Emmeline Goulden, 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. (1)
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." (2)
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". (3)
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. (4)
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." (5)
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." (6)
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. (7)
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." (8)
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." (9)
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. (10)
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. (11)
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. (12)
Besant helped the women to form a Matchgirls' Union and Besant agreed to become its leader. Emmeline Pankhurst became involved in the Matchgirls Strike. She later recalled in her autobiography: "I threw myself into this strike with enthusiasm, working with the girls and with some women of prominence, amongst these the celebrated Mrs Annie Besant... It was a time of tremendous unrest, of labour agitations, of strikes and lockouts. It was a time also when a most stupid reactionary spirit seemed to take possession of the Government and the authorities." (13)
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. (14)
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." (15)
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". (16)
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. (17)
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." (18)
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. (19)
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?" (20)
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. (21)
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. (22)
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. (23)
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. (24)
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. (25)
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. (26)
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). (27)
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. (28)
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". (29) Trade union leader, Henry Snell, agreed: "Mrs. Pankhurst was magnetic, courageous, audacious, and resolute. Mrs. Pankhurst was an autocrat masquerading as a democrat". (30)
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." (31)
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 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." (32)
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." (33)
Teresa Billington Greig found Emmeline Pankhurst a difficult colleague: "To work alongside of her day by day was to run the risk of losing yourself. She was ruthless in using the followers she gathered around her, as she was ruthless to herself. She took advantage of both their strengths and their weaknesses suffered with you and for you while she believed she was shaping you and used every device of suppression when the revolt against the shaping came. She was a most astute statesman, a skilled politician, a self-dedicated reshaper of the world - and a dictator without mercy". (34)
Emmeline Pankhurst was an impressive orator: "The crowd came - packing the hall to overflowing. The rowdy youths came. And one other factor I had scarcely fully reckoned upon came - Mrs. Pankhurst. She held that audience in the hollow of her hand. When a youth interrupted she turned and dealt with him, silenced him, and, without faltering in the thread of her speech, used him as an illustration of an argument. The audience was so intent to hear every word that even when one little group of youths let out that aforementioned evil-smelling gas it did no more than cause a faint stir in one small corner of the hall. As Mrs. Pankhurst continued the interruptions got fewer and fewer, and at last ceased altogether. Even when at the end came question-time, members of the audience were uncommonly chary of delivering themselves into her hands. That meeting was a revelation of the power of a great speaker." (35)
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. (36)
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. (37)
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. (38)
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." (39)
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". (40)
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. (41)
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.'' (42)
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. (43)
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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). (44)
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." (45)
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.” (46)
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". (47)
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. (48)
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. (49)
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." (50)
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". (51)
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. (52) 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." (53)
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. (54)
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. Asquith made a speech where he made it clear that he intended to shelve the Conciliation Bill.
On hearing the news, Emmeline Pankhurst, led 300 women from a pre-arranged meeting at the Caxton Hall to the House of Commons on 18th November, 1910. Sylvia Pankhurst was one of the women who took part in the protest and experienced the violent way the police dealt with the women: "I saw Ada Wright knocked down a dozen times in succession. A tall man with a silk hat fought to protect her as she lay on the ground, but a group of policemen thrust him away, seized her again, hurled her into the crowd and felled her again as she turned. Later I saw her lying against the wall of the House of Lords, with a group of anxious women kneeling round her. Two girls with linked arms were being dragged about by two uniformed policemen. One of a group of officers in plain clothes ran up and kicked one of the girls, whilst the others laughed and jeered at her." (54a)
Henry Brailsford was commissioned to write a report on the way that the police dealt with the demonstration. He took testimony from a large number of women, including Mary Frances Earl: "In the struggle the police were most brutal and indecent. They deliberately tore my undergarments, using the most foul language - such language as I could not repeat. They seized me by the hair and forced me up the steps on my knees, refusing to allow me to regain my footing... The police, I understand, were brought specially from Whitechapel." (54b)
Paul Foot, the author of The Vote (2005) has pointed out, Brailsford and his committee obtained "enough irrefutable testimony not just of brutality by the police but also of indecent assault - now becoming a common practice among police officers - to shock many newspaper editors, and the report was published widely". (54c) However, Edward Henry, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, claimed that the sexual assaults were committed by members of the public: "Amongst this crowd were many undesirable and reckless persons quite capable of indulging in gross conduct." (54d)
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." (55)
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)." (56)
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." (57)
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." (58)
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. (59)
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." (60)
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." (61)
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. (62)
In the summer of 1911 Emmeline Pankhurst made a tour of Scotland and organised the St Andrews meeting on 18th August. Her speech included the comments: "Taxation without representation was unfair, and that grievance, so far as women were concerned, was a growing one. The House of Commons had now voted itself a salary all round. If men liked to pay Members of of Parliament a salary let them in common decency do it themselves, and not expect voteless women to help them find the money. At any rate, if Members of Parliament were going to take out of the taxes paid by women salaries for themselves, let first of all make themselves subject to the woman's power of election, as well as that of the men." (62a)
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. (63)
Margery Corbett was a member of the NUWSS when she met Emmeline and Sylvia in 1911. "I talked to Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia. I admired their wonderful courage, but when they started hurting other people, I had to decide whether I wanted to go on working with the constitutional movement, or whether I would join the militants. Eventually I decided to remain a constitutional." (64)
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. (65)
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. (66)
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." (67)
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." (68)
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." (69)
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". (70)
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. (71)
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." (72)
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, 1913, when Emmeline Pankhurst attempted to attend a meeting, she was arrested and returned to prison. (73)
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. (74)
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. (75)
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". (76)
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." (77)
Emmeline Pankhurst said that militancy would be pointless in the face of the infinitely greater violence of war. "What will come out of this European war - so terrible in its effects on the women who had no voice in averting it - so baneful in the suffering it must necessarily bring on innocent children - no human being can calculate. But one thing is reasonably certain, and that is that the Cabinet changes which will necessarily result from warfare will make future militancy on the part of women unnecessary. no future Government will repeat the mistakes and the brutality of the Asquith Ministry." (78)
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." (79)
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!". (80)
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." (81)
In 1915 Jessie Kenney accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst to Russia where the two women attempted to persuade leading politicians to support the allied cause. They had a meeting with Alexander Kerensky, a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR), but he seemed to resent their presence. The women got a much better response from Maria Bochkareva, the leader of the Women's Battalion. (82)
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. (83)
Adela Pankhurst also disagreed with her mother 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." (84) 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." (85)
In 1917 Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst formed The Women's Party. Its twelve-point programme included: (a) A fight to the finish with Germany. (b) 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. (c) 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." (86)
The Women's Party also supported: "equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, the same rights over children for both parents, equality of rights and opportunities in public service, and a system of maternity benefits." Christabel and Emmeline had now completely abandoned their earlier socialist beliefs and advocated policies such as the abolition of the trade unions. In December 1918, Christabel was defeated in the general election at Smethwick. (87)
After the First World War Emmeline spent several years in the USA and Canada lecturing for the National Council for Combating Venereal Disease, as a campaigner in a moral crusade against promiscuity. She was accompanied by her old friend, Catherine Pine. "The work suited her - it took her back on the road, on to the series of platforms with which her life had become synonymous." (88)
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. Henry Snell commented "she 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". (89) 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. (90)
Adela Pankhurst, who had married Tom Walsh during the First World War, had five children - Richard named after her father, Sylvia after her sister, Christian, Ursula and Faith, who died soon after she was born. Emmeline never saw any of Adela's children. However, Adela, like her mother, had moved sharply to the right in the 1920s and she did write to her expressing regret for the long rift between them. (91)
Emmeline, Christabel Pankhurst and Mabel Tuke decided to run a tea-shop on the French Riviera in 1925. 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 returned to England in the spring of 1926. (92)
Emmeline Pankhurst died in a nursing home in Hampstead on 14th June, 1928, a month short of her seventieth birthday.
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. My father bent over me, shielding the candle flame with his big hand. I cannot know exactly what I thought was in his mind as he gazed down at me, but I heard him say, somewhat sadly, "What a pity she wasn't born a lad."
My first hot impulse was to sit up in bed and protest that I didn't want to be a boy, but I lay still and heard my parents' footsteps pass on toward the next child's bed. I thought about my father's remark for many days afterward… 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.
The education of boys was considered a much more serious matter than the education of girls. My parents… discussed the question of my brothers' education as a matter of real importance. My education and that of my sister were scarcely discussed at all. Of course we went to a carefully selected girls' school, but beyond the facts that the headmistress was a good woman and that all the pupils were girls of my own class, nobody seemed concerned. A girl's education at that time seemed to have for its prime object the art of 'making a home attractive'.
When I was fifteen I was sent to school in Paris. 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.
She (Emmeline Pankhurst) 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.
I came to know Dr. Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer… who was a supporter of woman's suffrage… Dr. Pankhurst acted as counsel for the Manchester women who tried in 1868 to be placed on the register as voters. He also drafted the bill giving married women absolute control over their property and earnings, a bill, which became law in 1882.
I think we cannot be too grateful to the group of men and women, who, like Dr. Pankhurst, lent the weight of their honoured names to the suffrage movement in the trials of its struggling youth. These men did not wait until the movement became popular, nor did they hesitate until it was plain that women were roused to the point of revolt. They worked all their lives with those who were organising, educating and preparing for the revolt which was one day to come. Unquestionably those pioneer men suffered in popularity for their feminist views.
About a year after my marriage my daughter Christabel was born, and in another eighteen months my second daughter Sylvia came. Two other children followed and for some years I was rather deeply immersed in my domestic affairs. I was never so absorbed with home and children, however, that I lost interest in community affairs. Dr. Pankhurst did not desire that I should turn myself into a household machine.
The leaders of the Liberal Party advised women to prove their fitness for the Parliamentary franchise by serving in municipal offices, especially the unsalaried offices. A large number of women had availed themselves of this advice, and were serving on Boards of Guardians, on school boards, and in other capacities. My children now being old enough for me to leave them with competent nurses, I was free to join these ranks. A year after my return to Manchester in 1894 I became a candidate for the Board of Poor Law Guardians. I was elected, heading the poll by a very large majority.
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.
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.
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?
It was on October 10, 1903 that I invited a number of women to my house in Nelson Street, Manchester, for purposes of organisation. We voted to call our new society the Women's Social and Political Union, partly to emphasize its democracy, and partly to define its object as political rather than propagandist. We resolved to limit our membership exclusively to women, to keep ourselves absolutely free from party affiliation, and to be satisfied with nothing but action on our question. "Deeds, not Words" was to be our permanent motto.
Emmeline Pankhurst was at once recognised by me as a force, vital and resourceful. She had beauty and graciousness, moving and speaking with dignity, but with no uncertainty of mind and movement. Later I was to see her captivating the mob, turning commonplace men and women into heroes, enslaving the young rebel women by the exploitation of emotion.
To work alongside of her day by day was to run the risk of losing yourself. She was ruthless in using the followers she gathered around her, as she was ruthless to herself. She took advantage of both their strengths and their weaknesses suffered with you and for you while she believed she was shaping you and used every device of suppression when the revolt against the shaping came. She was a most astute statesman, a skilled politician, a self-dedicated reshaper of the world - and a dictator without mercy.
The crowd came - packing the hall to overflowing. The rowdy youths came. And one other factor I had scarcely fully reckoned upon came - Mrs. Pankhurst. She held that audience in the hollow of her hand. When a youth interrupted she turned and dealt with him, silenced him, and, without faltering in the thread of her speech, used him as an illustration of an argument. The audience was so intent to hear every word that even when one little group of youths let out that aforementioned evil-smelling gas it did no more than cause a faint stir in one small corner of the hall. As Mrs. Pankhurst continued the interruptions got fewer and fewer, and at last ceased altogether. Even when at the end came question-time, members of the audience were uncommonly chary of delivering themselves into her hands. That meeting was a revelation of the power of a great speaker.
My chief suggestion was that of intervention in elections. Claiming the right to vote, we would use every sort of endeavour to exercise that right in any form we could devise: an individual woman slipping into the polling-booth and dropping a voting paper into the sacred box; a half-dozen women rushing the door to cover a real or simulated voting attack… In all such action the women voting were to be some of those actually entitled to vote by existing law and debarred only by sex.
A hot-blooded Irish member promulgated the idea of a sex-relations boycott to pledge the young and desirable members on 'no engagements, no marriage, no babies' lines. But we thought this crazy and were fully behind Mrs. Pankhurst when she indicated that if it were unsuccessful, as it would be, it would only bring ridicule upon us, and if, by an unlikely miracle, it succeeded in part, it would create not sex-equality but sex-war.
I talked to Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia. I admired their wonderful courage, but when they started hurting other people, I had to decide whether I wanted to go on working with the constitutional movement, or whether I would join the militants. Eventually I decided to remain a constitutional.
The Women's Social and Political Union had been in existence two years before any opportunity was presented to work on a national scale. The autumn of 1905 brought a political situation, which seemed to us to promise bright hopes for women's enfranchisement. The life of the old Parliament was coming to an end, and the country was on the eve of a general election in which the liberals hoped to be returned to power… The only object worth trying for was pledges from responsible leaders that the new Government would make women's suffrage a part of the official programme.
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.
The hunger-strike I have described as a dreadful ordeal, but it is a mild experience compared with the thirst-strike, which is from beginning to end simple and unmitigated torture. Hunger-striking reduces a prisoner's weight very quickly, but thirst-striking reduces weight so alarmingly fast that prison doctors were at first thrown into absolute panic of fright. Later they became somewhat hardened, but even now they regard the thirst-strike with terror. I am not sure that I can convey to the reader the effect of days spent without a single drop of water taken into the system. The body cannot endure loss of moisture. It cries out in protest with every nerve. The muscles waste, the skin becomes shrunken and flabby, the facial appearance alters horribly, all these outward symptoms being eloquent of the acute suffering of the entire physical being. Every natural function is, of course, suspended, and the poisons which are unable to pass out of the body are retained and absorbed. The body becomes cold and shivery, there is constant headache and nausea, and sometimes there is fever. The mouth and tongue become coated and swollen, the throat thickens, and the voice sinks to a thready whisper.
When, at the end of the third day of my first thirst-strike, I was sent home, I was in a condition of jaundice from which I have never completely recovered. So badly was I affected that the prison authorities made no attempt to arrest me for nearly a month after my release.
In the summer of 1910 Emmeline was introduced to Ethel Smyth, an endearingly eccentric bisexual composer who cheerfully confessed to having little or no political background and to caring even less about votes for women - until she met and fell passionately in love with the founder of the WSPU. At first glance Ethel Smyth made a curious companion for a political leader who, despite the violence which attached itself to her movement, remained resolutely feminine. While Emmeline usually had some lace about her person Ethel always dressed in tweeds, deerstalker and tie. Emmeline tended to attack every venture with passion while her new friend regarded the world with a wry, amused cynicism. Ethel, unlike Emmeline, had few sexual or personal inhibitions. But the two women, who at fifty-two were exactly the same age, immediately formed so close an attachment that Ethel decided to give two years of her life to the cause. After that, she said, she would go back to her music. She was as good as her word, though the friendship endured even after she had left the political fray. Ethel's insights into the mind of her friend are incisive and enlightening, untainted by the family tensions which strained the memoirs of the younger generation of Pankhursts.
A graceful woman (Emmeline Pankhurst) rather under middle height, one would have said a delicate-looking woman, but the well-knit figure, the quick deft movement, the clear complexion, the soft bright eyes that on occasion could emit lambent flame, betokened excellent health....
(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.
(8) Irish Home Rule to be denied.
(9) On specificially women's questions, there must be equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, the same rights over children for both parents, equality of rights and opportunities in public service, and a system of maternity benefits.
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.