Emmeline Pankhurst: biography of this leader of the suffrage movement

Although already a thing of the past, at least in the Western world, not long ago, women were considered beings with delicate hands, made for sewing, drinking tea and raising children, when they were. the men who, through the political struggle, were in charge of the affairs of the state.

But that all changed when Victorian women, tired of being denied the right to vote, took action. Under the slogan “facts, not words”, Emmeline Pankhurst fought for women’s suffrage to be recognized.

Her life is that of a fighter, a woman who did not limit herself to making an intellectual life but participated in many demonstrations, many of which were not peaceful, but thanks to them, women recognized their right to vote. We discover its history through a brief biography of Emmeline Pankhurst.

    Brief biography of Emmeline Pankhurst

    Emmeline Pankhurst, unmarried Goulden, was born in Manchester, England on July 15, 1858., Although as an anecdote, we can comment that he always defended being born on the 14th, aware of the situation of the oppressed. Her father, Robert, was an anti-slavery businessman and her mother Sophia was a passionate feminist.

    Youth and contact with suffragettes

    Despite his family’s political interests and his opposition to the way things were in his day, Emmeline’s parents preferred to raise their daughter to be a good wife and mother, In tune with what is expected of a woman in Victorian society. However, the young woman did not agree with these ideas very much and that is why, at only 14 years old, after attending a speech in favor of the rights of the women, Emmeline decided to embark on the movement of British suffrage.

    Shortly after, he had the opportunity to live in Paris, where he attended the École Normale de Neuilly. France, or at least its capital, was a less conservative place than neighboring Britain, giving women access to rather limited knowledge in other parts of Europe. This is why young Emmeline would have the opportunity to study chemistry and accounting, but she would also have to study subjects considered to be feminine, such as embroidery.

    First years of complaints

    In the fall of 1878, she began her relationship with Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer 24 years her senior. Richard was a socialist and was very involved in the struggle for the vote for women. The couple, despite their age difference, made good springs in a very short time and got married a year later with the approval of the parents of the bride. The connection between the two was both political and romantic, And Emmeline’s parents were very happy to have such a brilliant lawyer in the family.

    The marriage between Emmeline and Richard Pankhurst suited her class and her time, having four children in her first six years of life. However, they differed from others in being members of the Independent Labor Party and the suffrage movement. The marriage would found the “Women’s Franchise League” (WFL) which advocated that married and unmarried women have the right to vote..

    The WFL was seen as a radical organization, a view that went further when the organization began to fight to see men and women equal in aspects such as divorce and inheritance. He advocated unionism and sought alliances in political socialism. Yet his ideas were too advanced for this time and even many of its suffragist members saw them as too radical, abandoning the organization and causing it to collapse in the end.

      His activism: facts, not words

      In 1898 Richard Pankhurst died due to a perforated ulcer which left Emmeline with a lot of debt. This is why he started working at the Chorlton Birth and Death Register near Manchester, where he would have the opportunity to learn first-hand about the lives of many women, seeing the real differences in the rights recognized between men and women.

      In 1903, Emmeline realized that the moderate speeches about women’s suffrage in parliament were getting nowhere. Disappointed with the results of moderate suffragists decided to found the “Social and Political Union of Women” (WSPU). Emmeline publicly defended the vote for women there and, in one of her speeches, she uttered her slogan “Facts, not words” which would eventually become the motto of the movement.

      The group began to defend her with nonviolent action, giving speeches, collecting signatures, organizing protests and publishing a newsletter called “Votes for Women”. She also convened a “Women’s Parliament”, which met to coincide its sessions with those of the official Parliament.

      On May 12, 1905, Pankhurst and several colleagues from the UPMS they met in front of Parliament to speak out in favor of an amendment regulating women’s suffrage. Police showed up to disperse, but later the group reformed and continued to seek his approval. Although the amendment was not adopted, Emmeline Pankhurst, seeing the lobbying capacity of such a demonstration, noted that their protest had transformed them into a real political force.

      Imprisonment as an act of protest

      Emmeline’s daughters, Christabel, Adela and Sylvia, were active members of the UPMS and were therefore arrested on several occasions. The first time Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested was in 1908, after trying to enter Parliament to protest to the Prime Minister. He spent six weeks in prison, which helped him learn about the deplorable conditions in which the prisoners were and it was at this point that Emmeline Pankhurst decided to make imprisonment her means of protest.

      She did her best to get her arrested and jailed. This mission, which may seem like an almost suicidal mission, had a powerful intention: to show the world that she was not arrested for committing crimes, but for wanting to become a lawmaker. Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested up to seven times before the approval of women’s suffrage in the UK.

      On June 26, 1908, thousands of activists gathered in Hyde Park to demand the vote for women. At the end of the demonstration, several UPMS activists gathered to make speeches, but the police came and arrested several participants. Due to their frustration, two members of the party, Edith New and Mary Leigh, threw stones at the windows of the Prime Minister’s house. Although they themselves said their events were not organized by the WSPU, Emmeline Pankhurst noted that she was in favor of them.

      In 1909, after the imprisonment of Marion Wallace Dunlop, a suffragist who began a hunger strike in prison, the UPMS decided to adopt this new strategy of pressure. Several suffragists tried to go on hunger strike, but prison officials forced them to feed, throwing tubes through their noses or mouths. Both the suffrage movement and health professionals have severely criticized these measures.

      The gap between the suffrage advocated by Emeline Pankhurst and that advocated by more moderate suffragists prompted some members of the UPMS to start use the term “suffragete” instead of “suffragist” to differentiate from moderates, Which, as we discussed earlier, does not appear to contribute significantly to the movement.

      In 1907, Emmeline Pankhurst sold her house to start a rather busy lifestyle. She moved from place to place to demand women’s suffrage, staying in hotels or with acquaintances. In 1909 he traveled across the United States to give a series of lectures to raise funds for his cause, In addition to being able to cover the costs of the illness from which his son Henry was suffering.

      The law of the cat and the mouse

      After the 1910 elections, a conciliation committee for women’s suffrage was organized. The WSPU suspended its protest actions while negotiating a bill to give women the right to vote. The project was unsuccessful, which led Pankhurst to the top on November 18 a protest march with over 300 women marching in Parliament Square. There they were greeted by the police crackdown led by Home Secretary Winston Churchill, an event that would become known as Black Friday.

      In March 1912, a second bill was rejected. It was another drop that spilled the glass and, tired of so many negatives, several members of the WSPU, including Emmeline Pankhurst, stepped up their actions. Police responded by raiding their offices and pursuing their daughter Christabel, who was the organization’s main coordinator, who had to go into exile in Paris. Emmeline was arrested and convicted of conspiracy, which led to her first hunger strike. in the cell.

      Public opinion was outraged by the treatment and harassment the suffragists received from the police, so the authorities decided to implement a new strategy to suppress the movement: the law of the cat and the mouse. The cat was the government, which released the mice, who were the suffragists, when their health deteriorated. Once they recovered and returned to political struggle, the government again persecuted and imprisoned them. But the UPMS was already a large herd of mice, with over 100,000 members.

      The UPSM had long abandoned peaceful activism and opted for more invasive measures., Including fire as a weapon of protest. Several activists attempted to cause explosions and set fire to several sites during the years 1913 and 1914. Although Emmeline and her daughter Christabel indicated that these actions had not been approved by the organization, they did so. were supporting.

      One of the best-known acts perpetrated by members of the WSPU is what Mary Richardson did, who in 1914 sculpted the Spanish Diego Velázquez’s painting “Venus in the Mirror” of 1647, in protest against the imprisonment of Pankhurst. Although in time this canvas would be restored, such an action against a work of art was very controversial and at the same time intensified the pressure on government and society.

      In November 1917, the WPSU became the Women’s Party. A year later, Christabel announced that she was running as her candidate in the next election, the first in which women could run. The candidate lost to the Labor candidate by 775 votes, which led to the party failing to stand for further elections and soon after disintegrating.

      Partial victory in his last years

      A few months later, women’s suffrage would be approved, albeit partially, as only women over 30 could vote.. The reason was that the idea that women matured much later than men and that they were not adults mentally until their 30s was still well established. It was not satisfactory for the suffrage movement, but it was better than nothing. Likewise, they did not give up the fight and fueled by this victory, they continued to press.

      But Emmeline Pankhurst’s time was getting shorter. As she neared her main vital goal of allowing all women to vote, Emmeline Pankhurst’s health deteriorated and she had to move into a nursing home. It would be here that he would spend his last days, dying on June 14, 1928, at the age of 69.. A little over a month later, on July 21, the government extended the right to vote to all women, married or single, over the age of 21.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Ruiza, M., Fernández, T. and Tamaro, I. (2004). Biography of Emmeline Pankhurst. In Biographies and Lives. The online biographical encyclopedia. Barcelona, ​​Spain). Retrieved from https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/p/pankhurst.htm on September 16, 2020.
      • Bartley, Paula. Emmeline Pankhurst (2002). London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-20651-0.
      • Purvis, June. Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography (2002). London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-23978-8.

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