the 1895 General Election, her father stood as the ILP candidate for Gorton, an industrial suburb of the city. Christabel and Sylvia became involved in the campaign. Sylvia 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. (7)
In June 1898, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst took a holiday in Europe. While they were in Geneva they received a telegram from Sylvia: "Dr Pankhurst ill. Come immediately." When they stepped off the train in Manchester, they saw newspaper placards announcing his death. Richard Pankhurst had died of a perforated ulcer. The funeral procession to Brookwood Cemetery was accompanied by an ILP deputation. The coffin was borne in an open carriage through streets lined with spectators. (8)
"Faithful and True My Loving Comrade", a quote from Walt Whitman, were the words Emmeline Pankhurst choose for his gravestone. Without her husband's income, Emmeline 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 in order to increase the family income. (9)
Christabel attended lectures at Manchester University. While there she met Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth, who were trying to persuade working class women in Manchester to join the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), has argued that: "Christabel Pankhurst had formed a close friendship with Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth, suffrage campaigners who lived together in Manchester. Her relationship with Eva, in particular, had become intense enough to excite a great deal of comment from her family." (10)
Sylvia Pankhurst also made comments on this relationship: "Eva Gore-Booth had a personality of great charm... Christabel adored her, and when Eva suffered from neuralgia, as often happened, would sit with her for hours massaging her head. To all of us at home this seemed remarkable indeed, for Christabel had never been willing to act the nurse to any other human being. She detested sickness, and even left home when Adela had scarlet fever." (11)
Christabel never had any romantic relationships with men. Martin Pugh has argued: "Christabel had been the kind of girl who was pretty enough to attract young men, but also sufficiently mature and self-possessed to intimidate them. She enjoyed being a leader and professed to consider her male contemporaries as rather foolish." (12) Helena Swanwick recalled: "She seemed to me a lonely person with all her capacity for winning adorers... she was, unlike her sisters, cynical and cold at heart." (13)
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). (14)
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. Keir 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. (15)
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". (16) Trade union leader, Henry Snell, agreed: "Mrs. Pankhurst was magnetic, courageous, audacious, and resolute. Mrs. Pankhurst was an autocrat masquerading as a democrat". (17)
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). Emmeline stated that 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." (18)
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 suggested, 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." (19)
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, a leading figure in the Independent Labour Party, 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." (20)
The following month Christabel Pankhurst replied to the points that Ada Nield Chew made: "Some of us are not at all so confident as is Mrs Chew of the average middle class man's anxiety to confer votes upon his female relatives." A week later Ada Nield Chew retorted that she still rejected the policies in favour of "the abolition of all existing anomalies... which would enable a man or woman to vote simply because they are man or woman, not because they are more fortunate financially than their fellow men and women". (21)
As the authors of One Hand Tied Behind Us (1978) pointed out: "The fiery exchange ran on through the spring and into March. The two women both relished confrontation, and neither was prepared to concede an inch. They had no sympathy for the other's views, and shared no common experiences that might help to bridge the chasm... Christabel, daughter of a barrister... had little personal experience of working women's lives. Ada Nield Chew had known little else... her life had been a series of battles against women's low wages and appalling working conditions." (22)
The WSPU was often accused of being an organisation that existed to serve the middle and upper classes. As Annie Kenney was one of the organizations few working class members, when the WSPU decided to open a branch in the East End of London, she was asked to leave the mill and become a full-time worker for the organisation. Annie joined Sylvia Pankhurst in London in an attempt to persuade working-class women to join the WSPU. (23)
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. (24)
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. (25)
Christabel Pankhurst was charged with assaulting the police and Annie Kenney with obstruction. In a deliberately aggressive courtroom speech, Christabel admitted that she has assaulted police officers and pointed out that "I am only sorry that one of them was not Sir Edward Grey... We cannot make any orderly protest because we have not the means whereby citizens may do such a thing: we have not a vote, and so long as we have not a vote we must be disorderly... When we have that, this will not see us in the police courts; but so long as we have not votes this will happen." (26)
Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney 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. (27)
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." (28)
In her autobiography, Annie Kenney described what it was like to be in prison with Christabel: "Being my first visit to jail, the newness of the life numbed me. I do remember the plank bed, the skilly, the prison clothes. I also remember going to church and sitting next to Christabel, who looked very coy and pretty in her prison cap ... I scarcely ate anything all the time I was in prison, and Christabel told me later that she was glad when she saw the back of me, it worried her to see me looking pale and vacant. (29)
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence argued that Kenney was a devoted follower of Christabel Pankhurst. "Annie's... devotion took the form of unquestioning faith and absolute obedience ... Just as no ordinary Christian can find that perfect freedom in complete surrender, so no ordinary individual could have given what Annie gave - the surrender of her whole personality to Christabel." Annie admitted that: "For the first few years the militant movement was more like a religious revival than a political movement. It stirred the emotions, it aroused passions, it awakened the human chord which responds to the battle-call of freedom ... the one thing demanded was loyalty to policy and unselfish devotion to the cause." (30)
Fran Abrams the author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), has argued that Annie Kenney had a series of romantic attachments with other suffragettes: "The relationship (with Christabel Pankhurst) would be mirrored, though never matched in its intensity, by a number of later relationships between Annie and other suffragettes. The extent of their physical nature has never been revealed, but it is certain that in some sense these were romantic attachments". (31) According to Sylvia Pankhurst, Christabel had a series of intimate relationships with women including Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth. Her relationship with Eva, in particular, had become intense enough to excite a great deal of comment from her family. (32)
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". (33)
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, Christabel Pankhurst took a very different view. (34)
It has been estimated that over 400 members of parliament, belonging to all parties, were pledged to the principle of women's suffrage. Private members' bills were introduced, but without Government help they made no headway. According to John Grigg: "Christabel Pankhurst... dominated all around her, including her remarkable mother, and the tactics of W.S.P.U. militancy were pre-eminently hers... In her view the lobbying of backbenchers was a complete waste of time. She had a twofold aim - to make the Government's life a misery, and to capture the imagination of the people." Christabel's tactics was to target those members of the government, like David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, on the left of the Liberal Party, who had made statements in favour of women having the vote as she regarded them as "traitors and backsliders for not insisting upon the introduction of a franchise bill under threat of resignation." (35)
In April 1907 Mary Sheepshanks, the vice-principal of Morley College for Working Men and Women, invited Christabel Pankhurst to speak in a debate on women's suffrage. During the debate she argued: "We are absolutely determined to have our way, and to have our say in the government of affairs. We are going to develop on our own lines and listen to the pleadings of our inner nature. We shall think our own thoughts and strengthen our own intelligence. We want the abolition of sex in the choice of legislative power as well as privilege. For the present we want the woman to have what the men have." (36)
Christabel obtained a first-class law degree in 1907 but her gender prevented her from developing a career as a barrister. Christabel decided to leave Manchester and join the suffragette campaign in London where she lived in the home of Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. Christabel was appointed as the WSPU's chief organizer on a salary of £2 10s. per week. (37) Lady Constance Lytton who met her at this time commented on her "wonderful character" and her "brilliant intellect". (38)
Christabel disagreed with the way the campaign was being run. The initial strategy of the WSPU had been to recruit the support of working class women. Christabel advocated a campaign that would appeal to the more prosperous members of society. Whereas Sylvia Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard argued for the vote for all adults, Christabel favoured limited suffrage, a system that would only give the vote to women with money and property. Christabel pointed out that the WSPU relied heavily on the money supplied by wealthy women.
Emmeline Pankhurst supported her daughter in this stance but it was opposed by two of her daughters, Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst, who were both socialists and believed in universal suffrage rather than a limited franchise that favoured middle-class women. In September 1907 both Christabel and Emmeline resigned their membership of the Independent Labour Party, who had been arguing that votes for women on the same terms as men would only enfranchise middle-class women who would probably vote for the Conservative Party. (39)
In 1907 some leading members of the Women's Social and Political Union began to question the leadership of Christabel and Emmeline 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). (40)
The WSPU organised a mass meeting to take place on 21 June 1908 called Women's Sunday at Hyde Park. The leadership intended it "would out-rival any of the great franchise demonstrations held by the men" in the 19th century. Sunday was chosen so that as many working women as possible could attend. It is claimed that it attracted a crowd of over 300,000. At the time, it was the largest protest to ever have taken place in Britain. Speakers included Gladice Keevil, Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst, Adela Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Mary Gawthorpe, Jennie Baines, Rachel Barrett, Marie Brackenbury, Georgina Brackenbury, Annie Kenney, Nellie Martel, Marie Naylor, Flora Drummond and Edith New. (40a)
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.” (41)
Christabel Pankhurst later claimed that this strategy had not been agreed by the organisation: "Miss Wallace Dunlop, taking counsel with no one and acting entirely on her own initiative, sent to the Home Secretary, Mr. Gladstone, as soon as she entered Holloway Prison, an application to be placed in the first division as befitted one charged with a political offence. She announced that she would eat no food until this right was conceded." (42)
Wallace-Dunlop refused to eat for several days. When the doctor asked her what she was going to eat, she replied: "My determination". He answered: "Indigestible stuff, but tough no doubt." Herbert Gladstone, the Home Secretary, was consulted and he told the governor of the prison that "she should be allowed to die." (43)
However, on reflection, they thought that if this happened, Dunlop might become a martyr and after ninety-one hours she was suddenly set free. According to Joseph Lennon: "She came to her prison cell as a militant suffragette, but also as a talented artist intent on challenging contemporary images of women. After she had fasted for ninety-one hours in London’s Holloway Prison, the Home Office ordered her unconditional release on July 8, 1909, as her health, already weak, began to fail". (44)
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. (45)
Keir Hardie, the Labour MP, protested against the idea of force-feeding in the House of Commons. However, his comments were greeted with a chorus of laughter and jeers. One newspaper reported: "Most of us desire something or other which we have not got... but we do not therefore take hatchets and wreck people's houses, or even shriek hysterically because the whole course of government and society is not altered to give us what we seek. These notoriety-hunters have effectually discredited the movement they think to promote." (46)
The authorities believed that force-feeding would act as a deterrent as well as a punishment. This was a serious miscalculation and in many ways it had the opposite effect. Militant members of the WSPU now had beliefs as strong as any religion and now they could argue that women were actually being tortured for their faith. "Suffragettes submitted to force-feeding as a way to express solidarity with their friends as well as to further the cause." (47)
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, one of the early hunger-strikers pointed out that if the government was so naive as to think "the nasal tube or the stomach pump, the steel gag, the punishment cell, handcuffs and the straight jacket would break the spirit of women who were determined to win the enfranchisement of their sex, they were again woefully misled". (48) The WSPU did get the support of two prominent journalists, Henry N. Brailsford and Henry Nevinson, who both resigned from The Daily News in protest against its refusal to condemn forcible feeding. (49)
Christabel Pankhurst now used the WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, to advocate the hunger-strike. "The spiritual force which they are exerting is so great that prison walls are rent, prison gates forced open, and they emerge free in body as they have never for an instant ceased to be.... Those who, in these latter days, are privileged to witness this triumph of the spiritual over the physical, understand the true meaning and manner of the miracles of old times." (50)
Christabel was also responsible for persuading 116 doctors to sign a letter sent to Henry Asquith, the new prime minister, protesting against artificial feeding. "We submit to you, that this method of feeding when the patient resists is attending with the gravest risks, that unforeseen accidents are liable to occur, and that the subsequent health of the person may be seriously injured. In our opinion this action is unwise and inhumane. We therefore beg that you will interfere to prevent the continuance of this practice." (51)
On 8th October, 1909, Christabel had a meeting with leading militants, Constance Lytton, Jane Brailsford, Emily Wilding Davison, Annie Kenney and Kitty Marion. who resolved to undertake acts of violence in order to protest against forcible feeding. "There were twelve women... all intending stone-throwers, and Christabel was there to hearten us up and go into details about the way in which we were to do it." (52)
On 9th November 1909, Lady Lytton, was arrested in Newcastle. She was sent to prison for 30 days. "Mrs. Brailsford, who had struck at the barricade with an axe, was also given the option of being bound over, which she, of course, refused, with the alternative of a month's imprisonment in the second division. We were put again into a van, but had only a short way to drive. We were shown into a passage of the prison where the Governor came and spoke to us. He was very civil, and begged us not to go on the hunger-strike." She did but as she pointed out in Prisons and Prisoners (1914) after a couple of days "the wardress came in and announced that I was released, because of the state of my heart!" (53)
Herbert Gladstone, who was in fact a supporter of votes for women, refused to back-down over forced-feeding. "My duty is unpleasant and distasteful enough, but that is no reason why I should shirk it. I admire the gallantry of many of these girls as strongly as I detest the unscrupulous use use which is being made of their qualities by older women who should know better. Women's franchise will come, but it will come not through violent actions and not through sentimental or cowardly surrender to them." (54)
Christabel Pankhurst made it clear that the WSPU would not change their tactics and members in prison would continue to go on hunger-strike. "They (members of the Liberal government) shall not have peace. We have at last got up steam and tasted the joy of battle. Our blood is up... the more they ask for quarter the less they shall get. We will not betray the women in prison... For the weak to use their little strength against the huge forces of tyranny is divine." (21) However, Christabel made sure she was not arrested during this period as she did not want to "undergo forcible feeding" and "intended to postpone this distasteful eventually for as long as possible". (56)
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". (57)
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. (58) 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." (59)
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. (60)
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." (61)
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)." (62)
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." (63)
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." (64)
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. (65)
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." (66)
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." (67)
Henry Brailsford went to see 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. (68)
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. (69)
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. (70)
Emmeline Pankhurst gave permission for 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. (71)
On 14th February 1913, Sylvia Pankhurst and Zeli Emerson, were arrested from throwing a stone at the window of the police station in Bow. They were arrested and sentenced to six weeks in prison. After going on hunger strike they were released. On 17th February, they broke windows of a branch of Westminster Bank in Bow Road. (72) As Fran Abrams has pointed out: "On the first two occasions her efforts were thwarted when her fines were paid and she was released - the first time she blamed WSPU officials, the second time her mother." (73)
This was followed by damaging the greens of Bradford Moor golf course. The magistrate said that if the women behaved as "common riffraff" then they must be treated as such and they were both sentenced to two months' hard labour. (74) Zeli and Sylvia served their sentence in Brixton Prison. They went on hunger and thirst strike and were placed in the hospital wing and force-fed. (75)
According to Rachel Holmes: "Sylvia went on hunger strike and was force-fed more times than any other suffragette. Her mother hunger struck, but was never force-fed. The government appeared to be nervous of the public response to abusing so popular an iconic matriarchal, middle-class figure. Christabel, at the time running the leadership-in-exile from Paris, was not required to hunger strike and hence was never subjected to torture." (76)
While in prison Sylvia Pankhurst wrote to The Suffragette about her experiences: "I am fighting, fighting, fighting. I have four, five, and six wardresses every day, as well as the two doctors. I am fed by stomach-tube twice a day. They prise open my mouth with a steel gag, pressing it in where there is a gap in my teeth. I resist all the time. My gums are always bleeding. The night before last I vomited the last meal, and was ill all night, and was sick after both meals yesterday... My shoulders are bruised with struggling whilst they hold the tube into my throat. I used to feel I should go mad at first, and be pretty near to it, as I think they feared, but I have got over that, and my digestion is the thing that is most likely to suffer now." (77)
Annie Kenney was put in charge of the WSPU in London. Every week Kenney travelled to France to receive Christabel's latest orders. Fran Abrams has pointed out: "It was the start of a cloak-and-dagger existence that lasted for more than two years. Each Friday, heavily disguised, Annie would take the boat-train via La Havre. Sundays were devoted to work but on Saturdays the two would walk along the Seine or visit the Bois de Boulogne. Annie took instructions from Christabel on every little point - which organiser should be placed where, circular letters, fund-raising, lobbying MPs... During the week Annie worked all day at the union's Clement's Inn headquarters, then met militants at her flat at midnight to discuss illegal actions. Christabel had ordered an escalation of militancy, including the burning of empty houses, and it fell to Annie to organise these raids. She did not enjoy this work, nor did she agree with it. She did it because Christabel asked her to, she said later." (78)
Christabel was aware that after the House of Lords had rejected the proposed 1831 Reform Act, a mob had attempted to burn down Nottingham Castle. She therefore asked Sylvia Pankhurst to carry out a similar attack. Sylvia later wrote: "The idea of doing a stealthy deed of destruction was repugnant... Though I knew she did not consider it so, I had the unhappy sense of having been asked to do something morally wrong. I replied that I should be willing to lead a torchlight procession to the castle, to fling my torch at it, and to call the others to do the same, as a symbolic act." Christabel was unimpressed and rejected the idea. (79)
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." (80)
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 - and 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." (81)
Annie Kenney was charged with "incitement to riot" in April 1913. She was found guilty at the Old Bailey and was sentenced to eighteen months in Maidstone Prison. Her deputy, Grace Roe, now became head of operations in London. She immediately went on hunger strike and became the first suffragette to be released under the provisions of the Cat and Mouse Act. Kenney went into hiding until she was caught once again and returned to prison. That summer she escaped to France during a respite and went to live with Christabel Pankhurst in Deauville. (82)
Christabel Pankhurst remained convinced that escalating violence would eventually win the parliamentary vote for women since it would create, she believed, an intolerable situation for politicians. In early January 1914, she asked Sylvia to travel to Paris where she told her that her East London Federation must be separate from the WSPU since it was allied to the socialist movement. (83)
Sylvia was also criticised for speaking on the same platform as the Labour Party MP, George Lansbury. Christabel told her: "You have your own ideas. We do not want that; we want all our women to take their instructions and walk in step like an army!" Sylvia later recalled: "Too tired, too ill to argue, I made no reply. I was oppressed by a sense of tragedy, grieved by her ruthlessness. Her glorification of autocracy seemed to me remote from the struggle we were waging." (84)
Christabel also told her sister that she must withdraw support from the Labour Party. She had now decided that the WSPU should not form any alliance with male politicians. Christabel wrote in The Suffragette: "For Suffragists to put their faith in any men's party, whatever it may call itself, is recklessly to disregard the lessons of the past forty years… The truth is that women must work out their own salvation. Men will not do it for them". (85)
Sylvia became increasing disillusioned with Christabel's approach to the suffrage campaign. "Votes for women and chastity for men became her favourite slogan... She alleged that seventy-five to eighty per cent of men become infected with gonorrhea, and twenty to twenty-five per cent with syphilis, insisting that only an insignificant minority escaped infection by some form of venereal disease. Women were strongly warned against the dangers of marriage, and assured that large numbers of women were refusing it. The greater part, both of the serious and minor illnesses suffered by married women... she declared to be due to the husband having at some time contracted gonorrhea Childless marriages were attributed to the same cause. Syphilis she declared to be the prime reason of a high infantile mortality." (86)
Christabel Pankhurst wrote several articles in The Suffragette on the dangers of marriage. Christabel's articles were reissued as a book entitled, The Great Scourge and How to End It (1913). She argued that most men had venereal disease and that the prime reason for opposition to women's suffrage came from men concerned that enfranchised women would stop their promiscuity. Until they had the vote, she suggested that women should be wary of any sexual contact with men. (87)
Dora Marsden criticised Christabel Pankhurst for upholding the values of chastity, marriage and monogamy. She also pointed out in The Egoist that Pankhurst's statistics on venereal disease were so exaggerated that they made nonsense of her argument. Marsden concluded the article with the claim: "If Miss Pankhurst desires to exploit human boredom and the ravages of dirt she will require to call in the aid of a more subtle intelligence than she herself appears to possess." (88) Other contributors to the journal joined in the attack on Pankhurst. Dora Foster Kerr argued that "her obvious ignorance of life is a great handicap to Miss Pankhurst". (89) Whereas Ezra Pound suggested that she "has as much intellect as a guinea pig" (90).
Rebecca West, a leading feminist and suffrage campaigner, was also appalled by Christabel's views on sex. "I say that her remarks on the subject are utterly valueless and are likely to discredit the Cause in which we believe... The strange uses to which we put our new-found liberty! There was a long and desperate struggle before it became possible for women to write candidly on subjects such as these. That this power should be used to express views that would be old-fashioned and uncharitable in the pastor of a Little Bethel is a matter for scalding tears." (91)
Several friends became worried about Christabel's mental state. A number of significant figures in the WSPU left the organisation over the arson campaign. This included Elizabeth Robins, Jane Brailsford, Laura Ainsworth, Eveline Haverfield and Louisa Garrett Anderson. Leaders of the Men's League For Women's Suffrage such as Henry N. Brailsford, Henry Nevinson and Laurence Housman, argued "that militancy had been taken to foolish extremes and was now damaging the cause". (92)
Hertha Ayrton, Lilias Ashworth Hallett, Janie Allan and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson stopped providing much needed money for the organization. Colonel Linley Blathwayt and Emily Blathwayt also cut off funds to the WSPU. In June 1913 a house had been burned down close to Eagle House. Under pressure from her parents, Mary Blathwayt resigned from the WSPU. (93)
In February 1914, Christabel expelled Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst from the WSPU for refusing to follow orders. Beatrice Harraden, a member of the WSPU since 1905, wrote a letter to Christabel calling on her to bring an end to the arson campaign and accusing her of alienating too many old colleagues by her dictatorial behaviour: "It must be that... your exile (in Paris) prevents you from being in real touch with facts as they are over here." (94)
Henry Harben complained that her autocratic behaviour had destroyed the WSPU: "People are saying that from the leader of a great movement you are developing into the ringleader of a little rebel Rump." (95) According to Martin Pugh "she had fallen into the error of all autocratic leaders; her power to manipulate personnel was so complete that it left her increasingly surrounded by sycophants who lacked real ability." (96)
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". (97)
Christabel Pankhurst wrote an article in The Suffragette where she argued: "A man-made civilisation, hideous and cruel enough in time of peace, is to be destroyed... This great war is nature's vengeance - is God's vengeance upon the people who held women in subjection... that which has made men for generations past sacrifice women and the race to their lusts, is now making them fly at each other's throats and bring ruin upon the world... Women may well stand aghast at the ruin by which the civilisation of the white races in the Eastern Hemisphere is confronted. This then, is the climax that the male system of diplomacy and government has reached." (98)
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. (99)
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." (100) In another interview she stated: "We suffragists... do not feel that Great Britain is in any sense decadent. On the contrary, we are tremendously conscious of strength and freshness." (101)
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!". (102)
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'. The newspaper attacked politicians and military leaders for not doing enough to win the war. In one article, Christabel Pankhurst accused Sir William Robertson, Chief of Imperial General Staff, of being "the tool and accomplice of the traitors, Grey, Asquith and Cecil". Christabel demanded the "internment of all people of enemy race, men and women, young and old, found on these shores, and for a more complete and ruthless enforcement of the blockade of enemy and neutral." (103)
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. Her daughter, Sylvia Pankhurst, who was now a member of the Labour Party, accused her mother of abandoning the pacifist views of Richard Pankhurst. (104)
Adela Pankhurst also disagreed with her mother and in Australia 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." (105) 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." (106)
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." (107)
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." (108)
Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst now dissolved the Women's Social & Political Union and formed The Women's Party. Its twelve-point programme included: (i) A fight to the finish with Germany. (ii) 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. (iii) 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." (109)
Christabel and Emmeline had now completely abandoned their earlier socialist beliefs and advocated policies such as the abolition of the trade unions. David Lloyd George commented to Andrew Bonar Law, that the Women's Party had been very useful in the fight against the Labour Party: "The Women's Party... has been extremely useful, as you know, to the Government especially in the industrial districts where there has been trouble during the last two years. They have fought the Bolshevik and Pacifist element with great skill, tenacity and courage." (110)
Christabel Pankhurst became one of the seventeen women candidates that stood in the 1918 General Election. She represented the Women's Party in Smethwick, and the Conservative Party candidate agreed to stand down so it could be a straight fight with the Labour Party. Christabel accused the Labour candidate, John E. Davidson, of being a Bolshevik. Davidson replied that far from being "corrupted and led by Bolshevists' the Labour Party stood for social reform along constitutional lines "without breaking a single window, firing a single pillar-box, or burning down a single church." Davidson beat Pankhurst by 775 votes. (111)
In 1921 Christabel went to live in Canada with her mother where she became a prominent member of Second Adventist Movement. Christabel then moved to California where she wrote books on the Second Coming, such as The Lord Cometh: The World Crisis Explained (1923) and Pressing Problems of the Closing Age (1924). She became both a popular speaker and author but in 1925 she decided to move to Europe. (112)
Later that year Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst and Mabel Tuke opened a tea-shop on the French Riviera. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "In 1925 Mabel Tuke took part with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, in the ill-fated scheme to run a tea-shop at Jules-les-Pins on the French Riviera. Mrs Tuke provided most of the capital and did the baking." The venture was unsuccessful and they all returned to England in the spring of 1926. (113)
In the autumn of 1926, Emmeline Pankhurst accepted the invitation from the Conservative Party to stand as their candidate for Whitechapel. Sylvia was appalled by this news and wrote to the national newspapers expressing her disapproval. (114) "Permit me, through your columns, to express my profound grief that my mother should have deserted the cause of progress... For my part I rejoice in having enlisted for life in the socialist movement, in which the work of Owen, Marx, Kropotkin, William Morris and Keir Hardie, and such pioneering efforts as those of my father, Richard Marsden Pankhurst, both before and during the rise of the movement in this country, are an enduring memory. It is naturally most painful for me to write this, but I feel it incumbent upon me, in view of this defection, to reaffirm my faith in the cause of social and international fraternity, and to utter a word of sorrow that one who in the past has rendered such service should now, with that sad pessimism which sometimes comes with advancing years, and may result from too strenuous effort, join the reaction." (115)
Ethel Smyth, a close friend, explained: "Mrs Pankhurst, once a member of the ILP, came to feel something like horror of the Labour Party, whereas Sylvia was one of their warmest adherents. The perhaps inevitable alienation between mother and daughter was fated to culminate in a tragic and sinister episode during the tragic last weeks of the former's life." (116)
The trade union leader Henry Snell commented: "Mrs. Pankhurst was magnetic, courageous, audacious, and resolute. Mrs. Pankhurst was an autocrat masquerading as a democrat. Mussolini might with profit have learned his business at her feet. She later found her appropriate spiritual home, and ended her days in the Tory Party, which used her to oppose Labour candidates and others whose help she had accepted, and on whose shoulders she had climbed to fame." (117)
Christabel joined the Conservative Party but was unable to find a winnable parliamentary seat. She also became disillusioned with women voters. "We women too are human... having now became politically responsible, we can more easily realise that we are wholly unable, just as men are unable, even to form, much less to put into effect, a policy that will regenerate the world." (118)
In 1927, at the age of forty-five, Sylvia Pankhurst gave birth to her only child, Richard Keir Pethick Pankhurst. Corio, who was 52, "was a proud, loving and experienced father". The boy was named after the three most important men in her life: Richard Pankhurst, Keir Hardie and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence. (119)
Sylvia did not believe in marriage and had argued in favour of free love and sexual freedom, though she never practised it indiscriminately. Two of her heroines, Mary Wollstonecraft and Clara Zetkin, had both been unmarried mothers. In an article published in The Sunday Chronicle Sylvia argued that "like most idealistic young people", she had "the notion that true love can only come once in a lifetime, and invariably, endures forever". She had changed her mind about this and "I early became convinced that no man or woman should be chained for life." (120)
Sylvia upset Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst, by refusing to marry the boy's father. Several times she attempted to visit her mother, but when she arrived at the house, Emmeline refused to see her. According to Emmeline's foster-child Mary Gordon, her mother locked herself in her bedroom "like a sulky girl and refused to see Auntie Sylvia when that scarlet woman dared to call." (121)
Sylvia Pankhurst responded to this rejection by giving an interview to the News of the World in April 1928. It reported "Sylvia Pankhurst's amazing confession" that she gave birth "to a child out of wedlock - a Eugenic baby, she prefers to call it." She added: "I wanted a baby, as every complete human being desires parenthood, to love him and cherish him, to see him grow and develop and to leave behind me a being who will, I hope, carry on the best that is in me and my stock." Sylvia said she was very much in love with her son's father whose identity she refused to reveal. That he was fifty-three and foreign was all she would say. She added: "He is of a retiring disposition and hates publicity, I will not bring him publicity by naming him." (122)
Newspapers around the world, especially, the tabloids, took up the story. Christabel Pankhurst interpreted Sylvia's actions as a personal attack. She complained to friends that the newspaper headlines referring to "Miss Pankhurst" caused her no end of embarrassment as she feared being mistaken for the subject of the scandal. She told Grace Roe: "That was the biggest blow I ever received and the repercussions have not really ceased. The whole publicity was skilfully engineered to harm me." (123)
A friend, Helen Fraser, said Emmeline was "horrified and greatly distressed when Sylvia had her son." On 14th June 1928, Emmeline Pankhurst, aged 69, died. Several members of the family and former Women Social & Political Union members believe that Sylvia's public announcement sent the already weakened Mrs Pankhurst to her death. (124)
In the 1936 new year honours list she was created DBE for her services to women's suffrage. She disapproved of the way that young women expressed their new freedom: "The emancipation of today which displays itself mainly in cigarettes and shorts... in painted lips and nails, and the return of trailing skirts and other absurdities of dress which betoken the slave-women's sex appeal rather than the free-woman's intelligent companionship." (125)
In 1939 Christabel returned to the USA where she continued her career as an author and lecturer on religion. As June Purvis has pointed out: "On 5 May 1953, Sylvia's birthday, Christabel renewed contact with her sister, writing her a warm letter and wishing her well after her recent heart attack. The correspondence between the two sisters continued intermittently until Christabel's death at her home in Santa Monica on 13th February 1958. The manuscript of her memoirs, discovered by Grace Roe, was published as Unshackled: the Story of how we Won the Vote. (126)
Shortly after Emmeline Pankhurst's death a Pankhurst Memorial Fund was established. The fund was largely organised by Rachel Barrett. Although the Chief Commissioner of Public Works, Sir Lionel Earle, was sympathetic to their cause, he believed that it would be impractical to place the statue in Westminster. After several locations were rejected Marshall secured permission to erect the statue in a corner of Victoria Tower Gardens near the House of Commons. Though this required a special Parliamentary bill, the Conservative Party MP William Bull ensured its smooth passage. Arthur George Walker was commissioned to produce the life-sized statue and the ceremony took place on 6th April, 1930. (127)
In 1958 the statue was moved from its original position in the south of the gardens to a new site further north, and a low stone screen was built flanking the statue, terminating at either end with bronze medallions sculpted by Peter Hills. These depict, on the left, the "prison brooch" or "badge" of the Women Social & Political Union, and, on the right, a profile bust of Christabel Pankhurst. (128)
The picture now in my mind of those Manchester days is of the library, with flowered gold-and-brown paper and book-lined walls. Mother reading, writing or sewing on one side of the big, glowing fire. Father at the other side, deep in a book. He stretches out his fine sensitive hand, now and again, to show that he is thinking of us all and enjoying our companionship. We schoolchildren had leave to do our homework at the big table and suddenly one or another would ask: "Father, what is such and such?" or "Who was so and so?" He was roused at once. Books were taken from the shelves, references and authorities were shown. The subjected was illuminated in all its ramifications.
The Oldham Trades Council invited Christabel Pankhurst and Teresa Billington to speak on Women's Suffrage. I had never heard of "Votes for Women". Politics did not interest me in the least. Miss Pankhurst was more hesitating, more nervous than Miss Billington. She impressed me, though. She was more impersonal and full of zeal. Miss Billington used a sledge-hammer of logic and cold reason… When the meeting was over I drifted towards Miss Pankhurst. Before I knew what I done I had promised to organise a meeting for Miss Pankhurst among factory-women of Oldham.
We are absolutely determined to have our way, and to have our say in the government of affairs. We are going to develop on our own lines and listen to the pleadings of our inner nature. We shall think our own thoughts and strengthen our own intelligence. We want the abolition of sex in the choice of legislative power as well as privilege. For the present we want the woman to have what the men have. When the men have adult suffrage, then we shall want the same ... We have only to look back to such characters as Joan of Arc, the revolutionary movement in Russia, the Boer women and the like to see who can do the dangerous work.
Christabel's devotee (Annie Kenney) in a sense that was mystical... she neither gave nor looked to receive any expression of personal tenderness: her devotion took the form of unquestioning faith and absolute obedience ... Just as no ordinary Christian can find that perfect freedom in complete surrender, so no ordinary individual could have given what Annie gave - the surrender of her whole personality to Christabel. That surrender endowed her with fearlessness and power that was not self limited and was therefore incalculable.
The Women's Social and Political Union was formed by Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and Miss Christabel Pankhurst in 1903, but the "militant movement" with which its name will always be associated, had not attracted any public notice till the end of 1905… By adopting novel and startling methods… they succeeded in drawing a far larger amount of public attention to the claims of women to representation than ever had been given to the subject below.
Minor breaches of the law, such as waving flags and making speeches in the lobbies of the Houses of Parliament, were treated more severely than serious crime on the part of men has often been. The turning of the hose upon a suffrage prisoner in her cell in a midwinter night, and all the anguish of the hunger strike and forcible feeding are other examples.
In 1907 the militant groups abandoned the plan upon which for the first few years they had worked - that of suffering violence, but using none. Stone-throwing and personal attacks on Ministers of the Crown were attempted. These new developments necessitated, in the opinion of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, the publication of protests expressing their grave and strong objection to the use of personal violence as a means of political propaganda.
The relationship would be mirrored, though never matched in its intensity, by a number of later relationships between Annie Kenney and other suffragettes. The extent of their physical nature has never been revealed, but it is certain that in some sense these were romantic attachments. One historian who argues that Annie must have had sexual feelings for other women adds that lesbianism was barely recognised at the time. Such relationships, even when they involved sharing beds, excited little comment Already, Christabel had formed a close friendship with Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth, suffrage campaigners who lived together in Manchester. Her relationship with Eva, in particular, had become intense enough to excite a great deal of comment from her family - according to Sylvia.
Christabel was emphatically not a woman who let her emotions run away with her, and she did not do so in Annie's case. But their first meeting set a pattern that would govern every sphere of Annie's existence for the next fifteen years.
Christabel Pankhurst was cut out for public life. Her chosen career, that of Barrister-at-law, had been checked by the refusal of the Benchers of Lincoln's Inn to admit a woman as a student, so that the career of a political pioneer offered to her the finest kind of self-expression. Like all the Pankhursts she had great courage. She had a cool, logical mind, and a quick, ready wit. She was young and attractive, graceful on the platform, with a singularly clear and musical voice. She had none of Sylvia's passion of pity - on the contrary, she detested weakness, which was discouraged in her presence.
The 1905 Bill was talked out! Peaceful methods had failed…. As the year 1905 went on, the Liberal leaders counted upon early political office. Manchester - the Free Trade Hall - was again to be the scene of a rally at which the Liberal Party would utter their war cry for the General Election. Here was my chance! Now there should be an act the effect of which would remain, a protest not of word but of deed. Prison this time! Prison would mean a fact that could not fade from the record.
Christabel Pankhurst decided that she and I would go the Free Trade Hall meeting, wait until question time (quite a legitimate way of getting answers to problems perplexing voters), then rise and put the question to Mr. Churchill: "If you are elected, will you do your best to make Woman Suffrage a Government measure?" Instinctively she knew that the question would never be answered, for two reasons: had he said Yes, the Cabinet would have practically been committed to carry it out; had he said No, the Liberal women would have pricked up their ears.
I was in the grip of a policeman and surrounded by stewards. I thought I must bring the matter into Court, into prison. For simply disturbing the meeting I should not be imprisoned. I must "assault the police". But how was I to do it? The police seemed to be skilled to frustrate my purpose. I could not strike them, my arms being held. I could not even stamp on their toes. Yet I must be arrested. The vote depended on it. With my limbs helpless. I decided to be arrested for spitting at a policeman." It was not a real spit but only, shall we call it, a "pout", a dry purse of the mouth.
Miss Christabel Pankhurst and Miss Annie Kenney were ejected and later arrested for obstruction outside the building. At the police court Miss Pankhurst was fined half a guinea for assaulting the police officers by hitting them in the mouth and spitting in their faces, and five shillings for obstruction, or in default seven days. Miss Kenney was fined five shillings, or three days. Rather than pay the fine the ladies elected to undergo the imprisonment.
Miss Kenney was released on Monday morning. Miss Pankhurst period expired this morning. By seven o'clock about two hundred people had collected outside the gates of Strangeways Gaol. When Miss Christabel appeared she was hailed with a great cheer and instantly surrounded by a host of male and female admirers. The first to greet and embrace the prisoner was her mother, Miss Pankhurst. Miss Pankhurst fell into the arms of her mother, and the two wept for joy after having been parted for a whole week. As soon as she could break away from her admirers Miss Pankhurst called out, "I will go in again for the same cause. Don't forget the vote for women."
On Friday, 8th October 1909, Christabel Pankhurst and I were on our way to Newcastle. I had made up my mind that I was going to throw a stone. We went to the Haymarket where the car with Mr. Lloyd George (a government minister) would probably pass. As the motor appeared I stepped out into the road, stood straight in front of the car, shouted out, "How can you, who say you back the women's cause, stay on in a government which refuses them the vote, and is persecuting them for asking it," and threw a stone at the car. I aimed low to avoid injuring the chauffeur or passengers.
Eighty-one women were still in prison, some for terms of six months… Mother and Mr. and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence went on hunger-strike. The Government retaliated by forcible feeding. This was actually carried out in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence. The doctors and wardresses came to Mother's cell armed with forcible-feeding apparatus. Forewarned by the cries of Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence… Mother received them with all her majestic indignation. They fell back and left her. Neither then nor at any time in her log and dreadful conflict with the government was she forcibly fed.
In September, about a month before the date arranged for the gathering, Mrs Pankhurst, ignoring the Honorary Secretary, called a Committee meeting, declared the Conference annulled, the Constitution cancelled, and the rights of the members abolished, and proclaimed herself as sole dictator of the movement. She appointed herself secretary, Mrs. Pethick Lawrence treasurer, and Miss Christabel Pankhurst organising secretary. She chose for herself a committee consisting of paid organisers and two or three women who were willing to lend their names to this purpose.
The clumsy declaration of autocracy broke the spell of many who would willingly have voted away their rights. Those who stuck to the Constitution formed the Women's Freedom League… This reversion to autocracy, this denial of suffrage in their own society to women seeking suffrage in the State, brought to a sudden close to this stage in the progress of militancy.
Mrs. Pankhurst and Miss Christabel Pankhurst outlined a new militant policy which Mr. and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence found themselves altogether unable to approve. Mrs. Pankhurst and Miss Christabel recommended that Mr. and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence should leave the Women's Social and Political Union.
It was the start of a cloak-and-dagger existence that lasted for more than two years. Each Friday, heavily disguised, Annie would take the boat-train via La Havre. Sundays were devoted to work but on Saturdays the two would walk along the Seine or visit the Bois de Boulogne. Annie took instructions from Christabel on every little point - which organiser should be placed where, circular letters, fund-raising, lobbying MPs. When she arrived back in London a bulky letter would already be on its way to her with yet more instructions. There was such resentment within the union about Annie's new position that she earned herself the nickname "Christabel's Blotting Paper". Annie found this amusing, and took to signing her letters to Christabel, "The Blotter".
During the week Annie worked all day at the union's Clement's Inn headquarters, then met militants at her flat at midnight to discuss illegal actions. Christabel had ordered an escalation of militancy, including the burning of empty houses, and it fell to Annie to organise these raids. She did not enjoy this work, nor did she agree with it. She did it because Christabel asked her to, she said later. None the less, it fell to her to ensure that each arsonist left home with the proper equipment - cotton wool, a small bottle of paraffin, wood shavings and matches. "Combustibles" were stored by Annie in hiding places from where they could be retrieved when needed, and a sympathetic analytical chemist, Edwy Clayton, was engaged to advise on suitable places for attack. In addition to supplying a list of government offices, cotton mills and other buildings, he carried out experiments for the women on chemicals suitable for making explosives. Annie was very upset when he was later arrested and convicted of conspiracy on the basis of papers he had sent to her sister Jessie.
The fun was going out of the movement for Annie. Christabel had left a gap in her life, and the departure of the Pethick-Lawrences soon afterwards in a dispute over the direction of the union was a further blow. Annie was forced to choose between two people she loved more than any others - Christabel and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. She followed Christabel, as she always had.
War was the only course for our country to take. This was national militancy. As Suffragettes we could not be pacifists at any price. Mother and I declared support of our country. We declared an armistice with the Government and suspended militancy for the duration of the war. We offered our service to the country and called upon all members to do likewise. As Mother said, 'What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!'. Mother seemed for the time to dismiss her ill-health in her ardour for the national cause. She spoke to Servicemen on the war front and to Servicewomen on the home front. She called for wartime military conscription for men, believing that this was democratic and equitable, and that it would enable a more ordered and effective use of the nation's man power.
In life, they became personally and politically estranged. And decades after their deaths, the three Pankhurst women who did so much to win universal suffrage continue to be divided.
While Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the suffragette movement, and her eldest daughter Christabel are commemorated by a statue and plaque at the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens on the south-west corner of the houses of parliament, no such honour has been bestowed on Sylvia, who broke with her family over her opposition to the first world war and pursuit of socialist ideals.
The House of Lords – an institution Pankhurst vowed to tear down in a coming revolution – has over the years repeatedly blocked proposals for a memorial near parliament, despite strong support from figures including the former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd, and the granting of planning permission by Westminster council.
But while there seems little hope of a statue of the radical pioneer joining her mother and sister in Westminster, an unlikely partnership is seeking to honour her on a plot a few miles east.
The TUC and City of London Corporation are to launch a joint campaign to erect a statue on Clerkenwell Green in Islington in time for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which first gave the vote to some women.
The City of London Corporation is providing a grant of £10,000 and has set the TUC the challenge of finding £70,000 to get the project off the ground. The Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee will be announcing two new patrons – the actress Maxine Peake and the former union general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe – to help drum up support for the cause.
"They have had this for many years but the proposed statue of Sylvia has always been rejected. The reason was that she did not fit in with the establishment of the time by opposing the war. And she was a socialist and an anti-racist campaigner. This statue will correct the historical record."
A bronze model of the statue has already been made by the late sculptor Ian Walters, who was also responsible for the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square.
Clerkenwell has been chosen as an alternative to Westminster as it was in the east of London that Sylvia sought to unite the women's movement with that of the working class, after being expelled from her mother's Women's Social and Political Union and forming the East London Federation of Suffragettes.
That initial fracturing of the family over Sylvia's socialist outlook was to lead to an insurmountable chasm in political outlooks and relations between the women. While Emmeline and Christabel sought the support of the middle classes for their cause and urged their supporters to "do their bit" on the outbreak of the first world war, the East London Federation, uniquely among the women's suffrage organisations, refused to support the war. Sylvia, who like Emmeline was imprisoned over their campaigns and force-fed while on hunger strike, also wanted the campaign for women's votes to continue through the war, while her family suspended their's. The youngest sister Adela emigrated to Australia in 1914, where she founded the Communist Party of Australia.
Christabel was to later urge Sylvia to reconcile "not as suffragettes but as sisters", but Sylvia would not consider it. "We had no life apart from the movement," she reportedly told her sibling.
After all women over 21 were given the vote in 1928, Sylvia campaigned on issues such as maternity pay, equal pay and improved childcare facilities.
While describing Sylvia, who died in 1960 aged 78, as both "miraculous" and "unbearable", George Bernard Shaw once compared Emmeline's second daughter to Joan of Arc. Many believe the continued campaigning of the East London Federation led by Sylvia was crucial in delivering women the vote.
The announcement of the new site for the proposed statue comes ahead of International Women's Day on Tuesday. The chairman of the City of London Corporation's finance committee, Roger Chadwick, said: "We hope this grant is a catalyst for others to come forward to make donations towards this memorial. Sylvia Pankhurst was a remarkable woman. Her work paved the way for London to become the most dynamic and exciting city in the world because of the diversity it welcomes and encourages.
"She knew then what we all recognise today: that our strength comes from embracing and valuing people irrespective of their sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, race or religion."
The House of Lords – castigated by Sylvia for being "lined up as one man against the emancipation of the proletariat" - claims that permission for a statue in Westminster had not been granted "because the committee was advised that because Pankhurst had no connection to the House of Lords, the statue should not stand in grounds in such proximity".
Megan Dobney, a founder member of the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee and a TUC official, said the Clerkenwell statue would constitute welcome recognition. "Sylvia would not have liked a memorial, but as a symbol of the unsung heroism of thousands of working-class women who fought for the franchise some kind of recognition is long overdue," she said. "If you go to the park by the House of Lords, there is a statue and a plaque to Christabel and Emmeline. Quite an ugly thing, actually.