On this Day:
On April 3, 1913 British Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was Sentenced to Three Years in Jail.
Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the most famous and influential British suffrage leaders. Her embrace of protest and direct action in the early 1900s marked a new phase in the battle for women’s votes.
When she was fourteen years old, Emmeline Goulden insisted on joining her mom in attending a public meeting about women’s rights in Manchester, England in the early 1870s. By the time she left it, she had become “a conscious and confirmed suffragist.” This work continued throughout her life. She and her husband Richard Pankhurst, a strong supporter of women’s rights, were active in early British suffrage groups. They pushed not only for the vote but also for equality for women in divorce and inheritance law.
By the early 20th century, Pankhurst had become frustrated with British political parties’ inaction on suffrage. She founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 to take militant action. The group targeted any political party that did not work towards votes for women.
The WSPU’s motto was “deeds, not words.” Pankhurst and her supporters attracted attention through their confrontational actions. They got themselves arrested and imprisoned for civil disobedience. In prison, several of them went on hunger strikes and endured brutal force-feedings. Others interrupted cabinet meetings and heckled politicians. Some activists even set fires in mailboxes and vacant houses.
Pankhurst and the WSPU had a significant influence on the American suffrage movement. While in graduate school in England, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns met Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia. The pageantry of WSPU marches—the banners, trumpets, coordinated chants, and military-style march organization—inspired them. Paul and Burns began attending English suffrage demonstrations and were arrested several times in 1909.
Paul and Burns brought these ideas and tactics home to the United States, organizing the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession and the “Silent Sentinels” pickets outside the White House. They also borrowed the English strategy of a single-issue focus on winning suffrage. The organization they founded, the Congressional Union (later the National Woman’s Party), pushed for a constitutional amendment.
Emmeline Pankhurst also influenced the American suffrage movement through speaking tours. In 1909, Harriot Stanton Blatch (a suffragist and the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton) sponsored her tour through the Northeast, where she spoke in Boston, New York City, and Geneva, New York. She returned in 1913. During a stop in Hartford, Connecticut, she delivered perhaps her most famous speech, “Freedom or Death.” Pankhurst defended the British suffragettes’ militancy. She argued that it was the only option for forcing the government to recognize women’s rights.
“You won your freedom in America when you had the revolution, by bloodshed, by sacrificing human life,” she reminded her audience. “You have left it to women in your land, the men of all civilized countries have left it to women, to work out their own salvation. That is the way in which we women of England are doing. Human life for us is sacred, but we say if any life is to be sacrificed it shall be ours; we won’t do it ourselves, but we will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death.”
Suffragettes won a partial victory in 1918 when the United Kingdom granted propertied women over thirty the right to vote. Pankhurst continued to work for women’s empowerment, though her politics grew less radical. She committed herself to anti-communism, defended British imperialism, and became a member of the Conservative Party late in life. Despite ill health, Pankhurst lived to see suffrage extended to women on the same terms as men in England, Wales, and Scotland in 1928. She died that year at the age of 69.
First, a Story:
Why did Emmeline Pankhurst hate long haul flights?
She would always suffragette lag afterwards…
Second, a Song:
On 13 November 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, delivered this speech in Hartford, Connecticut.
Mrs Pankhurst was in the United States while on temporary release under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913, more commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act.
She was in the United States to raise money for the WSPU and drew parallels between the struggle of the Suffragettes and the causes of the American War of Independence.
Courtesy of History Hub and YouTube.com, you can hear the speech that Emmeline Pankhurst delivered in Hartford, Connecticut. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“I thought I had been a suffragist before I became a Poor Law Guardian, but now I began to think about the vote in women’s hands not only as a right but as a desperate necessity.” ― Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky