Emmiline Pankhurst by Darcy Tavendale

By Jess Lang | Posted: Monday April 3, 2023

Emmiline Pankhurst was an English suffragette and activist in the early 1900s. She was part of the movement to gain women the vote and is remembered for this. The story of Emmiline Pankhurst is one of bravery and determination, standing up for women's rights. and eventually leading the charge to give women in England the right to vote. In 1999 the Time Magazine voted her as one of 100 most influential people in the twentieth century

Emmiline Pankhurst was born on the 15th July 1858 in Manchester, United Kingdom to her parents Sophia Goulden and Robert Goulden. Pankhurst was gifted academically, but did not receive the same education as her brothers and at the age of 15 she left to attend the École Normale Supérieure in Paris

Her parents were interested in politics and it was under their guidance that Pankhurst herself moved toward politics. She had an interest in women's rights from an early age.

Pankhursts interest only grew when she experienced for herself poor working conditions and poor pay. In 1879, she married Richard Pankhurst. He was a lawyer and supporter of the women's suffrage movement and wrote the two bills, the Married Women's Property Acts of 1870 and 1882. Pankhurst had two daughters, who also became involved in the movement with her.

In 1889 she set up the Women's Franchise League, which aimed to give married women the right to vote in local elections. Support slowly grew and this led to Emmiline Pankhurst founding the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. This union dedicated itself to “deeds, not words”. Women, especially those who were unmarried, were deemed inferior both physically and intellectually. At this time women were not able to vote, they could not own their own homes or property and had lower paid jobs as their education was not seen as important, even though some women qualified as doctors and lawyers. They did not have the same rights as men.

The group was known for physical confrontations, with property targeted and numerous assaults both to the woman members and to law enforcers. They threw rocks, smashed windows, arson was also a tactic and Pankhurst was known for setting fire to postboxes and entrance ways. As a result of this, a national newspaper nicknamed them 'Suffragettes'. Pankhurst led rallies and protests and would make speeches wherever she could. She saw that the bad publicity, was any publicity for her cause, especially if it made the newspaper.

Pankhurst and the women she led, including her daughters, received numerous prison sentences. She saw her time in jail as a way to keep momentum of women's rights in the headlines and she and others staged hunger strikes to get attention. At times they were force fed and some women became very unwell. Prisoners, including Pankhurst, who were on hunger strikes were sometimes released until they had recovered their strength, they would then be re-arrested and put back into jail.

In 1914, the war began and now under her daughter's leadership, the WSPU put their fight on hold helping with the war effort instead. This became a time where women had to step into the roles and jobs that were traditionally held by men. This Became a turning point and Emmiline Pankhurst was at the front leading the way.

In 1918, the Prime Minister David Lloyd George passed a law whereby married women over the age of 30 were allowed to vote. This was undoubtedly as a result of the work Pankhurst had done over many years fighting for women. This was followed by the Equal Franchise Act of 1928, giving all women from the age of 21 years old the right to vote.

Emmiline Pankhurst died this same year, barely getting to see the rewards for her dedication, her determination and her spirit over the years.